Diversity offers hope

Published May 1, 2000

I WRITE this on the way home from a meeting of the primates of the Anglican Communion.

For me, one of the high points of such meetings comes on Sunday when we worship with the local community.

In 1993, we were meeting in Cape Town, at a time when South Africa was emerging from the long darkness of apartheid. Our host primate was Desmond Tutu. The church gathered to worship with us in a sports arena, 12,000 local Anglicans and ourselves, led by a choir of hundreds. It was greeted as a great moment by the media, long isolated from foreign visitors. The time and place helped make it unforgettable.

In 2000 we were meeting in Porto, the second city of Portugal, an ancient and beautiful place with a centre designated as a UNESCO world heritage site for its age, beauty and architectural merit.

We worshipped with the local church, a branch of the Anglican Communion called the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church. The Lusitanian church was formed in 1880 by a group of Portuguese Roman Catholics who could not accept the decisions of the First Vatican Council in 1870, especially the universal authority of the Pope.

Their search for a home, one where catholic tradition was maintained but local authority was supreme, attracted support from the newly disestablished Church of Ireland. The Church of England was constrained from offering support because of its established status, the British government being reluctant to allow them to offend the Roman Catholic Church, the established church of Portugal. (Portugal remains the oldest ally of England in Europe.)

The Lusitanian church is small, its total membership less than half the number of the worshippers in Cape Town seven years ago, so our service, in a local gymnasium, was also relatively small. Even more noticeable was the fact that our presence was not understood in the neighbourhood and almost unmentioned in the local press. (The only media comment came in a newspaper article headed Anglicans Accept Contraceptives and the Ordination of Women.)

But the service was, for this participant at least, just as memorable. The choir was all young people, not a common phenomenon in Canada. Because the church is small, this visible link with the Communion was much more important than it would have been here. The time of meeting the people, the worship and the culture (from students’ singing to port wine) was a beautiful time.

The differences between Cape Town and Porto might seem the most obvious impression, but for me it was the unity that came through most strongly. “One body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God” was what came to me meditating during communion.

It seemed especially important to be reminded that God’s Spirit is “one,” when we were constantly reminded during the meetings of the ways in which we primates do not always reflect the same unity of spirit. It also seemed important in Portugal to pray that the issues that once divided the Lusitanian church from its Roman forbears might also be dissolved in the ocean of God’s unity.

So the message of hope for me is that the diversity of churches, great and small, is a sign that the things which divide the primates will eventually be as nothing, swept aside by the unity of God’s spirit.

And thanks to this small church for such a great occasion of hope.

Muito obrigado, irma£s e irma£os. Archbishop Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


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