By Carolyn Purden
This June, close to 20 bishops from Africa, the United States and Canada will converge on Toronto to engage in building better relationships between national churches.
They are part of a gathering called the Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue, a rather fluid group that had its origins in the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
At the time, there were tensions between the churches over same-sex relationships, and Archbishop Colin Johnson hosted a fringe event for some African and Canadian bishops that focused on mission in a post-colonial world.
From that meeting, relationships between the bishops began to build and more meetings were held in London in 2010 and Dar es Salaam last year.
The Toronto meeting will be the third for the consultation. Attending the gathering will be 12 bishops from the African dioceses of Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Ghana and Sudan. Their number will include the primate of Burundi, Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, and the primate of Central Africa, Archbishop Albert Chama.
In addition to Archbishop Johnson, the Canadian contingent will comprise Bishop Michael Bird of Niagara, Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster, Bishop Terry Dance, suffragan bishop of Huron, and Bishop Janet Alexander of Edmonton.
Bishop John Chapman of Ottawa, who has been involved in the previous meetings, is unable to attend. There will also be two bishops from the U.S. Episcopal Church.
The bishops arrive on June 2, and the following day many of them will attend a mission event in the Diocese of Ontario. The conference begins on June 4 and continues until June 7.
Marks of Mission and the Anglican Covenant will be the two themes of the conference, says the Rev. Canon Isaac Kawuki Mukasa, coordinator for dialogue for the Anglican Church of Canada and organizer of the consultation.
“There are six bishops who take on the task of preparing the themes and they will facilitate the conversation,” he says. “At the start of the conference, one of the bishops will give a brief conceptual talk combining those two themes and providing a theological framework in which the conversation will take place.”
Canon Kawuki Mukasa says the consultation is focused on relationship-building. While it initially began at Lambeth because of the issue of same-sex relationships, by the Dar es Salaam meeting, that issue was not prominent in the conversation.
“Now the bishops are more interested in talking about issues of mutual interest and how to mend relations rather than sever relations, and how they can support one another in their ministries and the mission to which they’ve been called,” Canon Kawuki Mukasa says.
For example, while the Canadian, American and African churches have different views about the covenant, the conversation will attempt to go deeper and look at shared values and how those values were created.
“It’s a more theological approach than simply saying who agrees and who doesn’t,” says Canon Kawuki Mukasa. “That would make a very short conversation.”
He says the consultations have been successful on many levels. “Friendships have developed, which goes to show how conversations and talking really enables the building of relationships without people having to agree with what others are saying or believing,” he says.