African and North American bishops left the recent Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue “with great hope,” they said in a collective statement issued at the conclusion of their meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, from May 2 to 5.
The dialogue was one in a series of meetings, established to help heal divisions within the Anglican Communion.
This fourth meeting focused on reconciliation, and included presentations on Truth and Reconciliation commissions in South Africa, Canada and Burundi. The 18 bishops-from Kenya, South Africa, Burundi, Zambia, South Sudan, Malawi, Ghana, the U.S. and Canada-also heard about reconciliation efforts in The Episcopal Church, which has been divided over issues of sexuality, as well as efforts being made elsewhere in Africa and North America.
The Rev. Canon Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa, from the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada, worked with Archbishop Colin Johnson from the diocese of Toronto to establish the dialogues, following the 2008 Lambeth gathering of bishops in Canterbury. Kawuiki-Mukasa now facilitates and designs an agenda for each meeting. There has been clear progress in building relationships and trust since the dialogues began, he said. “In the first meeting, the participants were very apprehensive and wondering why they were there…Now they know each other well,” he told the Anglican Journal following his return to Canada. Differences of opinion, particularly on issues of sexuality, have not disappeared, he acknowledged. “There are disagreements, but the good thing is that they [bishops] have become friends now.”
Bishop Anthony Poggo from the diocese of Kajo Keji in South Sudan said this latest meeting went well from his perspective. “The dialogues that we have had have helped us understand each other’s contexts.”
For Bishop Jane Alexander of the diocese of Edmonton, this was the second dialogue in which she had participated. She was “absolutely humbled” to be a part of the dialogues, she told the Journal. “You pick up a conversation with someone who truly is a brother or sister in Christ. There’s no sense that there are things we can’t talk about,” she said. “There was no sense that ‘I’m going to keep talking to you until you see everything the way I see it.’ None of that. It’s so respectful.”
Bishop James Tengatenga from the diocese of Southern Malawi said, “Beginning the work of reconciliation, we have walked this far and we have reached a point now where you can say anything and think anything and it’s okay.” He hopes the value of the bishops’ dialogue can be conveyed more broadly, he added. “Having gone this far, you cannot turn back…It is now, ‘How do we move this beyond simply the bishops into the real lived experience of the whole church?'”
Kawuki-Mukasa said discussing the theme of reconciliation was particularly powerful in the setting of South Africa. Most of the participants, he said, were brought to tears by a video presentation on the South African TRC that included testimony from victims and perpetrators of apartheid violence.
Both Alexander and Tengatenga felt moved to be in the Cape Town cathedral and nearby street, where many protestors against apartheid faced the violence of the regime. Alexander said she was especially honoured and humbled to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who led protests, at an early morning eucharist service at the cathedral.
Alexander said that all of the bishops’ conversations were influenced by “hearing from one of the commissioners of the TRC about what it means-not just to speak against something, but to hear people’s stories and the pain of the stories and see your role to listen and to keep moving toward reconciliation and healing in a community.”
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald also made a presentation, on the Canadian TRC.
“There was a kind of synergy between what he was presenting,” said Kawuki-Mukasa, “as the experience of aboriginal people here and what the African bishops would have experienced in their own [contexts]…Both of them were dealing with neo-Colonial and post-colonial situations.”
The bishops heard an account of a church in Africa whose parishioners had been attacked and who had resolved to pray with their eyes open from then on. But, Tengatenga said, as the bishops discussed that incident in the context of reconciliation, the metaphor changed. They talked about praying with one’s eyes open, not because of fear, “but because we want to see anew,” he said. Referring to the meeting’s theme, drawn from 2 Corinthians chapter 5, he added, “Seeing one another differently-and possibly one can claim to say seeing one another clearly-seeing one another as we are, then I think reconciliation begins to work because you begin to appreciate the other for what they are in spite of what you may think they are.”
The bishops’ written statement, titled “A Testimony of Hope,” noted that they were blessed and encouraged by the presence of Canon David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s director of reconciliation: “Canon Porter observed that Anglicans sometimes have ‘bad’ fights, but need to learn how to have ‘good’ ones, because there will always be points of conflict in our relationships. This gathering has had all the hallmarks of what good conversation should look like.”
Porter has invited the bishops to meet in Coventry, England. Kawuki-Mukasa said the bishops, who are keen to continue their dialogue, have committed themselves to meeting next year and possibly the year after as well. The full statement from the bishops’ meeting is available here.