Africans’ Strengthened Voice

By Mark Michael

The Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa’s newly elected chairman believes its member churches are growing in confidence and self-sufficiency. The demographic strength of Anglicanism has shifted to Africa, said the Most Rev. Albert Chama, Archbishop of Central Africa, from his office in Kitwe, Zambia.

“We are the majority now,” he told TLC, echoing the address given at CAPA’s General Meeting by the Anglican Communion’s secretary general, the Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon. African church leaders are focused on “making sure that the Scriptures are adhered to, that the gospel is propagated as received,” he said, while continuing to work for reconciliation across theological divisions, “so no one is left behind.”

Established in 1979, CAPA serves Africa’s 40 million Anglicans by coordinating joint projects focused on leadership development, peace and reconciliation work, and health-care provision (especially HIV-AIDS relief), so Africa’s Anglican churches will “consult and address challenges in the continent in order to fulfill God’s promise for abundant life.” CAPA, based in Nairobi, connects African churches with international agencies and churches to establish partnership links to support local initiatives.

CAPA has projects throughout the 25 African nations that have an Anglican presence. Recent initiatives have included gatherings for youth and women’s leadership training, an urban mission network, and a regional consultation on human trafficking. CAPA orients new bishops and provides regular retreats and training sessions for senior church leaders.

Delegates from 12 of the 13 African Anglican provinces elected Chama as their chairman at their 12th General Meeting, held Aug. 6-10 in Kigali, Rwanda. Chama has previously served as CAPA’s vice chairman, and succeeds the Most Rev. Bernard Ntahoturi, the recently retired Primate of Burundi, in the role. The Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, Archbishop of Uganda, was elected as CAPA’s vice chairman.

The General Meeting’s theme was “Releasing Our Potential to Realize Our Possibilities,” and Chama described the gathering as hopeful. In addition to Idowu-Fearon’s speech, delegates were addressed on Africa’s growing religious radicalization and extremism by Joseph Mulatya Mutei, a leader in Christian-Muslim dialogue. The Rev. Canon Richard Mayabi of Church Army Africa led a series of biblical reflections focused on evangelism and local church growth.

Chama cited the creation of several CAPA commissions as the meeting’s most important achievement. These groups, each of which will be led by a primate, will develop new initiatives in contextual theology, economic development, and holistic mission. Chama said the commissions will draw on the strong resources in contextual theology developed by scholars in Africa’s Anglican universities and theological colleges, as well as the often untapped expertise of lay leaders. “We have people in our own pews who are able to come forward and to help us further.”

The economic development commission, Chama said, will aim to help provinces find ways of being more financially independent and self-supporting. “We know that when the church in Africa can stand on its own feet,” he said, “we will be able to go forward. … Partnership will be there, but we can also proceed on our own, without going back to our partners. They have been standing with us. The time has come. We need also to be able to stand on our own feet. God has revealed this at the right time.”

Delegates also decided to make intentional discipleship the focus of their strategic plan for the next five years, endorsing the Communion-wide priority set by last spring’s Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka, Zambia. According to the CAPA meeting’s communiqué, member provinces will work at “transforming parishes into centers of knowledge and empowerment.”

Chama said he believes this new priority will strengthen existing efforts to help people grow in their knowledge of Scripture. “Grounding people in Scripture “will make them to grow in faith, and then they can withstand any shocks that will come to them,” he said. “They know very well what the Bible says. They know they are Christians. They know what they should do for their fellow Christians, encouraging people with gifts in the local church.”

Chama added that he hopes African Anglicans can model enthusiastic evangelism for their Western brothers and sisters. “In Africa we are willing to talk to people about Christ. … In some parts of the world, you cannot go to your neighbor and talk about Jesus, but we have that freedom.”

The communiqué issued by the General Meeting highlighted several areas of deep concern affecting different parts of Africa, including “meaningless wars,” human trafficking and modern slavery, rising religious radicalism, and “continuing mis-investment in weapons of war at the expense of productive sectors like Agriculture, Social Services, job creation, and research into initiatives that will enable communities mitigate the effects of Climate Change and food insecurity.”

Chama said that violent political conflict is the continent’s greatest current threat. “So many people have been displaced. So many people have been killed. So many people have been maimed.”

He cited the situation in South Sudan, where a bloody civil war has broken out just two years after national independence. The communiqué calls on South Sudanese leaders to “bring the fighting to an end and to commit to a sustainable peace.” Chama said he plans to visit the country soon, together with several other African primates, to show solidarity with those who are suffering.

The General Meeting also voted to reaffirm Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 on human sexuality. Chama said the reaffirmation reflected both a desire to assert traditional doctrine at a time of Communion-wide debate and a commitment to pastoral care of gay and lesbian people within African churches.

“In Africa we stand firm,” he said. “How do we keep the faith and each other accountable, and in doing so be true to the Gospel and to the Scriptures, and of course, provide pastoral care and support to those who are in difficult situations? Because we have issues of human sexuality in our churches. We do not want to leave anyone behind. That’s why we continue to return to Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which talks about pastoral care and support, even to those who are in difficult situations in terms of human situation. We want to continue pastoral support to ensure that God’s Word is living in all of us.

“We are not an island on our own,” he said of African Anglicans. “We are a Communion, a big family, and we belong to one another. Of course, we do not want to deny the fact that there are differences where we interpret Scripture and social issues. There might be dioceses and people among us that would be unwilling to partner with others because of differences, but as Africans we are committed that, together, we can build a better church.”

He hopes that Western critics, who sometimes suggest that “Africa is backward,” will work harder to appreciate the social differences that shape Africans’ theological convictions. “Some of them don’t really understand our context, where we are coming from with our faith, and what makes us who we really are. And so, of course, they attack and criticize us. I really hope that the Western Church, that one day they will get into our shoes and they will be able to understand each context, how it looks at issues of faith and religion.”

Chama acknowledged that the Church of Nigeria, Africa’s largest Anglican province, did not send delegates to the most recent General Meeting. He said he had received apologies from the Nigerian archbishop for that absence, and he hoped the province will continue its long tradition of active participation in CAPA’s work. In recent years, the body has managed to hold together African Anglicans who are part of the GAFCON movement with those who remain committed to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s leadership.

“One would pray that [Anglicans in Nigeria] will play their part in the African church and that they will play their right role in being together in collegiality and in order,” he said. “It is our expectation that as an African church that we will work together as a family. No one will be left behind. We will walk together and work together to build up God’s church.”

Chama said the CAPA General Meeting left him with great hope about the many ways in which Africa’s Anglicans are poised to affect the societies in which they live and work. “The church will continue to serve their own and to take a lead in making sure that the Scriptures are adhered to, that the gospel is propagated as received. The African church will try, by all means, to be contextual, in terms of how we resolve issues which are happening on our continent: economic, political, et cetera. The church in Africa is very hopeful that we shall use the Scriptures as a guide as to how we resolve our situations. Everybody is talking about that now. No country would say they are comfortable, they are stable, they are free. We are saying, Let us be alert all the time as the church so that we address these situations which are relevant to our lives.”

The Rev. Mark Michael is interim rector of St. Timothy’s Church in Herndon, Virginia.

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