About 260 people gathered at the seventh annual Mere Anglicanism conference in Charleston, South Carolina, Jan. 19-21 to hear bishops and deans from across the world speak about their confidence in “The Once and Future Church.”
The Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, said he had first thought he was invited to “Merry Anglicanism.” Hot biscuits, Southern hospitality, and the historic city’s occasional scent of magnolias, camellias and roses helped provide some of the cheer.
As a young ordinand Chartres had been told that there was no future for him in the modern church. But as the title of a recent book by an editor at The Economist proclaims, God Is Back.
Chartres said that, unlike French believers, English voices of faith can still have a place in the public square. But he warned that the state can turn into an intolerant “church” of a rather prescriptive, premodern type, and that secular religion might be enforced by law. “I hope we shall resist,” he said.
Chartres said the best in Anglican tradition is “not afraid to reason and not ashamed to adore” and that its prayer book “embraces the whole person not just the mind; it engages the affections.”
Worship grounded in the Book of Common Prayer was woven throughout the conference. So moving was the Festal Eucharist in the historic splendor of St. Philip’s Church that not a few worshipers, men included, were in tears.
It was particularly symbolic when the Most Rev. Benjamin Kwashi, Archbishop of the Province of Jos, Nigeria, climbed the winding staircase to the second-story pulpit to preach. Two centuries earlier most black Africans in Charleston would have been house or plantation slaves. If they had entered this church, they would have been consigned to its balconies. Now a West African bishop preached to a predominantly white congregation, at the conference’s invitation.
The escalating violence endured by Christians like Kwashi in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria remains high. The day before the archbishop spoke, two bombs had been thrown at two churches in Bauchi, while in Kano at least 166 people were killed in eight violent attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram, an Islamist sect. The archbishop and his wife, Gloria, have shared in the suffering of persecuted Christians.
Although Gloria Kwashi did not attend the conference, her presence was felt. In many ways she represents the persecuted Church that does not retaliate but continues to serve others. A few years ago, a violent mob, intent on killing her husband, brutally assaulted her, leaving her blind for six months until treatment in America restored her sight.
Gloria discovered that within one square mile of her house there were at least 400 orphans. She picked six of the most vulnerable and brought them into her own home to care for them, along with her own six children. Archbishop Kwashi told how he would travel and when he returned home there would be 16 orphans, then after the next trip 33, and finally 57 orphans living in their house.
Gloria established a feeding center for another 200 orphans where they could also be bathed and clothed. The archbishop is now looking for a young evangelist to play soccer with the 200 children and teach them the gospel.
The offerings given during the conference worship were earmarked for the Kwashis’ work and that of the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, who also serves persecuted Christians.
The conference attracted bishops and clergy from numerous North American Anglican denominations outside of the Episcopal Church, most notably the Most Rev. Robert W. Duncan, archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America. Duncan did not concelebrate with Mark Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina.
Lawrence expressed personal frustration that, by his count, there were no less than six Anglican bishops with overlapping jurisdictions in his geographical area. He asked why this should be so, when they held no major theological differences.
The Rev. Dr. Richard Turnbull, principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, spoke on “Anglicanism in Full Flower: The Eighteen and Nineteenth Centuries.” He examined the interplay between freedom and order in the ministries of John Wesley and George Whitefield, noting how they expressed a traditional faith through radical methods but within a traditional church order. Turnbull also highlighted some of the incredible humanitarian work of the devout Lord Shaftesbury (1801-85) whom he has profiled in Shaftesbury: The Great Reformer (2010).
Dr. John McCardell, vice chancellor of the University of the South, spoke on “The Great Beaufort Revival of 1831.” What at first glance seemed only a local event in one small corner of South Carolina had, in fact, long-lasting and far-reaching consequences. A Presbyterian minister, Daniel Barker, preached the ten-day revival, but as there was no Presbyterian church in town he was invited to appear alternately in Episcopalian and Baptist churches. Hundreds of people were converted and entered a deeper faith. Eleven Baptists and forty Episcopalians entered ordained ministry and four of them became bishops.
Eight card players who attended the revival meetings intending to break them up were themselves broken by God’s Spirit. The eight came out confessing Christ and one, William Jones Boone, eventually became the first Anglican Bishop of China, where he served until his death in Shanghai in 1874. He translated the Book of Common Prayer into Chinese and worked on a Chinese translation of the Bible. His son, also named William Jones Boone, also served as a bishop of Shanghai.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester in England joined in partnership with the Diocese of South Carolina in 2010, serving as visiting bishop for Anglican Communion relationships. He stressed that mission should be relational and showed how demographics affect mission. In 1900 there were 7 million Christians in sub-Saharan Africa; there are today 470 million. In 1949 there were 3 million Christians in China; today there are more than 100 million.
Bishop Nazir-Ali warned that democracy is never enough, for it can become the tyranny of the majority. In the so-called Arab Spring there must be “a rule of law and freedom and equality for all citizens.”
In an interview with TLC, Nazir-Ali expressed misgivings about the proposed Anglican Covenant. “The problem with the fourth part of the Covenant is that instead of the primates having the authority to make decisions in matters of division, it refers everything to a standing committee from which most orthodox people have already resigned,” he said. “The Standing Committee itself then refers to (a) the Provinces and (b) the Instruments of Communion and there has to be agreement among the provinces and the Instruments of Communion before any decision can be made. Now that, of course, is the problem. … Because you can guarantee that if there is an agreement about a certain matter about the Province of Nigeria, then [the Episcopal Church] or Canada or New Zealand or Brazil will disagree. Similarly with the Instruments of Communion; if the primates agree the likelihood of the [Anglican Consultative Council] disagreeing is very high. It doesn’t take us any further. It leaves us where we are. That’s the worry. You have some chance with the primates because they are representative heads of churches.”
Reporting and photo by Sue Careless, in Charleston