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Tables turned in Entebbe - Martyn Minns

Tables turned in Entebbe

by Bishop Martyn Minns
Sept. 2, 2010

The tables were turned in Entebbe, Uganda this week as hundreds of Anglican Bishops from all over Africa gathered for their second All Africa Bishops Conference (AABC). The first took place six years ago in Lagos, Nigeria in October, 2004 with the theme - "Africa Has Come of Age" - this time the theme was "Securing the Future: Unlocking our Potential".

Both the Prime Minster of Uganda, the Honorable Dr. Apolo Nsibambi, and the President of Uganda, His Excellency Yoweri K. Museveni personally welcomed the Conference. They also hosted a five-course formal dinner at the palatial State House, Entebbe, accompanied by a full orchestra playing revival hymns. Both men turned the tables on the assembled bishops by using the opportunity to both establish their credentials as sons of the East African Revival and also deliver challenging biblically based sermons. Their words were refreshingly direct.

The Prime Minister called on the participants to sit lightly on their status as bishops and stay true to the plain teaching of Scripture. The President reminded them of the dangers of religious intolerance and challenged them to follow the example of Jesus especially in his commitment to preach the Word, feed the hungry, heal the sick and love the downtrodden. The messages were delivered with clarity and conviction and well received.

Throughout the conference there were many calls on the various governments of the countries represented to be faithful stewards of their people's trust and their nations resources. This healthy interchange between church and government leaders was a reminder that Anglicanism has historically embraced the call to serve the common good through deliberate engagement with those in civil government.

At the first AABC conference the Archbishop of Canterbury was conspicuous by his absence, this time he came and preached at the opening Eucharist. In his carefully nuanced sermon on Jesus as the Good Shepherd Dr. Williams warned the gathered bishops to listen to their people and take risks.

In his Conference address Archbishop Ian Ernest, Chairman of CAPA (Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa) responded by making it clear that Dr. Williams was there to listen to the voice of the Anglican Communion in Africa and not take risks on its future. He went on to state that the existing leadership structures of the Communion had failed, were increasingly irrelevant and unrepresentative of the majority of the Communion. This view was echoed Archbishop Henry Orombi, Primate of Uganda and host of the conference, who declared to one reporter "the Anglican Church is very broken. It (church) has been torn at its deepest level, and it is a very dysfunctional family of the provincial churches."

These challenging words were delivered respectfully but there was no mistaking the determination and resolve. In a meeting with the Primates, Dr Williams was left in no doubt that unless he was willing to follow through on the numerous decisions to exercise discipline towards The Episcopal Church (USA) and its fellow travelers, the Anglican Communion focused on Canterbury will continue to disintegrate. Both Archbishops Ernest and Orombi also made it clear that the days of deference to the West as the sender of missionaries and resources were over. They are now ready to turn the tables and re-evangelize the West understanding that Gospel mission is no longer from the "West to the rest" but from "everywhere to anywhere".

The conference itself was a combination of enthusiastic worship, energetic expositional Bible Studies and a wide variety of plenary presentations and group discussions that dealt with many of the practical issues that confront Anglican Churches in Africa. The spectrum was wide including issues of climate change, HIV/Aids, corruption, neglect of women and children and the need for economic empowerment. At times the language for these sessions sounded more like that of a United Nations development conference and several participants cautioned that while the church must engage in practical social concerns it must always do so mindful of its distinctive role as the Body of Christ with spiritual resources that are indispensible if we are to see a lasting transformation of the communities where they serve.

In keeping with African tradition the tea breaks were generous and it seemed that much of the real work of the conference took place as leaders from across Africa met, drank tea, shared experiences and prayed together. One of the most moving moments in the Conference took place when bishops from those countries experiencing violent conflict were invited come forward and kneel for extended prayer from the rest of the conference participants. This willingness to be humbled before one another and before the Lord is, of course, a distinctive element of the East African Revival and was embraced by all present.

The overall attitude of the conference was a recognition that while many problems remain the remarkable growth that they have all experienced in the past six years is a sign that they are ready to take on the challenges before them. The Gospel they proclaim is Good News of Great Joy for all people and it showed in Entebbe.

----The Rt. Rev'd Martyn Minns is a Missionary Bishop with CANA, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)

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