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From Our Bishops

The Gospel is for everyone

By Archbishop Colin R Johnson

My granddaughter is just learning how to talk. My wife, a reading specialist, says that Keira is already speaking in sentences of appropriate length, with the right inflections and eye contact, as she responds to questions and comments – we just don’t know what language she is using! Baby babble does mean something. We can still understand her somewhat by her body gestures and the context, but not with any precision. We have to work to figure out what she means. But it is worth the effort, for there is real dialogue going on and it will only grow.

Language gives shape to our thoughts, communicates our understanding and intentions, explains our actions, and helps us imagine the future. Language allows for subtly and complexity. Words have the capacity both to build community and to destroy it.

St. Luke tells us (in Acts 2) that on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit moved among the disciples, empowering them to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, offering the forgiveness of sin and presenting the gift of new life for  those who would believe. Not only does the Spirit give them the courage to do this, but the Holy Spirit enables the bystanders to hear “in their own language” this Good News. Communication is a dynamic process, engaging both the speaker and the hearer.  Pentecost is a divine act of communication. It overcomes division and unites us, not by destroying differences (everyone did not suddenly speak the same language) but by breaking the barriers to mutual understanding that the differences created. Pentecost reversed the confusion of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).

Language is critically important for us in Toronto. We live in a richly multicultural milieu where people from around the globe make their home, bringing their language, customs and culture. I am delighted that this article is being translated into Spanish so that people may read it “in their own tongue.”

Not only is our task to communicate the Good News in the different languages of our context, but we need to recognise that even for those sharing a common language, words can be loaded with different meanings. We have different assumptions, theological frameworks and spiritual traditions. We have been formed by different experiences.

And yet, the Gospel is for everyone. The church’s task, guided and empowered by the same Holy Spirit, is to proclaim and live the Good News so that our neighbours can overhear, understand and join in the holy and life-changing conversation that we are having with our living God.

The work we’ve been doing in this diocese to strengthen our parish life, reach out with compassion to the needy in our neighbourhoods, and experiment with fresh expressions of church, are attempts to engage creatively in that conversation that can lead to deeper conversion to God for all of us.

We are doing this abroad as well. Nineteen bishops, mostly from different parts of Africa and Canada, met in Dar es Salaam in February to continue conversations that began before the Lambeth Conference. The statement we produced includes these words: “We engaged in a process of patient and holy listening, as Anglicans, coming from a wide diversity of contexts and theological positions, who have chosen to listen to one another (Colossians 3:12-17) … We have found that in the wider context of conflicts around sexuality in the Anglican Communion, the conflict has provided us an opportunity to build bridges of mutual understanding as we choose to turn face to face with each other. We know that this requires the best of us in our dialogue: our mutuality and humility and prayer in listening and speaking as we seek together for God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

“We are aware that when we talk, the words we use may not be heard in the same way as we intend and we do not always understand language in the same way. We are engaged in a quest for language that will bring us to common understanding and to deeper dialogue. That does mean that we agree or that we seek an agreement on particular issues … We are taking responsibility as bishops to lead our people forward in their baptismal call to deepen relationship with Jesus and with each other, in love and service. This is the work of the Holy Spirit leading the whole people of God.”

The “Testimony of Grace” from the consultation ends with these words, which is also my prayer for you who read this and for our Diocese of Toronto:

“We engaged together in discernment about our common work and witness, coming to a deep conviction that we are personally called to this work, the church is in need of this work, and that we have the will for this work. We are committed to continued engagement … and to continue on our journey together. The Holy Spirit has made space in our midst for the power of grace. We offer thanks and praise to God who has made us one, that the whole world may believe, and all will have life abundant (John 17:20-25).”