The weekend in Anglican-land has produced the passing of gas, various stomach rumblings, a belch or two and several fine essays.
There were all sorts of noise that accompanied an essay on feminism by Elizabeth Kaeton over on her blog Telling Secrets. Folks over at Stand Firm took considerable umbrage at the essay, which in a early incarnation had a nightmare sort of dream about a woman with too many children finally going nuts. 'Lizabeth (as the Mad Priest calls her) removed the offensive dream and the name reference, but the damage was done. Part of the damage was that Elizabeth is a damn fine writer and a zingo progressive and all that and therefore game for those who wish to pounce. The Mad Priest spoke right to the point on this. Read his comments HERE. Of course, aside from the bad dream and the questionable taste in telling it, the real reason for not liking her essay is that she is mostly right. For example, in the use of this graphic statement:
Well, it was more or less all water under the bridge, but it gave rise to a rather fine essay by none other than Baby Blue, whose tone these past few days has been snippy at best. She wrote this essay, The Alabaster Jar
and although she was given to using the word "meek" as in "the meek shall inherit the earth," she drew from that a wonderful argument for humility. I do not very much like the word "meek." It is too easy to make that a matter of compliance. And I cannot see BabyBlue or Elizabeth being compliant (not with the Windsor Report, guys, but with you know... us) when it comes to ideas, theology, and speaking one's mind. The essay does, however, reveal a writer of considerable depth - something we already know if we see some of BabyBlue's artistic sensibilities in the whole of her blog. Elizabeth is off with a pile of other people in Belize and not available for much comment back, so I will just have to do with whatever comments BB might make. Elizabeth writes well, and sometimes outrageously. These are outrageous times. BabyBlue does the same. (I thought for example that her recent essay on the Presiding Bishop was so thick with scorn that it could not possibly be by the same writer as The Alabaster Jar, but it is.) Perhaps there is something instructive in all this, namely that when strong women write about matters close to the center of their lives, the rest of us need to stand back.
Meanwhile, under the heading of great writing: Fr. Jake continues to amaze. He has written several pieces that are evocative and helpeful all at once. Accepting Responsibility beyond our Borders fills out the argument about why, even if it is difficult, we need to pay attention to belonging to the Anglican Communion. It is not about US (us as the United States). It is about all of us, namely Christians who in one way or another are informed by a reformed catholic faith. If we stand back from engagement with Nigeria, Kenya, the rest of the core Global South crowd, etc, then we make life even more difficult for people there seeking a church community in which they can be who they are with integrity. We do need to argue these things out in public. I cannot do justice to Fr. Jake's notes, so simply encourage you to read them there.
Under the heading of giving credit where credit is due: The web pages of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) have carried two very different postings: one the remarks of the Archbishop of Nigeria on an APPEAL TO CHRISTIAN YOUTHS IN THE
CofN's webpages also posted a speach given by Bishop Kowashi titled, "THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION: AN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE." This speach was given at the "Anglican Mainstream Fringe Meeting" at the time of the General Syond of the Church of England. This, I take it, is like speaking to The Witness dinner (although across the theological divide.) It was not a meeting of Synod, but in the general vicinity of Synod. I am sure that if I got this wrong someone will tell me.
The speech is a very fine telling of what it means to be Anglican from a users' viewpoint - that is to say from the standpoint of the history of a place that received the gospel from the Church of England and outside Anglicans and made it new in place. In the mid 1990's I wrote The Challenge of Change (Church Publishing) and in it I expressed the hope that we might begin to get a user's history. This speech is part of such a history.
He said this, among other things: "Whereas in the West the dawn of Christianity has almost been lost in the mists of time in Nigeria the arrival of Christianity is a recent event which is still very sharp in our memories. In Plateau State where I was born and where I now live and work as Bishop, we are this decade celebrating the centenary of the first arrivals of the various Missions: SUM (now Action Partners) 1904, RCM 1907, CMS 1907. Our grandparents were amongst the first Christians in their towns and villages. One of my own grandfathers chose to follow Christ and therefore left his throne with its pagan, cultic practices. My father was converted and left his pagan house. This difference in time scale makes a huge difference to our perception of the Christian faith and thus to our vision, expectations, hopes and longings for the Anglican Communion."
This is a very important point, and one we miss at our peril. At the same time some of us (myself included) are very aware that our own pre-Christian history is closer than we imagine. We have only to look behind the Christmas tree and there in the corner there is my ancestor who painted himself blue and worshiped trees and perhaps others of my ancesters who came first to attack and rape and later to settle on England's good soil. The Druid and the Northern gods are not too far out there in the wings. One of the differences is that we can conveniently ignore much of that and Bishop Kowashi cannot.
Toward the end of his speech the Bishop made reference to the Anglican Communion as missionary minded and opined that, "
The burning concern for mission is at the heart of what it means for us to be Anglican. We are therefore training and sending missionaries further and further afield, for example reaching into the nooks and crannies of the north of Nigeria and from there over the border into Liger, Cameroun, and even Kazakistan, with some missionaries working from their diocese, some through the Church of Nigeria Missionary Society. CNMS is the heart-beat of Anglican work in Nigeria and beyond. For many years we have had a Nigerian chaplain working with students in London: Cyril Okorocha, Ken Okeke, Jacob Ajetinobe and now Ben Enwuchola.
The Rt Rev Abiodun Olaoye is a missionary Bishop working in Congo; the Rt Rev Simon Mutum is working with the nomadic mission in the North of Nigeria; the Rt Rev Martyn Minns is in America.
What the good Bishop does NOT say is that the missionaries that came to Nigeria did not come to a place where there was an Anglican episcopal presence already in place. He says, "These bishops are all bishops of the Church of Nigeria, consecrated along with others in Nigeria, but sent by the church to work in other areas or countries, just as in earlier years, English bishops came to work alongside us here." One presumes the English bishops, colonial though they were, were more or less welcomed, or if not welcomed it did not matter because they were imposed by colonial control. I gather Bishop Olaoye is welcomed in the Congo by the Church in place there. Bishop Mutum is probably in need of welcome from the tribes, but there is no other Anglican body in place. But Bishop Minns is not welcomed by the Anglican church, in the form of The Episcopal Church, here.
Bishop Kwashi skips over that. He then says, "We in our turn are glad to welcome long term mission partners as well as short term visitors to live and work in Nigeria." I am sure Nigeria does indeed welcome partners. But we must be clear that it does not welcome partners who are part of the unreconstructed Episcopal Church - that is the Church that works within the context of General Convention governance.
At the end of the essay Bishop Kwashi makes a devout plea that in some ways I find very challenging:
"It is therefore a deep worry and concern to us today when we see energy, effort, gifts and time being spent on rancour, argument, abuse and division. It pains us when the essential truth of the gospel appears to be compromised in any way. In the nineteenth century in England there was the Oxford movement in some areas which eventually led to argument and controversies over elaborate vestments and ceremonies. Even without TV and the internet, news of this reached Crowther in Nigeria. In his charge to his clergy in Lokoja in 1869 Crowther said:
“Not only in the missionary fields do we witness…[the] attempts of Satan to gain back those who had forsaken his service… but he makes his approach in more subtle form, in a mask, to corrupt vital religion under the revival of rituals. “ (Duke Akamisoko, (Samuel Ajayi Crowther in the Lokoja Area, Ibadan, Sefer, 2002, p. 33)."
I believe we ought all share that sense, that we keep our eye on the prize, the "essential truth of the Gospel." It turns out we are in vast disagreement as to just how to lay out the implications of that "essential truth."
What the good bishop does not explain is his part in the "rancour, argument, abuse and division" brought about by his engagement with CANA. But that will wait for another day. For the moment, I recommend reading the speech. It is worth the chew.
Sometimes it is interesting to see what develops in a posting: Here I was able to put Elizabeth Kaeton, BabyBlue, Fr. Jake, Archbishop Akinola and Bishop Kwashi all in in one post.
Is the Anglican Communion worth the effort...you bet it is. A covenant won't help. It takes more or less open hearts to keep this mass alive.