By Bishop Linda Nicholls
In July 2018 our diocese hosted a consultation of bishops from across our Communion. Eight Canadian Bishops, thirteen African bishops, one from the USA and one from England gathered with national staff at the Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre in London, Ontario from July 18-22. This was the ninth consultation to be held since Lambeth 2008, initiated by Archbishop Colin Johnson and Canon Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa (national staff) to deepen understanding at a time when differences, particularly on human sexuality, were threatening to tear the Communion apart.
These annual conversations, held in Africa, England, USA and Canada, have opened doors of communication and theological reflection to help us hear one another beyond the rhetoric of social media or angry diatribes. These are not conversations designed to reach agreement on issues but to explore our unity in Christ and why, with our common heritage but different contexts, we find ourselves in different places on issues such as interpretation of scripture, moral discernment; and human sexuality.
While meeting in London we worshipped together each day before entering our conversations. Our primate, Fred Hiltz, gave a passionate summation of the work of the Consultations and urged us to continue to meet, continue to bear witness to the possibility of reconciliation and continue to find our unity in Christ. To better understand a key part of our Canadian context we visited the Oneida nation for a morning of learning with the Rev. Ros Elm. Part of our discussions involved preparations for the next Lambeth Conference in 2020 in Canterbury as we want to share the gifts of our dialogue with other bishops as a sign of possibilities we can nurture.
The highlight of the consultation were the testimonies of bishops who have been to almost all of the nine meetings as they testified to the transformation in their own lives and ministries through these meetings and through seeing the contexts of ministry that so deeply shape how we live the gospel. Bishop Michael Bird spoke of discovering a passion to work on human trafficking in light of seeing and hearing the stories of slavery in Africa and Virginia, USA. Archbishop Julius Kalu spoke of learning about seeing the fullness of humanity including those of different orientations, and discovering his call to love all people in the Church. Bishop Jane Alexander reminded us that reconciliation is a mark of the Anglican Communion. She spoke of how this dialogue challenged her to write the 5 Marks of Mission directly into the constitution of her diocese and changed her ministry as a bishop.
Canon Todd Townshend led us in theological reflection including a reminder that one could see the whole New Testament summed up in the theme of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19) – as God’s commitment is reconciling us to God and calling us to the same ministry of reconciliation. It is not optional! We are a family. We are one in Christ alone, not because we agree with each other but because God has chosen us first.
It was a privilege to host this consultation in our diocese. Let us pray that the work of reconciliation that we long for in all areas of our life as a diocese, as a Church across Canada and as churches witnessing to unity in an increasingly divided world will bear fruit in the months ahead.