Bishop David Torraville of the diocese of Central Newfoundland first met Bishop Francis Loyo of the diocese of Rokon, South Sudan, at Lambeth in 2008, and they established a companion relationship between their dioceses. The two bishops have also built a friendship that, Torraville said, was a joy to renew in person when they met at a Companion Diocese Consultation in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from May 14-17.
When they saw each other, Loyo presented Torraville with a cane-for his dad. “Over the years, in chattering back and forth in email, we’ve talked about one another’s families,” Torraville told the Anglican Journal after his return to Canada. “My dad was ill a little while ago. He’s an elderly man.” The cane, said Torraville, was “a wonderful, wonderful gift!”
It was also a manifestation of what Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, had noted about the nature of relationships that exist within the Anglican Communion.
“For some people, when they think of the [Anglican] Communion, they immediately think division, dissension,” but a very different picture was evident in the companion relationships represented at this consultation, Hiltz said. He described these relationships as honest, healthy, vibrant and growing.
Although the bishop of the diocese of Central Buganda did not attend the meeting due to tensions between the church in Uganda and other parts of the Communion, Hiltz said that other clergy within that diocese attended “enthusiastically, really looking forward to the opportunity to be together and to talk across relationships.” Differences over contentious issues such as human sexuality weren’t part of the discussion “or even the subtext,” he told the Anglican Journal in an interview after he returned to Canada.
The meeting was the first time that representatives of Canadian and African companion dioceses have come together to discuss their relationships. It was organized by the Anglican Church of Canada’s global relations department and the Rev. Canon Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa, Africa relations co-ordinator.
In his address to the group, the Rev. John Kafwanka, director for mission in the Anglican Communion Office, traced the roots of such relationships back 52 years to a congress on the future of the Anglican Communion held in Toronto in 1963. There, the idea of missional relationships characterized by a spirit of mutual responsibility and interdependence was first put forward.
Hiltz said that one common theme that emerged from discussions was the desire for companion relationships to grow beyond connections between bishops and steering committees, into one involving “the diocesan family.”
Torraville said that is one of his goals. “What I haven’t done, and I really need to do, is to broaden that relationship so that other folks in the diocese get exposed to folks in South Sudan.”
In addition to connections such as cycles of prayer and supporting particular projects and ministries, Hiltz said the merits of parish-to-parish connections were discussed. “In some cases, some of that kind of activity is already happening, but there was a sense in which they’d like to see a lot more of it happening.”
Bishop Donald Phillips of the diocese of Rupert’s Land noted that almost all the parishes in Central Buganda in Uganda have a sister parish in his diocese. “Some of those are more active than others,” he said. One other major focus of the companion relationship, which is now almost 20 years old, is an “orphan project,” he said, noting that Rupert’s Land made a commitment to provide about $20,000 per year to help support the Bugandan diocese to provide housing and schooling for about 154 orphans. “It’s their program…we’re just helping to fund it,” he said.
Although Bishop Jackson Matovu of the diocese of Central Buganda did not attend the consultation, he welcomed Phillips and Sean Carlson, chair of the Rupert’s Land companion diocese committee, for a visit to the diocese prior to the meeting.
The Rev. Canon Geoffrey Monjesa, acting diocesan executive secretary for the diocese of Masasi in Tanzania, wrote in an email to the Journal that he was “really impressed by the emphasis on commitment” in Hiltz’s opening address and his point that prayer should be the first priority in companion relationships.
Feedback from participants was very positive, said Kawuki-Mukasa, though they expressed regrets that some of their colleagues could not attend. Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, primate of Burundi, Bishop Sixbert Macumi of the diocese of Buye and Bishop Paisible Ndacayisaba were unable to travel because of a coup in Burundi. It also prevented Canadian bishops Jane Alexander of the diocese of Edmonton and Robert Hardwick of the diocese of Qu’Appelle from visiting those dioceses.
Kawuki-Mukasa added that there was a useful discussion about the terms of companion relationships. The African delegates questioned the typical practice of signing agreements to be companions for five-year terms. They felt, he said, that “relationships should be allowed to grow, flourish, and if there are mistakes, correct them…You become friends.” The Canadians were saying that the five-year terms didn’t mean that the relationship would end, but that it was a time to review and evaluate how it was going and decide whether to continue it formally or on the more informal basis of the real friendships that have formed.
When the attendees discussed other ways they would like their relationships to grow, Hiltz said they wished for more opportunities for clergy and youth exchanges and international theological student internships. The Anglican Church of Canada used to have an internship program for theological students and a Volunteers in Mission program, which were cut due to funding issues in recent years. Some expressed hope that funding for these programs could be restored, he said.
The delegates also discussed pragmatic concerns around obtaining visitor visas to Canada, because several planned diocesan visits were cancelled when the Canadian government rejected African applications for visitor visas. Torraville said that his diocese has been trying to sponsor a visit from Loyo for years, but his visa applications have been rejected twice. “We got some good ideas from people who have had similar problems as to how we might go about approaching applying for a visa, the kinds of things we need to assure the government about,” he said.
They also talked about the ways that social media has helped and can help facilitate ongoing communication, he said.
Torraville marvelled at how much connections exist today in the world. When consultation participants were introduced at the worship service at the cathedral in Dar es Salaam, a man came up to him and told him that his two daughters live in St. John’s. Torraville is going to try to contact them. “It was a thrill. The fact is as big as we think we are, the church is a very small place,” he said.
Other bishops who participated in the consultation were Bishop Wilson Kamani, diocese of Ibba, South Sudan; Bishop James Almasi, diocese of Masasi, Tanzania; Bishop Matthias Badohu, diocese of Ho, Ghana; Bishop Fraser Lawton, diocese of Athabasca; Bishop Jane Alexander, diocese of Edmonton; Bishop Robert Hardwick, diocese of Qu’Appelle; and Bishop David Edwards, diocese of Fredericton.