By Joseph Wandera
Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked to us on the way, while he opened to us the Scripture?
— Luke 24:32
Although at a worldwide level there have been heated debates that tend to highlight divisions in the Anglican Communion, underlying these differences are strong bonds of affection.
Such stories of affinity and solidarity need to be told loudly lest we take for granted the grace of God at work within the Anglican family.
Shortly after I was made bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Mumias, Kenya, in the summer of 2019, I was privileged to be invited to join a group of bishops and their spouses on a pre-Lambeth Anglican Communion pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Organized by the Anglican Communion, it included participants from, among other nations, Ghana, Brazil, Colombia, Central Africa, Europe, South East Asia, Tanzania, Canada, Southern Africa, Swaziland, West Indies, Chile and the United States, around the theme “Walking Together.”
We ate and worshiped together, visited the Holy Land, and held conversations.
I was moved by the depth of relationships built during the short time.
Later, I was invited to Virginia Theological Seminary for an interesting consultation entitled “When Churches in Communion Disagree,” held in conjunction with the Living Church Foundation. Beyond the excellent papers given, my abiding memory is the amazing fellowship I experienced from fellow bishops across the Communion, faculty at VTS, and the organizers. I also had an amazing opportunity to be given generous hospitality by my brother Bishops George Sumner and John Bauerschmidt of the Dioceses of Dallas and Tennessee, respectively, and the Living Church Foundation in Dallas.
With the advent of COVID-19, bonds of fellowship across many institutions have been tested but not destroyed. Churches were closed and some remain shut, international and local travel was closed, and with this development, many lost the depth of face-to-face interaction and the opportunities this affords. The historic Lambeth Conference, which I had been eagerly looking forward to, was postponed. Hopefully, I will be able to attend this historic meeting in 2022. Tragically, many died or lost loved ones.
The use of social media for prayer, fellowship, and mutual learning have increased, though not without challenges, especially for those members of the Communion in the Global South whose internet can be unreliable and the cost prohibitive. Nevertheless, we must thank God for the internet.
Although a richly diverse community, in which it is sometimes difficult to experience what holds it together — and described by some as too divided and broken — it is remarkable how bonds of affection have radiated across the Communion and koinonia expressed in this context of adversity. It demonstrates that it is possible to overcome the deep divisions that have rocked the Communion.
As a diocese, we are grateful for the solidarity expressed by members of the Anglican family during these unprecedented times. Trinity Church Wall Street responded to our appeal around our internet connectivity, when our churches were closed. The Diocese in Europe, courtesy of Bishop Robert Innes’s Lenten appeal, supported the building of a classroom for our diocesan primary school to enable our hitherto overcrowded pupils to keep safe distance from each other. The Diocese of Dallas assisted us toward the furnishing of the classroom. When we had serious flooding in the midst of COVID-19, we again sent out an appeal and received humanitarian support from friends locally and abroad.
The people of Mumias Diocese are always joyous to share with our brothers and sisters in other contexts, the story of what God is doing in our communities. We continue to gladly receive guests from far and near to experience mission in a fast growing and youthful church in a largely rural and multi-religious community.
The Anglican family is alive and working despite the painful differences. When I interviewed Anglican bishops in Kenya on what it means to be a communion amidst difference, a majority of them compared Anglican disagreements to disagreements in families, which are usual but should not break the bonds of affection.
It seems to me like the notion of communion works best when we engage with each other, especially during times of crisis, like now. Such solidarity goes beyond theological reflections into the realm of diapraxis (dialogue in action).
Being on the way together, there are many opportunities to break bread. And when we do so, “our hearts will burn within us” (Luke 24:32).
While the average bishop in the Global South might not easily remember the contents of the Windsor Report or even the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant, the understanding that we belong to one Anglican family abides always with them, even sentimentally. And they identify with these values in a deeper way than words can explain.
While the vast majority of Anglicans in these parts of the world are deeply orthodox on the matters that have shaken the Communion, they still love and would like to enjoy fellowship with those who hold different stances from their own. There is an African proverb that “when brothers fight, the enemy takes over their wealth.”
We must forever guard the amazing fraternal heritage we share as Anglicans and not allow the “enemy” to share the spoils.
This is not to gloss over the things that cause us pain and injure our common heritage, but to acknowledge the massive opportunities for fellowship.
Serving in Mumias, Kenya — a place with a large Muslim presence that has been established far longer than Christianity — every day we encounter our Muslim brothers and sisters in the journey of life. This co-existence is largely peaceful, albeit with moments of mutual suspicion. In this context, we are enriched by each other’s presence helping us understand how each one of us finds fullness in the other, and above all in Jesus Christ, our savior.
Encountering each other with an attitude of charity and a spirit of generosity opens us to our common future before God, where we shall all feast on the heavenly bread together. But until that day dawns, we must offer to others an opportunity to come to the table of the Lord.