By Mark Michael
The Rt. Rev. Anthony Poggo, a South Sudanese bishop who spent his childhood as a refugee in neighboring Uganda, will serve as the Anglican Communion’s next Secretary-General, the Anglican Communion Office announced on June 14.
Poggo, 58, was Bishop of Kajo-Keji in southern South Sudan for nine years before becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury’s advisor for Anglican Communion Affairs in 2016. He will begin work in September, following the retirement of the current Secretary-General, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who is completing his seven-year term of service.
Poggo will lead a staff team based at St. Andrew’s House in London that supports initiatives of the Communion’s four Instruments of Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ Meeting, the Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican Consultative Council. The office is directly overseen by the Anglican Communion’s Standing Committee, and has been restructured following a major review in 2020.
“It is a huge privilege to serve God in this capacity and to make my contribution to the Anglican Communion family in this role,” Poggo said. “I would like to thank the Anglican Communion’s Standing Committee for the trust and confidence in appointing me to lead the staff team at the Anglican Communion Office.”
At a June 14 press conference, Poggo said that the major challenges facing the Communion are differences over human sexuality and whether Anglican identity is defined by “being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
He said he was optimistic about the possibility of building bridges, citing his positive experience of participating in a cross-Communion group called Bishops in Dialogue. “Understanding each other’s context is important in resolving the issues we have in the Communion. It is important that we have relevant dialogue.”
Poggo said he has observed a lessening of hostility between the Communion’s liberals and conservatives. “We have moved on, to where you can see that there is a huge change in the way Primates’ Meetings have happened,” he noted.
He said he hopes to reengage several conservative African provinces that have largely distanced themselves from the Instruments of Communion, including the Church of Uganda. Poggo spent much of his childhood in Uganda, and his successor as Bishop of Kajo-Keji relocated diocesan headquarters to a town across the border in Uganda due to continued social unrest in the region.
“We are a family,” he said, “and, as a family, we do what we can for members of the family who for one reason or another at the moment do not feel that they should be participating in aspects of the family. . . I will do whatever it takes to ensure that we are together as a family. Within a family there are disagreements. Disagreements should not make us leave being part of that family.”’
Asked about GAFCON, Poggo cited approvingly a conversation he had with a primate from the Global South. “If GAFCON is for fellowship, for people who think along the same lines of orthodoxy, they are for it. But if they think of it as an alternative to the Anglican Communion, they are not for it.”
One of Poggo’s first tasks will be to implement the outcomes of this summer’s Lambeth Conference. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby announced last week that instead of passing binding resolutions, the Lambeth Conference will issue a series of “calls,” which are intended to spark further discernment within provinces.
Poggo echoed Welby’s rhetoric about the Lambeth Conference’s limited powers: “It’s important to say that the Lambeth Conference is not a synod — so it does not have the authority to come up with resolutions that they will then say, ‘You need to, as provinces, implement this.’”
“Now, that does not mean that whatever happens at the Lambeth Conference is of no value. Yes, it influences and goes down to the local level, to the diocesan level, and the provincial level,” he said.
He will also play an important role in coordinating the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is scheduled for February 2023 in Accra, Ghana.
Poggo is the son of a South Sudanese priest, and was forced to flee to Uganda with his family at the age of one, during the first Sudanese Civil War. He returned to South Sudan as a nine-year old. After graduating from Juba University in South Sudan, he began working with the mission agency Scripture Union, which produces resources for Bible reading and helps to train candidates for ministry. He earned a degree in theology at the Nairobi International School of Theology, and later, an MBA at Oxford Brookes University in the UK.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1996, and transitioned later to working with Across, a Nairobi-based ecumenical mission agency focused on providing humanitarian relief, education, medical care, and Christian education resources to the people of South Sudan. Poggo began as the leader of the group’s publishing arm, and rose quickly to become its executive director, before his election as Bishop of Kajo-Keji. Poggo and his wife, Jane, have three daughters and a granddaughter.
Archbishop Welby said, “I am delighted that Bishop Anthony Poggo has been appointed Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. Over the past six years he has built up an immense knowledge of our global Communion and its people as my advisor on Anglican Communion Affairs. And in that time many people in the Communion have got to know Anthony too – and I am sure that they will join with me in welcoming his appointment.”
Poggo’s own primate, South Sudanese Archbishop Justin Badi-Arama, added his praise for the appointment, “We thank God that out of the suffering Church in South Sudan, God has raised Bishop Anthony to this highest position. He is coming at a time that the Anglican Communion is facing many challenges. But as Mordecai said to Esther; We trust God that maybe it is ‘for such a time like this’ that God brought [him] up (Esther 4:14).”