Nicolas Stebbing cr on recent visits
It all began after a Greek class four years ago. A student asked me, ‘Please Father, could you take me to Zimbabwe?’ I was amazed. An English student wanting to go to my poor, battered home country! Well, of course, we went and had a wonderful three weeks driving round the land. As soon as John got back to College, he told others. Within weeks, we had five students wanting to go. That too was a wonderful trip.
Last year, two students decided to brave the reported horrors and come. It was a tough visit for them but they too cannot wait to go back. Now we are planning our fourth trip with seven students.
What we do is easy enough to describe. We arrive with some apprehension and stay a day or two at a lovely house in Harare. The sun is shining, the trees are beautiful, the country is peaceful. It’s not that newspapers lie, but they only give a fragment of the truth. However bad things are in Zimbabwe (and in some ways they are very bad), ordinary life goes on. We find this when we set off on our travels.
Churches are generally well filled and the worship is lively, if long. That is people’s experience in churches all over Africa. In Zimbabwe, there is an edge. Inflation is running very high. People have little money and what they have buys little. A priest’s salary is the equivalent of about two pounds a month, but running a car costs much the same as it would here. So priests must walk; people must walk, and they do. HIV infection is common; around one in four of the population is infected. That means people are dying all the time. Thousands of children have no parents.
This may sound a depressing scenario. In fact, the students find it deeply moving. People are courageous and generous as only the poor can be. And Christianity has a new relevance when it makes the difference between life and death, or where it offers a real alternative of life after death. In a society where health care, social welfare and everything has collapsed, God and what he offers is just about all there is.
There are problems, too, in the Anglican church. Zimbabwe was evangelized largely by SPG and the Community of the
Resurrection. This gave it a fairly monochrome Catholic ethos, not extreme but soundly sacramental. Growth was not spectacular, but steady and solid. There were many good priests from England and Zimbabwe and many wonderful lay leaders. But Anglicans were not well prepared for independence in 1980.
Local clergy were not well enough educated to cope with the massive political and social change. Clergy tended to operate in old-fashioned, unimaginative ways. Teaching suffered. Where teaching did come in, it tended to come from evangelical, non-Anglican sources. There was an explosion of pentecostal-type churches which Anglicans began to imitate. Catholics in the CofE were seemingly mostly taken up with internal problems, whingeing about the past, or drinking gin.
So the Catholic ethos of Zimbabwe tended to become a dry shell, lacking the kind of passion and commitment which only new thinking and real engagement with Scripture can give. Of course there were exceptions but the fact remains that the most alive part of the Anglican church in Zimbabwe tends to be that which has imitated most successfully the pentecostal styles round about. This has good features: Scripture, a healing ministry, enthusiasm; but it lacks good ecclesiology and a sound understanding and practice of the sacraments. We try to address these problems:
• we have workshops with clergy and
lay people in which we talk about
• we have discovered some good young clergy thirsting for further theological education and so have raised the funds to help them achieve this;
• we renew the links that Catholic Anglicans in England have had with Zimbabwe, particularly through the Community of the Resurrection;
• we pray, and in the current state of the country there cannot be too much prayer;It is only a start, but it changes lives. It shows that Christ is working even in the battered Anglican church and that the Holy Spirit is constantly calling us anew to mission. ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’ [Acts 16.9].
Fall of the last bastion
In a significant ruling Karsten Nissen, Bishop of Viborg, has insisted that all male priests must acknowledge their female counterparts by shaking their hand at their ordination.
Until now those pastors who did not recognize the female priesthood have been allowed to refuse such a handshake, based on their interpretation of the Bible. But the Danish law on equal rights takes precedence over any such discrimination.
The first ordination of a woman pastor in Denmark took place in 1948, and Viborg has been the only remaining diocese where the refusal has been permitted by the bishop.
Bishop Nissen said that the handshake is symbolic of the acceptance by pastors and church council members of the incumbent’s appointment. ‘It has been a hard decision to take,’ he said, ‘for the church has always taken pride in its capacity to make room for all – including those one disagrees with. But the time had come for the last bastion to fall’
Lisbet Christoffersen, an expert on ecclesiastical law, commented, ‘The attitude that there is room for everybody in the Danish Lutheran church is under pressure from the right wing of the church and from secularized society. In 1948 the right wing was in the majority, but today both theology and law are on the other side. The Danish church is not a parallel society in which the law on equal rights is invalid.’
From the English language newsletter of the Church of Denmark
Speech of the Archbishop of Sydney,
the Rt Revd Peter Jensen,
to the Diocesan Standing Committee
The decision of our bishops not to attend the Lambeth Conference in 2008 is the culmination of ten years of thought, prayer and action. We have played our part in challenging false teaching and practice, always hoping that those who have flouted the strong position taken by the last Lambeth Conference would turn back in repentance. …
Those who are invited are given a degree of credibility as being a genuine part of the Anglican family. This also means that their teaching takes on a credibility in the wider world. It is significant that Archbishop Williams has not invited the actively homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Clearly his presence would mean that he is to be accepted by all and his teaching is to be respected. This is not the case. But those who consecrated Bishop Robinson have been invited, as well as others who have endorsed and encouraged the blessing of same-sex unions in their dioceses. Why should he be excluded and those who promoted him and consecrated him be included? They continue to teach the very doctrine which he exemplifies.
The actions of these bishops have been divisive. Those who wish to remain faithful to the word of God, and not accede to the innovations, have little alternative than to leave or to seek a new bishop. When other bishops have offered to help by crossing ecclesiastical boundaries and becoming the shepherds of those who object, their efforts have been criticized.
What is at stake here is God’s authority in the Bible. We are accustomed to living with various differences as Anglicans but here is a novel teaching on a matter of large importance to human happiness, and in clear opposition to God’s written word. We are not arguing about trivia. We would be failing in our duty not to make our opposition plain and to join our words with action. Hence Scripture says, ‘ What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you…’ [2 Tim. 1.13, 14]. Our conscientious decision is based on this and other passages of God’s word.
I understand the view that we should attend and do our best to engage with the debates at Lambeth. Indeed, I have deliberately taken an extended period of time to allow for thought and prayer, and for discussion with my assistant bishops and others. But in the light of what has happened and of the nature of the Lambeth conference, we have come to the firm view that for us the best and right action is not to attend, as a matter of conscience and of pastoral care to those who have needed to dissociate themselves from bishops and churches. It is important to understand the following points.
First, we remain thoroughly committed to the Anglican Communion, its good health and its future. But we do not believe that its good health will be advanced or secured by a conference which seems to give credibility and influence to those who have introduced false teaching and continue to commend it as often as they can. After much patient talk and delay, we have arrived at a time when the divisive consequences of this position must be made clear, not obscured by a large and unified conference. Only on that basis can a healthy and united future occur.
Second, our non-attendance at Lambeth does not remove us from the Anglican Communion, or damage our continued participation and standing. The conference is based strongly on the idea of Christian fellowship. But we cannot have deep fellowship with the ones responsible for this innovation. To do so would betray conscience and our fellowship with those who have resisted at great cost to themselves.
Third, the Anglican Communion has been irreversibly changed by these developments and this Lambeth Conference is not able to turn the clock back. The best way of exerting influence is by not attending, thus signalling that the conference cannot act as an instrument of unity at this time, nor can it speak with the authority which it had in 1998, an authority which was set aside by this novel teaching. …
Fourth, we need to have pastoral care for those who have been hurt. As you know, the Global South Anglicans have been in the forefront of the struggle of this issue since the beginning. … Given the fellowship which we enjoy with these leaders and their people, it is inconceivable that we should not join them in standing aside. We must support those who have been so courageous.
Fifth, we have a duty of pastoral care to the Anglican Christians in North America and elsewhere who have made their protest against the local innovations. … Faced with the terrible choice between unity and truth, they have chosen to live by the truth. Should we not be witnesses that their choice is right?
These are momentous days. The Anglican Communion is one of the great groupings of Christians in the world and has enormous capacity for good. The struggle in which we are engaged has ramifications for Christian witness everywhere. I value the support of the brothers and sisters of our Diocese and your unambiguously clear commitment to biblical teaching. I know that not all of you will agree with our decision. But I do ask you to join with me in prayer that the Lord will hallow his great name, bring in his kingdom and guard and unify his people in the truth of the Gospel. And pray for us, that we may have wisdom and discernment sufficient for the day.