The Tensions of Living in Communion – Anglican Communion Secretary General’s Lecture in Dublin
The Anglican Communion is healthy but it also faces many hurts and challenges and the Anglican mission is being distorted by conflict over human sexuality, according to its Secretary General, Archbishop Josiah Idowu–Fearon. Dr Idowu–Fearon was speaking to ordinands, staff and guests at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute yesterday afternoon (Wednesday February 22) where he gave a lecture entitled ‘Global Anglicanism – Where Are We Now?’
If numbers are a sign of health, the Archbishop said, there is good news for the Anglican Communion. He referred to a collection of essays edited by David Goodhew, Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion: 1980 to the Present, which highlighted that from 1970 to 2010 the Anglican Communion as a whole grew from 46 million people to 86 million people. However, he pointed out that the patterns of growth and decline were uneven with the Global South experiencing extraordinary growth, but not everywhere, and the Global North experiencing significant decline, but again not everywhere.
Focusing on the unity and integrity of the Anglican Communion, the Secretary General said that all churches experienced some challenges whether it be economic decline and escalating differences between rich and poor, political instability or increased environmental fragility. He said there is massive displacement of people, violent persecution of religious minorities, especially of Christians and inter religious tensions are growing.
“All of these contexts challenge the faith and witness of the Church deeply, and call us to mission in new ways in uncertain contexts. At a time in history in which the life and witness of Christians as ministers of reconciliation is needed as at no other time, our mission is being distorted by the dispiriting and destructive dynamic of Anglican conflict over human sexuality, between the provinces of the Anglican Communion, as well as within them. Our differences on this question can lead us to question the faith of one another, and can impede our common mission with one another to the world,” he stated.
He added: “The stakes around the internal health of wholeness of the Anglican Communion are not just about growing our 86+ million members around the world. It is about being the Church; it is about fulfilling the Great Commission in evangelism and the broadest mission of the Church, to be the sign and servant of God’s design for the world, which is to gather humanity and all creation into communion under the Lordship of Christ (cf. Ephesians 1.10). When we are faithful to this mission, we will naturally grow”.
He said that over the 20 months since his appointment as Secretary General he had reached the decision that in spite of the divisions in the communion, the Holy Spirit is faithful and continues to bless the life and mission of the churches of the Anglican Communion. He pointed to two defining moments in 2016: the gathering and meeting of the Primates in Canterbury in January and the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka.
The Primates meeting in Canterbury were well aware of all the perspectives on homosexuality in the Anglican Communion and Dr Idowu–Fearon said they did not try to change each others’ minds but tried to understand one another and appreciate their different contexts. At one point, he said it looked as if, for the sake of supporting mission in the different parts of the world, there was only one way forward: to split and become two or three smaller regional communions of Anglican churches. However, when it was put to a vote, the Primates unanimously decided to walk together. “In the power of the ever–surprising Holy Spirit, they bore witness to a costly unity grounded in their agreement with one another, but in a communion grounded in the Crucified and Risen Christ,” he said.
ACC 16 met under the theme of ‘Intentional Discipleship’ and the Secretary General said he was struck by the experience of love for one another in a community in unity and diversity. The meeting passed 45 resolutions which, he felt, reflected an Anglican Communion that is “robust, responsible and vigorous in its discipleship and mission”.
The Secretary General highlighted the work of Anglicans across the globe, their ability to work ecumenically and on an interfaith basis, and the links between Anglican dioceses which cross the globe. He added that one of the things they all have in common is the Five Marks of Mission which continue to inform the churches of the Anglican Communion.
Dr Idowu–Fearon concluded that despite its challenges, the Anglican Communion retains its integrity. “My series of snap shots of life in the Anglican Communion suggest that in spite of our external and internal troubles, which are unquestionably serious and painful, we are still the Church. In a world so divided by difference and disagreement, we bear painful and costly witness to our experience that communion in Christ can contain disagreement so that it loses its power to divide. As such, only by the grace of God, the Anglican Communion fulfils a particular expression of the mission of God, to gather humanity and all creation into communion under the Lordship of Christ,” he stated.
The Most Reverend Josiah Idowu–Fearon is a Nigerian Archbishop appointed in July 2016 as Secretary General to the Anglican Communion: a family of 44 churches in 165 countries, with 86m members. He is based in London, is travelling widely at the request of member churches and is in demand as a speaker both in the UK and throughout the Communion.
Top – Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Canon Dr Maurice Elliott; the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu–Fearon and Archbishop Michael Jackson.
Bottom – Canon Maurice Elliott introduces Archbishop Josiah Idowu–Fearon in CITI.