By Cole Hartin
Wycliffe College in Toronto awarded honorary degrees to an archbishop from the Global South and two Canadian bishops representing Anglicans in the Arctic and Anglicans of multicultural backgrounds in Canada at a ceremony held virtually on May 17. Wycliffe is an evangelical Anglican seminary on the campus of the University of Toronto. Along with six other theological colleges, it is part of the Toronto School of Theology.
The bishops receiving Doctor of Divinity honors were the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Alexandria and Bishop of Egypt; the Rt. Rev. Annie Ittoshat, Suffragan Bishop of the Arctic; and the Rt. Rev. Stephen Leung, Area Bishop of Asian and Multicultural Ministries of the Anglican Network in Canada.
Archbishop Anis offered the Covocation Address the following day on “The Vocation of the Minority Church in a Multicultural Context.” He spoke about the distinct challenges for Christians who are minorities in both secular Western cultures, and in Eastern, predominantly Islamic, cultures.
“Both Churches in the East and the West are minorities facing challenging and sometimes hostile cultures in today’s world,” Anis said. He focused on the importance of the Church’s mission, noting that it “it is not an option to be adopted or neglected, but a crucial vocation of the Church to be fulfilled so that the Church might be the living body of Christ.”
Archbishop Anis spoke of the great growth occurring in regions of his see, including in the Horn of Africa, where in 2000 there were only seven churches, and now there are 140.
He emphasized that the success in the Middle East came through the Church fulfilling its mission through a holistic vision of the Gospel, in which Christians are concerned not only for the spiritual welfare of their communities but for their physical well-being as well. He highlighted interfaith initiatives that aim for the common good in Egypt as examples of Christian witness in a challenging context.
Bishop Leung offered a response to Archbishop Anis’s lecture, praising his emphasis on mission.
“If we allow the Holy Spirit to reign and meet us in mission, as the Holy Spirit did at Pentecost, God the Spirit will do the same great missional work today. Regardless of our small number, this is the promise God has given to us. God will use the minority to despise the majority.”
Bishop Leung also noted the dangers that come from losing sight of the Church’s distinctly Christian mission, pointing to schools and other institutions that have in effect ceded to secularism, though they may have been founded by Christians eager to proclaim the Gospel.
“When we tolerate the norms of society, they creep into the heart of the Church,” he warned. Bishop Leung stressed making the Gospel intelligible to local cultures without muddling our priorities. He emphasized that the Church must “hold on to God’s call, to preach the Gospel and to build up [indigenous] converts as leaders of the Church.”
After Leung’s response, participants were invited to pose questions to the honourees.
The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology, moderated the discussion. Each bishop spoke at length in answer to a question about the unique challenges in both their Eastern and Western contexts.
Bishop Ittoshat called the COVID-19 pandemic a “shaking” from God. “For the people of the North, there has always been this knowing there is a God,” she said. “We have always known there is that higher than ourselves. When COVID hit, there was a shake for everyone, a shake that he is God, that he is a God who is in control.”
For Ittoshat, the pandemic was reminder to the Northern people of their faith’s importance.
Dr. Radner asked each bishop to express their dream from God for the Church.
“I dream that the Church would become strong and focused more on the mission of Christ and engaged more with the society,” Anis said. “This is the dream I have, to see the Church really loving the majority, not loving because of a hidden agenda, but loving because Jesus loved everybody.”
The Rev. Dr. Cole Hartin is assistant curate of St. Luke’s, Saint John, New Brunswick.