Three bishops from the U.S., U.K. and Africa say the indaba conversations they participated in are a valuable way to help hold the Anglican Communion together. Illustration: Michael D Brown
Bishop of Gloucester [England] Michael Perham, Bishop of El Camino Real [California] Mary Gray-Reeves and Bishop of Western Tanganyika [Africa] Sadock Makaya have written to the Archbishop of Canterbury reflecting on their Indaba process, stressing the importance of the project and the hope that it will be expanded within the Anglican Communion.
Indaba is a Zulu word meaning “a gathering for purposeful discussion.” Continuing Indaba, an official ministry of the Anglican Communion, has for three years been promoting cross-provincial/diocesan dialogue, visits and the production of theological resources aimed at supporting the process of enabling “conversation across difference.”
The church in and around Gloucester has been linked with the Church in El Camino Real and with the Church in Western Tanganyika since 2008. Because of this existing partnership the archbishop invited the three dioceses to be one of the five initial Indaba groups. All three bishops saw this as a huge privilege and agreed to take part in the project, which started in 2011.
It was a fairly intensive exercise as each diocese was visited in a nine month period starting in Africa in June 2011, finishing in Gloucester in March of this year. During these visits, members of the three Indaba groups, ordained and lay, worshipped together, studied scripture, talked and learned about the culture of each country.
Perham spoke of the importance of the Indaba project, saying, “I think it is very important, for the holding together in unity of the world-wide Anglican Communion does demonstrate to the world that Christians, diverse in their theology and their culture, can live in harmony. That, in a divided and broken world, is a message worth hearing and a model to follow well beyond the confines of the Church. ‘Blessed are the peace-makers,’ says Jesus, and this is one way of our being on board his work of healing and reconciliation.”
In the letter to the archbishop, the bishops reflect on their time together, their hope that the Indaba model can be shared beyond our Communion to the wider church and the hope that the continuing partnership between the three dioceses could be a significant part of that work.
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear Archbishop Rowan,
We are writing to share with you the grace-filled journey that our three partner dioceses have been engaged in since our three Bishops last wrote to you in June 2010. In that letter the bishops outlined the gift that this partnership has been to the dioceses of Western Tanganyika (Tanzania), Gloucester (UK), and El Camino Real (USA), and to the individuals involved. That letter also expressed the hope that this gift might be extended to the Anglican Communion. Since then we have engaged in the formal continuing Indaba project with a so-called final conversation at the beginning of March 2012, and we would like to share with you the story of our continuing “safari” and the resulting broadening and deepening of our relationship.
At their preparatory meeting under the auspices of the ACC the three Bishops identified four areas which might shape the thinking around the encounters in our respective dioceses. These were (1) creating a multi-generational church, (2) poverty, (3) the unity of the church and (4) resourcing.
The Indaba visits to all three dioceses incorporated elements of cultural experiences, group reflection on those experiences, sharing in a variety of worship styles, and daily lectio divina. Our experience was that the deliberate and contemplative nature of lectio helped us learn to listen more intently to each other, and that for some of us it takes the intentional creation of a safe environment for wisdom to find its voice. It is most certainly worth the investment of time for the shared wisdom and discernment of this group to find its voice.
The experience of visiting and staying in our host’s homes allowed us to discover the families, pets, lifestyles, sports interests, typical home meals, and neighbourhood environments which more deeply define the people we have met through our partnership. The Indaba experience has significantly accelerated and deepened this personal bonding of our team members.
Although significant attention and discussion were invested in the four topics originally defined by our bishops, by the time of our closing discussions in March 2012, we realized that our greatest achievement was NOT the fixing of disunity or poverty or wanting to be a more multi-generational church, or distribution of resources. We perceived having reached a higher perspective of genuine caring about and valuing each other as fellow Anglicans and Christians. There developed a very deep bonding and a self-assessment that OUT OF these bonds there would develop on-going shared projects that will address these four objectives in a very collaborative and synergistic way.
The Indaba experience has accelerated our bonding; our depth of candour with each other; and our sincere caring for each other as individuals and as representatives of our own dioceses and our respective cultures. Each of our perspectives is complex. Our Christian call into membership of the Body of Christ makes our interrelationship even more complex. Our unity in Christ is the core piece that enables the mutual respect and honouring that makes us into One Body. We recognized the overpowering sense of changing from being pieces of the Body, into being members of the Body of Christ.
We came to realize that the perspective of each diocese is different on the four topics that were presented by the bishops. Poverty for citizens in Tanzania is quite different from the poverty experienced by people in California who are losing their homes and even living on the streets, because of the home mortgage crisis there. England shares in the very depressed economy seen in America, but also deals with the significant financial burden of providing stewardship for many ancient but empty churches.
The Indaba experience has produced within us an awareness of how we can realistically assist each other in ministry and mission through our international ties now developed at a more grass roots level. We have learned quite independently about ‘doing church’ in our own local context. While some of those developments translate across our dioceses, some do not. But to know about those challenges and developments has helped all of us become more effective in our own local church and diocese, and to offer help across our partnership where we can.
In our final meeting at Pilgrim Hall in Sussex (UK) we had energized discussions about where this experience might take our on-going partnership. We committed to be stewards of the Indaba methodology we have experienced and refined. We committed to continue exploring and implementing diocesan level inter-connection for specific programs, such as ‘Nets for Life’ and our initiative to empower women in Tanzania. If practical and financial help inevitably seems to be focused in one direction, towards Tanzania, we have learnt that spiritual resources flow among us and that, in particular, the English and American partners are learning much about evangelism and church growth from the African context.
We committed to developing parish to parish inter-connection, coordinated through our Indaba link officers. One example of this is a program between an El Camino Real parish and a Gloucester parish to generate donations in support of the DWT orphanage in Matiazo.
Our closing ceremony at Pilgrim Hall on March 1, 2012 became a rich time, a sacred space in our journey through three continents and eight months. It has been a spiritually significant time, where each of us has seen the face of Christ in each other, and in the people we have met in each country along the way. We are transformed and humbled by this experience. Although there was no formal Commissioning Service, we feel a deep sense of responsibility and blessing to be evangelists of this sacred experience of God’s presence, nurture, and anointing throughout our encounter. We hope Indaba will be expanded within the Anglican Communion; we hope the Indaba model can be shared beyond our Communion to the wider church; we hope our continuing partnership can be a significant part of that work.
We are deeply grateful for your insight to encourage and support this process. This experience has yielded wonderful fruits. It has fuelled an ongoing process which will deepen and spread.
Grace and the Peace of God.
Bishop of El Camino Real
Bishop of Western Tanganyika
Bishop of Gloucester
On behalf of the Indaba Teams of the three dioceses