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Indaba process leads to deeper understanding for local Anglicans

By Carolyn Purden

Anglicans from the Diocese of Toronto who participated in the Anglican Communion’s one-year indaba process believe it can have a transforming effect upon the church if it is used more broadly.

The indaba process, established by the Anglican Communion office as a pilot project, invited four groups of dioceses from around the world to meet together over the period of a year. They were asked to listen deeply to each other, understand why and how decisions are made, and through this process learn how to build community—or communion—despite differences.

The Diocese of Toronto participated with Jamaica and Hong Kong in three eight-day meetings that took place in Toronto in May, 2011, Hong Kong last September and Jamaica this February. There were three topics for discussion: social justice and advocacy, youth alienation and homosexuality. An important part of the meetings was immersion in the life of the host diocese, so that participants could understand the context for decision-making.

Academics attended the meetings, and at the conclusion of the process, conducted in-depth evaluations with participants. These findings, which will appear in an academic paper, will determine how the Anglican Communion proceeds from this point.

Significant results

One of the Toronto participants, Suzanne Lawson of St. Peter, Cobourg, served as the link person between the Toronto group and the Anglican Communion. She believes the indaba process produced significant results for the Toronto participants. “There has been a vast expansion of our understanding of the Anglican Communion and the differing views on some key topics,” she says.

All the indaba members experienced much together but always put worship at the centre so they knew they were with other Anglicans. They also learned to ask questions with an open mind, without having their own agenda behind those questions, she says.

The Rev. Dan Graves of Trinity Church, Bradford, believes the indaba process is the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between the dioceses. “It’s more than a paper relationship,” he says. “It’s a relationship among dioceses expressed in the lives of people who’ve spent a considerable amount of time getting to know and understand each other.”

The process has the potential to be useful in church life, he adds, even though it is different from the current decision-making process, which uses parliamentary procedure. “It’s a different way of being together and requires us to take a leap of faith out of some of our old ways, and into being vulnerable, risking really listening and really being honest when we have our opportunity to speak,” he says.

He also notes that the indaba process requires a lot of time. “It’s not something you can do over three days,” he says. “It requires sustained effort.”

The Toronto participants saw significant differences between the three dioceses. For example, all do advocacy, but in Jamaica and Hong Kong, the work is done primarily through connecting informally with government leaders, who are seen as colleagues in leadership.

Culture shapes participants

For Christian Harvey, who ministers to youth in Trent-Durham, a highlight of the process was understanding the importance of culture in shaping the participants, whether they came from Jamaica, Hong Kong or Canada.

“The way in which we perceived almost everything had to do with our colonial past,” he explains. “Jamaica is a nation of people who were imported and used as slaves not so long ago, and that affects how they see interactions with the North, with us.”

An example of differences, he adds, is the Millennium Development Goals. He had been supportive of them, but was surprised when a Jamaican bishop said what the South was calling for was a new economic model that did not rely on the South being in debt to the North.

“Instead, what they received were these Millennium Development Goals which were nice but allowed people to be a little bit more comfortable within this system that leaves the discrepancy between the rich North and the poor South,” Mr. Harvey says.

To Ms. Lawson, Mr. Harvey and Mr. Graves, the indaba process has been valuable in shedding life on the relationships within the Anglican Communion.

Mr. Graves notes that it’s tempting when people think differently from the way we do to let them go their own way. When he has thoughts like that, he looks at a photograph in his office that was taken of all the indaba participants in Hong Kong.

“The easy answer is to have a divorce,” he says. “But when you’ve built relationships with people, that’s not so easy. I look at those people and ask, ‘Can I do without that person in my life?’ and I don’t believe I can.”