By John Martin
Calm and Stability
Anglican leaders in Burundi are providing calm and stability despite a climate of fear and rumour-mongering, according to the Bishop of Durham. The Rt. Rev. Paul Butler visited the central African country, at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to express solidarity and experience the situation on the ground in the aftermath of the May 13 failed coup.
Butler met with the Anglican House of Bishops, representatives of Mothers’ Union, Christian Aid, Oxfam and other organisations, as well as local pastors and members of the community. He said the picture across the country varies from region to region. Lacking food is a growing fear. Rising prices are causing concern, and crops are not being harvested due to the displacement of people.
The situation in the capital city of Bujumbura is tense, with political assassinations and many opposition leaders in hiding. About 150,000 refugees have fled to the neighbouring Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
Butler said he was told, “Burundi, a land of 1,000 hills, is now a land of 1,000 rumours.”
Previously: “Working for Peace in Burundi,” (TLC, May 22)
Church’s “Busted Flush”
Not a great week for the Church of England as proceedings at an employment tribunal made headlines. The Rev. Canon Jeremy Pemberton contested the decision of his acting diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Richard Inwood, to grant him a license, needed for his employment as a hospital chaplain, on grounds he had married his same-sex partner.
The hearing concluded June 18 but the case is not over yet. Legal submissions will be offered in July and read in September. Judgment will be pronounced later.
The low point came when Inwood was asked by Sean Jones, QC, acting for Pemberton, what harm he thought it would do the Church of England to have granted a licence to allow the 59-year-old to be appointed as chaplain. Here is a transcript as reported by the Guardian.
“We know that Canon Pemberton wanted to join. In your view he was perfectly capable, you had no reason to believe he wasn’t. He was the trust’s preferred candidate, and that when you refused the licence, at very least, the man responsible for making recommendations to the trust was anxious to get you to think again. We know the House of Bishops guidance did not require you not to grant. And you say you took the decision. What was it you feared would happen? What harm would arise if you gave Canon Pemberton the licence?”
Inwood replied: “It is not a matter of danger but by my own oath of honour and obedience, under authority, to maintain the doctrine of the church. It’s my own personal decision.”
Jones asked: “You weren’t anticipating any harm, whether to him, to you, or the trust?
The bishop replied: “Certainly no harm to the trust or the church.”
The tribunal judge, Peter Britton, picking up on this answer, suggested it left him with a conundrum. He asked the bishop: “If it would be no harm to the church, and the doctrine is about protecting the beliefs of the church, then haven’t you got an innate conundrum? If it so fundamental to the doctrine, thus the breach would cause harm. But if you think it is of no harm to the church surely that means the reliance on this being fundamentally doctrinal, as to otherwise bring down harm on the church, is a busted flush isn’t it?”
It seems Inwood has carried alone the weight of a case that will have huge consequences.
Missions Agencies Close
On June 13 a service in London marked the end of an era. Two U.K.-based mission associations, the Borneo Mission Association and the Singapore and West Malaysia Diocesan Association — both founded more than a century ago — have closed.
The reasons: declining membership, reduced activity, and the changing shape of Anglicanism. The churches they helped found are now locally led, self-supporting, and missionary-sending.
The Most Rev. Bolly Lapok, Archbishop of the Province of South East Asia, was the celebrant, while the Rt. Rev. Ng Moon Hing, Bishop of West Malaysia, was preacher. Also present were the Rt. Rev. Rennis Ponniah (Singapore) and the Rt. Rev. Melter Jiki Tais (Sabah), plus assistant bishops from the province.
“The heart of Christianity is no longer in the Global North,” said Rachel Parry, regional desk officer for Us (formerly the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel). “Instead, it is clear that our brothers and sisters in South East Asia have a great deal to teach churches in the U.K. about putting the gospel into practice.”