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Relentlessly Compassionate

In his opening address to Gafcon IV the chairman of the Gafcon Primates’ Council, the Most Reverend Dr Foley Beach, said that the fourth mark of “modern Anglicanism” was to be “relentlessly compassionate”.

Appealing to 2 Corinthians 5:14, 1 Timothy 1:5, Galatians 5:22 and the second Great Commandment, Archbishop Foley said,

“God calls us to be relentlessly compassionate to the people in our world”.

It was an interesting phrase, “relentlessly”, for it implied a task that had already begun but needed to be persisted in and ever more embedded in modern Anglicanism.

That there has been a start, however much more might be done in the future, is evident from the many who have arrived at Gafcon via the causes their Western churches support on this continent.

This isn’t new, at a previous Gafcon a group from one English church used their baggage allowance to transport essential plumbing supplies for an irrigation project. Having delivered their wares, they arrived at the Conference with neither piping nor sufficient clothing for the week.

This time, an English clergyman of the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE) arrived at Gafcon 4 overland from Tabora in Tanzania. That is the link diocese of the church he serves, and he had spent the week before the Conference visiting projects and preaching there. It was his first visit and he spoke passionately of being emotionally overwhelmed by the scenes of poverty and great needs he saw but also of the extraordinarily vibrant faith of those he met as they trusted God for their daily bread. For him and two Tanzanian bishops “overland” to Kigali meant a 600-kilometre, two-day drive on African roads.

Some of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) delegation, from a church in Savannah, Georgia, came by way of a project they work with in the Dioceses of Karamoja, Soroti and Masindi Kitara, Uganda. It is a programme which trains Lay Readers and Community and Mothers’ Union leaders in discipleship Bible studies in a form which always concludes with asking how what has been learnt will be turned in to love for and service of neighbours. That is a partnership across historic Anglicanism- both John Wesley and George Whitfield ministered in early Savannah while the Church of Uganda, which has had its own distinct identity for over 130 years, is revered as the home of the “Ugandan Martyrs”.

Representatives coming to Gafcon from another ACNA church broke their journey to spend time Nairobi, Kenya, including two days in one of the slums of that city where, amongst other attempts to alleviate the extreme poverty, they support a pre-school. Kuinde is about the size of a suburban block in the US but with thousands of people living there. Reporting on what it was like to visit the home of one of the helpers at the school an American guest said,

“It was one of the larger ones, about 10 by 10 floor space, but 9 people live there… There’s no running water in Kuinde... the latrines are privately owned and locked… so most people use the drainage ditches that run through the slum.”

The pre-school is critical because in Kenya to enter primary school children must pass an entrance exam. If they don’t pass, they don’t get into school, which means that they have little chance of a life outside the slum.

Others have returned to places in Africa where they themselves ministered for a while to renew partnerships in the gospel - to here in Rwanda, to South Africa and many other places.

Of course, these visitors to Gafcon were also but visitors to these places and projects- whatever assistance they and their churches are to them, it is those on the ground who sustain the work, day in, day out, year in, year out. It is the local saints who toil to maintain essential ministries in education, healthcare, welfare, peace-making, women’s rights, pastoral ministry and church growth. Which means that Archbishop’s Foley’s words need to be heeded all the more because the level of support given by more privileged Anglicans seldom reflects the extent of the efforts of those in the frontline. In the level of its generosity could only rarely be described as relentlessly compassionate.

The Jerusalem Declaration to which all Conference attendees must subscribe consists of just fourteen clauses, but this is regarded as sufficiently important to be one of them,

“We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy”.

This tenth proposition is itself no more than a reflection of something Bishop Jay Behan said as he taught from Colossians 1 on Tuesday morning.

He reminded the Conference that without Jesus no one can never truly understand anything in any area of life because Jesus is supreme in all creation past, present and future.

It is that supremacy which is understood and lived out in these local projects and global partnerships. But as Archbishop Beach is also fond of saying: “Forward, everywhere forward, always forward”.

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