Conflict resolution expert sent to observe at HOB

Published December 1, 2009

Retired bishop of Coventry, Colin Bennetts, a “bridge-builder.”

Conflict resolution is not for the faint of heart. “It’s very, very hard work. And it’s often a long-term process,” says the retired bishop of Coventry, Colin James Bennetts, who for the last 15 years has devoted a great deal of his ministry to healing and reconciliation. “You don’t see instant results, you’ve got to stick to it and see it through,” he says.

It also requires patience and a level of equanimity, which Bishop Bennetts, 69, a mild-mannered intellectual, clearly demonstrates.

Bishop Bennetts was plucked out of his retirement last year by the Archbishop of Canterbury to become part of a group of pastoral visitors. Their mandate: to address conflict and provide guidance throughout the Anglican Communion.

As the 8th bishop of Coventry from 1998 to 2008, Bishop Bennetts served as chair of Coventry Cathedral’s International Centre for Reconciliation, which has offered support and inspiration to Christians addressing conflict. It has also been involved in some of the world’s most difficult areas of conflict, particularly in the Middle East. Bishop Bennetts is a member of the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament in the U.K. He has spoken out on many issues ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Bishop Bennetts sat down with Anglican Journal staff writer Marites Sison during his visit to the Canadian House of Bishops meeting at Niagara Falls, last Nov. 2 to 6. Here is an excerpt of the interview.

Q: What’s the purpose of your visit here?
A: Following the Windsor Report, the Archbishop [of Canterbury] appointed seven of us from different parts of the Communion: three from Africa; one from Guyana; and three from the U.K. We’ve only been doing it for a few months. Our task has been to listen, to learn and to try to build up a picture of where the Canadian church is, particularly in relation to divisive issues. We will then write a report which will go to your primate and to Archbishop Rowan [Williams]. It may contain some recommendations. But it will certainly attempt to paint a picture of the experience that we’ve had.

Q: Are the “divisive issues” you’re looking at exclusively about sexuality?
A: I suppose one has to ask whether the sexuality issue is something [occurring] in isolation or whether it’s symptomatic of something more profound. I think most of us will agree that it happens to be the issue of the day. And there are a number of issues around authority and power. For example, the authority of Scripture, and how you interpret Scripture. I think there’s a lot of work to be done on that in the Communion, [work] which takes account not only of the text, but the context in which people read it, their background, and the pre-suppositions they bring to that reading. That seems to be one of the major differences between many parts of Africa and parts of North America: the cultural context is so different. So it’s more than just human sexuality, which happens to be the marker for a much wider discussion that needs to take place.

Q: The primate called you a bridge-builder. Is that your role here?
A: Hopefully, yes. And part of my own ministry has been very much in the area of reconciliation [and] conflict prevention. For example, in the Middle East and in parts of Africa, between Christians and Muslims, I’ve had quite a bit of experience helping the two groups listen to each other and not demonize one another…. It’s just so simple to write people off. But, if you actually get people talking to each other and listening and working together…For example, in Nigeria, the church in Kaduna has bought a farm and they’re getting Christian and Muslim teenagers to work together on that farm. Simply by doing things together, these teenagers are discovering that they are fellow human beings. That’s the first stage. This can lead to a defusing of some of the stereotypes that have divided them traditionally and it has opened up the possibility of real dialogue and hopefully, a growing respect for each other.

Q: So, there is hope yet for the Communion.
A: Oh, there has to be. A Christian without hope is a sad sight, isn’t it?

Q: What will it take for healing and reconciliation to take place?
A: I suppose what we’re looking for is the patience that will enable this process to develop. [We’re also looking for] a genuine commitment borne out of love for the other person…. So in general terms, these are the things that need to be present if any of this is ever going to work.


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