During a visit to Virginia Theological Seminary, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion stressed Anglicans’ work in evangelism and cross-cultural ministry.
The Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon spoke on “The Vitality of World Anglicanism” Nov. 15 as part of the 2017 Mollegen Forum and 20th anniversary celebrations for the Center for Anglican Communion Studies.
Idowu-Fearon, secretary general since 2015, spoke about the life and vigor that he has witnessed across the Anglican family of churches. Contrary to the narrative of bloggers, he said, the Anglican Communion is alive and well, and through this family the gospel of Jesus Christ is growing.
This Evangelism is the Church’s primary job, he said, if we take the Great Commission seriously. The Communion has grown 10 percent in the last decade, and not because of birthrates, he said.
Western Anglicans perhaps assume this is true because of the Communion’s African provinces, and Idowu-Fearon, former Archbishop of Kaduna in the Church of Nigeria, affirmed that church-planting in Africa is a high priority. In one diocese, every priest is expected to participate in a two-week evangelism mission every year, and much church-planting focuses on poor rural communities.
But he also cited examples in other parts of the world: the Diocese of Singapore has five missionary deaneries, and in 2016 Bishop Rennis Ponniah flew by helicopter into remote villages of the Himalayas to baptize more than 500 new Christians. Asian Anglicans, he said, are taking the lead in evangelism in China, the area of the greatest Christian growth in the world.
But even in the West, the missionary spirit is still stirring. Idowu-Fearon singled out the Diocese of London, where in 2015 Bishop Richard Chartres established a Centre for Church Planting and Growth with an explicit intention of planting 100 new churches by 2020. The diocese has 27 new congregations so far, with a total average Sunday attendance of 1,240.
Holy Trinity Brompton has a wide effect on the broader Church: it not only has an average Sunday attendance of 6,000, but has also led the way in planting new congregations in vacant church buildings. HTB’s Alpha course is now used in 169 countries, across a range of denominations.
It is not just in evangelistic efforts, though, that Idowu-Fearon sees vigor. He says Anglicans are finding creative ways of living beside Muslim neighbors with respect and forbearance. The Diocese of Jerusalem has developed educational and healthcare institutions with equal services and respect for Muslim and Christian patients.
Idowu-Fearon also highlighted the work of the Anglican Mothers Union, a force in almost every diocese in Africa. Mothers Union empowers women who face immense challenges and injustices in the developing world by creating training centers and schools that teach marketable skills.
He noted a growing respect for cultural differences between different parts of the Communion as the result of international diocesan and parish partnerships that involve sharing material resources and face-to-face encounters through yearly mission trips.
The archbishop stressed that churches in the West can learn from the Global South that church growth happens not through telling people what they want to hear but by preaching the gospel and calling for commitment. He spoke of the necessity, amid all the growth in the Global South, for more effective and substantive theological education and catechesis to build Christians up in their new life in Christ.