Recently I was invited to join the Anglican Bishops in Dialogue group and travelled to Nairobi, Kenya for the eighth meeting of this group of bishops from Canada, Africa, the United Kingdom and the USA.
This dialogue of bishops began at the Lambeth Conference in 2008 when, in the midst of the tensions the Anglican Communion is experiencing over differences in responding to human sexuality, Archbishop Colin Johnson invited some African and Canadian bishops to an event to begin to listen intentionally to one another beyond the stereotypes. Out of that first meeting a continuing dialogue has met annually for eight years. It has involved forty-nine bishops over that time.
In Nairobi we were a group of twenty bishops. We shared worship together in morning and evening prayer and Eucharist with the support of the Ven. Jane Mwangangi as our Chaplain from the Diocese of Nairobi. We listened to Archbishop Ole Sapit, the new Archbishop of Kenya, as he shared his concerns and hopes for the Communion and were lead in reflections on the concept of haraambe which has built Kenya through a commitment to common purpose and using the gifts of all.
We looked at the fruit of the dialogue over the last eight years in light of the upcoming Lambeth Conference in 2020, seeking to discern how we will share what we have learned about and from one another. There was no doubt that everyone has deeply valued the dialogue. It has strengthened friendships, dispelled misunderstandings, opened doors and deepened our commitment to our shared life in the Anglican Communion.
We still find deep differences on some matters but these are not Communion dividing. Conversations are building relationships slowly and gently over meals and coffee breaks – and on occasion we found ourselves able to delve deeper into the ways in which we see our faith and the world in order to understand why we may differ. These are eye opening moments that are treasured. We discovered much that we share in our struggles around mission and ministry today and we continue to find ways to support one another in prayer and practice.
We did planning for future dialogue meetings (2018 & 2019) with the hope that the dialogue will meet in London, Ontario in July 2018!! I know that our diocese will make the bishops most welcome.
On Sunday, June 18, we worshipped in a variety of parishes around the Diocese of Nairobi. Bishop Jane Alexander (Edmonton) and I were assigned to St. Mark’s Parish in Nairobi, a large and very active parish – six services every Sunday morning! Bishop Jane and I were each invited to preach and celebrate at the two Youth Services (18-35 yr. olds) in the parish hall. It was a joy to see these services filled with young adults and families. The praise band may have been a bit deafening – but was filled joy and the Spirit. The main traditional service in English had a church packed with at least 400 people – a large Sunday School and another group of teens. We were warmly greeted by all – and especially by the women clergy who were excited to be in the presence of women bishops – not yet a reality in Kenya.
We were aware of the high level of security everywhere in Nairobi – every car searched upon entering or leaving the hotel or other place and people & bags screened repeatedly. We were also aware that Kenya is in the midst of an election – a young democracy finding its way with political parties that reflect tribal allegiances while searching for ways to go beyond those to the common good. It is good to be reminded of the challenges faced by our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
In these days when hatred is being fanned by inflammatory speech and actions the Bishop’s Dialogue stands as an example of commitment to stay at the table together – listen to the other – and find our common ground in the midst of differences. I pray that this will be the way we witness to our unity in Christ in the Anglican Church of Canada too.
(Photos: Bishop Linda Nicholls)