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Communion Partner Bishop reflects on his time at the 4th Global South Encounter

SINGAPORE: Communion Partner Bishop reflects on his time at the 4th Global South Encounter

By Bishop John W. Howe
May 1, 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

First Day

The 4th "South to South Encounter" is being held in Singapore this week. The name comes from the 20 Primates of the "Global South" wanting to meet with each other, as they have now done three times previously (Limuru 1994, Kuala Lumpur 1997, and Egypt 2005). This time they have invited both the Communion Partners Bishops and the Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America to send representatives ("associates"). After much prayer and discussion with the other CP Bishops, we determined that our representatives should be +Mark Lawrence from South Carolina and myself.

(Many of the clergy of Central Florida, having heard about this meeting, have sent financial gifts to help with the fairly considerable expenses; thank you. The trip has been fully subscribed as of this past week.) The travel was absolutely grueling: Orlando to Minneapolis, to Tokyo, to Singapore - 27 hours in all (and I have never been able to sleep on a plane.)

But I arrived safely at around 1:15 AM Singapore time this morning, Sunday, (which is exactly 12 hours ahead of Orlando). I got a few hours of rest (no real sleep) before being picked up at 10:45 to preach at the 11:15 service at St. Andrew's Cathedral. Interesting experience.

St. Andrew's is very centrally located in the downtown. The Cathedral population is extremely diverse (as is Singapore itself). There are three main "first" languages, including Malay, Chinese (Mandarin), and Tamil, but virtually everyone speaks English as the "official" language of Singapore. The 11:15 service is one of sixteen services held every Sunday(.), and all of them are pretty well packed. There were over 500 present at the one I attended, all ages, with a preponderance of young people.

The first and lasting impression this American had was how slender most of them are in comparison to most folks back home. Following the service I went to lunch with the Archbishop, the Dean, one of the Assistant clergy, the Wardens, and several of the Primates who have already arrived. (Most are coming in during the next 24 hours.) Amazing lunch.

True Chinese cuisine, that just kept coming: pork, shrimp, prawns, egg rolls, boiled peanuts, fried rice, duck soup, lobster balls, hot tea, lemon ice tea, and a cold mango soup for desert. The "Encounter" itself doesn't gear up until tomorrow afternoon. The Archbishop of Canterbury was originally to have been here for at least part of the Conference, but he has sent a video of his greetings, instead. (Bummer; I think it would have really been important for him to be here. But he probably could not have come, anyway due to the Iceland volcanic ash; I don't think anyone who was planning to come from Europe is going to make it.)

+Mark is already here, and I have seen +Martyn Minns and +John Guernsey from ACNA as well as the seemingly ever-present David Virtue of VirtueOnline. David was at the Cathedral this morning, as was Christopher Wells from The Living Church. +Bob Duncan was numbered among the Primates at lunch.

Most of the Global South will be present, except for those who were coming via Europe. I think it is likely that many, if not all, of the GS Primates will endorse and adopt the Anglican Covenant, although there is some talk of amending the 4th Section in some way. There is much unhappiness over the role of the somewhat self-defining "Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion," and concern that +Katharine Jefferts Schori (whose Province has now clearly rejected the Covenant in principle), is serving on it. I think it has been a good start.

Second Day

Leisurely morning. Our hotel is about 3/4 of a mile from the Cathedral, and about half-way in between is the Raffles Hotel and Arcade of (very expensive) shops. Raffles was built by the "founder" of Singapore who arrived in 1819, and laid out the plots for City Hall, the Cathedral, and other major city center features. It is a hugely historic and beautiful place. A couple of us went exploring its environs after breakfast. Singapore is extremely clean, and I am told it rains nearly every afternoon, which helps to keep it clean, and the vegetation lush.

It is about 10 degrees warmer than Orlando at this time of year, and much more humid. Because of that, even though the distance is walkable, not many tried. Instead, busses arrived to take us to the Cathedral at 2 PM. We had an informal Tea at 3 PM, and the Encounter began officially with the Eucharist at 4 PM. +Peter Akinola, now retired as Primate of Nigeria, is still the Chair of the Encounter, and he was the preacher, +John Chew the celebrant.

There are about 150 bishops, archbishops, clergy and people here for the conference, including about a dozen Americans who represent either ACNA, the Communion Partners, or who are otherwise affiliated with one of the Global South Provinces (e.g., +Chuck Murphy with AMiA, under Rwanda, +Martyn Minns with Nigeria, +Bill Atwood with Kenya). Following a torrential downpour that began just as we gathered for dinner, we had the first plenary session, with an address by +Ackinola's successor, +Nicholas Okoh, Primate of all Nigeria. His topic: The Gospel of Jesus Christ. A pretty basic summary, but within it he charged that the Anglican Communion has "broken covenant" with God, and it (we all) must repent: of our divisions, broken communion, and disloyalty to the Gospel.

Implicit in all he said is the action of TEC and others in the area of human sexuality, but his message was not THEY need to repent, but WE do. Both +Akinola's and +Okoh's comments can be read as an endorsement of the Anglican Covenant, or an indictment that it is flawed, and something stronger is needed. There is much speculation among the troops as to which they meant.

Third Day

We really "hit the ground running" today, beginning with the first of what promise to be three wonderful Bible Studies from Isaiah led by the Assistant Bishop of Singapore, Rennis Ponniah. He was introduced by the former Bishop (and Archbishop) Young Ping Chung, who was his chief consecrator. +Young Ping said that when Singaporeans mention "Bishop Ponniah" not everyone knows who they are talking about, but when someone mentions "Bible Teacher Ponniah" everyone knows exactly who they are talking about. Today he explored Isaiah's Vision and Call (which I have preached on dozens of times - and he mentioned several things neither I nor anyone else I spoke to about it had ever noticed.) More than head knowledge, we knew we were in the presence of the Lord.

The morning addresses were on the nature of Covenant, by Archbishop John Chew (not the Anglican Covenant, but Covenant as we encounter it in Scripture - and specifically, in Isaiah), followed by a discussion of the "structure" and calling of the Global South fellowship within the Anglican Communion, this by Archbishops Mouneer (the Middle East) and Emanuel Kolini (Rwanda). Kolini was devastating in his reprisal of the efforts of the GS Primates to restore TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada to compliance with the "mind of the Communion" regarding human sexuality over the past decade and a half and especially since 2003.

Meeting after meeting, resolution after resolution, communique after communique...at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, with no positive results. He said, "we do not need another resolution from this gathering, we need to act in accordance with what we know the Lord has said to us." I am not at all clear about what that means, but I have the sense that there is a weariness on his part and many of the other GS leaders, in waiting for decisive action by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

(I mentioned above that the ABC sent a video greeting, which we viewed at the close of the morning session. For the first time in my memory, there was no applause when he finished.) This afternoon I was included (as the "leader" of the Communion Partner "deputation" - consisting of myself and +Mark Lawrence.) in a visit by all the Primates to the Presidential Palace for high tea with the President of Singapore. I would guess the property was about the size of the White House property in DC.

The Palace is gorgeous, very colonial in style, and surrounded by a private golf course. (I thought about asking the Diocese to consider acquiring something like it as a retirement residence for the Bishop, but that might be misunderstood by some...) +Peter Ackinola, who has now retired as Archbishop of Nigeria, and who will be stepping down as Chairman of the Global South Steering Committee at the end of this week, said to the President, "We represent about 70% of the world's Anglicans; I might say that we represent the face of the 'new Anglicanism.'"

Interesting comment. About 2/3 of the Primates are black or brown. Most are relatively young, and most come from the world's "two-thirds nations." Following dinner the Primates met together and invited all of the "Western Associates" (ACNA, the CP Bishops, Bishops from Australia and New Zealand) to meet with them. The conversation focused almost entirely on ACNA, CP, and TEC.

I think tonight's meeting may have been the principal reason I am here. There is (or at least was) much confusion among the GS Primates as to why there are two different groups from North America, both claiming to be orthodox Anglicans (ACNA and CP). While some understood clearly that CP is committed to remaining orthodox and remaining Anglican, they question why ACNA has felt it necessary to leave and start something new. Others, however (and I would guess perhaps a 2/3 majority or more) question why and how we who are part of CP can remain in TEC.

And for them the question was: "if we have declared 'impaired' or 'broken' communion with TEC, how can we be 'communion partners' with the Communion Partners?" +Bob Duncan and I did most of the talking, and I think we were both respectful and supportive of each others' positions. I said that over the past many years we have walked a great distance together, beginning with a shared commitment to remain orthodox within TEC.

But finally the time came when many who had shared that commitment within the Anglican Communion Network determined that they could NOT remain part of TEC any longer. Those who left have (for the most part) become ACNA. But the Communion Partners continue to hold the original commitment, and we have not been told by TEC to do that which we cannot, or been forbidden to do what we must. I described my (and our) commitment to "be there" for those who wish to remain part of TEC, but equally to "be there" for those who believe they must leave.

I think that by the end of the evening there was pretty general agreement that Archbishop Ian Ernest (of the Province of the Indian Ocean) got it right when he wrote to the ABC on April 12: "I feel constrained by my conscience to uphold my duty as shepherd of the flock and to forthwith suspend all communication both verbal and sacramental with both TEC and the ACC - their Primates, bishops and clergy until such time as they reverse their theological innovations, and show a commitment to abide by the decisions of the Lambeth Conference.

This suspension of communion would not include those bishops and clergy who have distanced themselves from the direction of TEC (such as the Communion Partners group)." [emphasis added] They asked me to outline the CP "strategy," and I mentioned five points:

1) Dioceses accept/adopt the Covenant,
2) Build bridges to CP parishes in non-covenanting dioceses,
3) Differentiate ourselves from the go-slow moves of 815,
4) Differentiate ourselves especially from 815's professed understanding of our polity, [We believe, for instance, that +KJS is dead wrong in her contention that the only body that can adopt the Covenant is the General Convention. The truth is that unless GC were to make acceptance of the Covenant a matter of our canons or constitution - which it manifestly will not. - it can only pass resolutions that are "recommendatory," and not binding. We believe that it is not only legitimate for dioceses to adopt the Covenant; we believe it is actually ONLY dioceses that have the authority to do so], and
5) Seek as strong a partnership with the Global South as is possible. All of this seemed to be to be very well received, PTL.

Fourth Day

"Bible Teacher Ponniah" continued his good study of Isaiah. If the first one might be called "A Fresh Vision of the Lord," today's might be called "A Fresh Vision of the Church." We looked at the first of the "Servant Songs" in Isaiah (chapter 42).

The Prophet's original intention may have been to speak of an "Ideal Israel" (in contrast to the very compromised Israel he has been discussing previously, but by the fourth Song (chapters 52 and 53) the Servant has pretty clearly been defined as an individual, the "Suffering Servant," consistently interpreted in/by the New Testament authors as Jesus. However, "while Jesus fulfills the role" of the Servant, "he does not exhaust it." It remains an explicit description of the calling of (the New) Israel - i.e., the Church.

All the things that Jesus was and is the Church is to be, also. Its ministry is to effect the total transformation of society into the well-being and justice of the people, and the restoration of God's right order in the world. The nature of its presence is to be that of beautiful strength and unostentatious behavior. "In this day of mega-churches, pastors are celebrities. But we are not called to be celebrities, we are called to be celebrants: those who point away from ourselves to Another." The key, of course, is: "I will put my Spirit upon him."

My sense is that the spirituality of most of the Anglican Christians in the Global South is a deep evangelical simplicity. These people are neither unintelligent nor uneducated. But theirs is an uncomplicated and unsophisticated faith. They are absolutely bewildered by what they perceive as obstinacy and duplicity on the part of Western Anglicans. How is it possible, they ask, that their (our) response to the presentation of gospel truth and God's expectations and standards would be anything other than immediate repentance and submission?

The Global South largely understands its calling to be that of a Suffering Servant within a deeply flawed and compromised Anglican Communion. As the week unfolds it looks less and less certain that there will be widespread adoption of the Anglican Covenant. There may be an attempt to pass it with an added codicil stipulating compliance with Lambeth 1:10 from 1998 - but even that is far from certain.

It turns out that about half of the Primates present have become Primates since the last Encounter (2005), so they are still trying to gain perspective regarding the divisions and controversies that are besetting us. At lunch today the contingent from Burundi asked to meet with +Mark Lawrence and me (Archbishop Bernard Nthoturi, and three other bishops). They said that they have voted in their Council to seek to establish "missional relationships" with Communion Partner bishops and dioceses.

They do not want to "give up on" TEC, but neither do they want anything to do with the trajectory being pursued by 815. We talked at some length about what that might look like, and I informed them of the vote of our Convention a year ago January to encourage all of our congregations to plan and sponsor short-term mission trips to other parts of the world. I suggested that their interest in CP, and our interest in mission trips might be a perfect "wedding."

I am going to negotiate with Bishop Bernard to see if we can arrange a visit from him to Central Florida, to address our Convention next January, and visit several of our congregations as well as several nearby dioceses. This could well open a door for something very significant for many of our congregations. Following lunch +Mark and I were asked to meet with Archbishop John Chew. He wants to strengthen the relationship of the GS to ACNA and CP. He asked what the response of CP would be if the GS Primates were to officially recognize the ACNA as a Province with which they are in communion.

In particular, would that in any way hinder or undermine our work as CP? We said we did not think it would so long as any statement of broken communion with TEC was accompanied by the kind of qualification in +Ian Ernest's letter to the ABC, that such brokenness did NOT include the CP bishops and dioceses.

He does not necessarily speak for all of the GS at this point, but if indeed this is where things come out it appears to me that the trip has been worth it. Good news. We learned this evening that +John Chew has been elected Chairman of the Global South Primates' Steering Committee.

Fifth Day

The Bible Study today was the final one in Bishop Rennis' teaching, "A Fresh Vision of Leadership," based upon Isaiah 50:4-9. His three main points were that: 1) leadership flows from intimate communion (v. 4), and the question he raised was: "Have you lost your first love?" 2) Leadership demands costly obedience (v. 6), and the question he raised was: "Can you drink the cup?" 3) Leadership must reflect holy confidence (v. 7), and the question he raised (per Abraham) was: "Will you leave your 'country' [i.e., surroundings, salary, comfort zone, or whatever] and enter into a vulnerable journey?"

These have been powerful, searching studies, and I have been glad to be part of them. There was then a lengthy discussion of the challenges facing the Global South in terms of developing self-reliance financially, and networking to accomplish great things for the Kingdom. The afternoon began to focus on drafting a communique to share with the "folks back home" - and the rest of the Communion - what we sensed the Lord was saying to us this week.

Interestingly, while the prerequisite for attendance was agreement with the proposed Anglican Covenant, so that everyone came expecting that would be a major agenda item for us...in the draft of the communique hardly a word was said about it. Whether that reflects widespread dissatisfaction with what has been proposed so far, or perhaps it is a matter of sensing that we have already moved beyond it, I am not at all certain.

On the other hand, nearly a third of the proposed communique deals with The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church in North America, and the Communion Partners - even though they, too, have hardly been discussed (save for the meeting with the Primates two nights ago).

There was some strong division about what was proposed in that section, and afterward I was able to suggest a couple of changes to one of the Primates who was involved in the drafting, who told me later that my suggestions were being incorporated into the final draft which will be presented tomorrow.

So, that, too, may have been a reason why the Lord wanted me to be here this week. We will see. One more day, and then I have to be up at 3 AM on Saturday for a flight that leaves at 6:10. Seven hours to Tokyo, plus an hour's change of time zones. Then about 13 hours to LA, during which we will experience the evening and the morning...and it will still be the same day. Then another 5 hours to Orlando. I'm not much looking forward to the trip (.), but I sure am looking forward to being home.

Sixth Day

The day began with "Reflections" from each of the "Western Associates" contingents (Australia, New Zealand, the ecumenical visitor from the Coptic Church, ACNA and the Communion Partners. I was asked to speak on behalf of CP, and these were my remarks: "On behalf of the Communion Partners Bishops and Rectors I want to thank you for your hospitality and the welcome we have received among you this week.

"We are grateful for the witness and ministry of the Global South, and for your sense of calling to be a faithful 'Suffering Servant' within the Anglican Communion. "The Communion Partners are committed to remaining faithful, remaining orthodox, within The Episcopal Church, and to remaining in full communion with the rest of the Anglican World, even while the majority of Provinces have declared that The Episcopal Church as a whole has broken communion - or impaired it - by recent decisions of our House of Bishops and our General Convention.

"We understand that is confusing to some. "We said to the Archbishop of Canterbury several years ago that if he were to declare that The Episcopal Church is no longer in full constituent communion with the See of Canterbury we would accept that - even though we, too, repudiate many of the recent decisions our Province has made. "Archbishop John Chew met with us on Wednesday and asked a very important question.

He said, 'If the Global South were to officially recognize the Anglican Church in North America, would that undermine the position of the Communion Partners?' "We said, 'No, so long as you can endorse us in some way, also.' "Archbishop Ian Ernest wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury just last week, on April 12, and suggested that the time has come 'to suspend all communication...verbal and sacramental with...The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada...until such time as they reverse their theological innovations...' But, he said, 'this suspension of communion would not include those bishops and clergy who have distanced themselves from the direction of The Episcopal Church (such as the Communion Partners group).'

"We are deeply grateful for this distinction, and we do hope it will be incorporated into the final version of your communique. It is our sincere desire to remain your partners for Jesus' sake. Pray for us as we pray for you." Well, thanks be to God, that distinction was preserved in the final version. You will find the communique in its entirety in various places, but I want to quote for you the paragraphs that are particularly relevant to TEC, ACNA, and CP:

16. ...we continue to grieve over the life of The Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada and all those churches that have rejected the Way of the Lord as expressed in Holy Scripture. The recent action of TEC in the election and intended consecration of Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, as a bishop in Los Angeles, has demonstrated, yet again, a total disregard for the mind of the Communion. These churches continue in their defiance as they set themselves on a course that contradicts the plain teaching of the Holy Scriptures on matters so fundamental that they affect the very salvation of those involved. Such actions violate the integrity of the Gospel, the Communion and our Christian witness to the rest of the world. In the face of this we dare not remain silent and must respond with appropriate action.

17. We uphold the courageous actions taken by Archbishops Mouneer Anis (Jerusalem and the Middle East), Henry Orombi (Uganda) and Ian Ernest (Indian Ocean) and are encouraged by their decision not to participate in meetings of the various Instruments of Communion at which representatives of The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada are present. We understand their actions to be in protest of the failure to correct the ongoing crisis situation.

18. Some of our Provinces are already in a state of broken and impaired Communion with The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. Their continued refusal to honor the many requests [footnote specific Windsor recommendations] made of them by the various meeting of the Primates throughout the Windsor Process have brought discredit to our witness and we urge the Archbishop of Canterbury to implement the recommended actions. In light of the above, this Fourth South-to-South Encounter encourages our various Provinces to reconsider their communion relationships with The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada until it becomes clear that there is genuine repentance.

19. We were pleased to welcome two Communion Partner bishops from The Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and acknowledge that with them there are many within TEC who do not accept their church's innovations. We assure them of our loving and prayerful support. We are grateful that the recently formed Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is a faithful expression of Anglicanism. We welcomed them as partners in the Gospel and our hope is that all provinces will be in full communion with the clergy and people of the ACNA and the Communion Partners.

They also comment that they are working to strengthen the proposed Anglican Covenant by stipulating that those who adopt it must be in full compliance with Lambeth 1:10 (1998). And they say there is a need to review the entire Anglican Communion structure, especially the Instruments of Communion and the Anglican Communion office. And they insist that the Primates should be the ones to oversee the implementation of the Covenant r/t the so-called "Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion."

I think all of this amounts to an amazing affirmation and confirmation of what we are trying to be about in Central Florida and among the Communion Partners, and it was unanimously adopted by the Encounter, a group representative of approximately 70 - 75% of the world's Anglicans.

I am grateful to have been here. I believe I was able to make a significant contribution. I am very eager to have tomorrow's travel behind me. And I am enormously grateful for your prayers.

Two personal footnotes. Bishop Sam Sahu from Melanesia came up to me and said, "I was a Youth Minister when you did a Renewal Conference in Fiji 27 years ago; it changed my life." And the new Archbishop of Tanzania, Valentino Mokiwa, said "I have been a disciple of yours for years." (Meaning, he has studied a lot of the teachings that I recorded over the years.) Such comments are very humbling, and wonderfully encouraging. And, frankly, amazing.

Warmest regards in our Lord,

The Right Rev. John W. Howe
Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida

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