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Primates, Sisters, and Friends

The two women who serve as primates in the Anglican Communion were honored guests when Canada’s Indigenous Anglicans met from May 29 to June 2 on the banks of Lake Couchiching near Orillia, Ontario. Archbishop Linda Nicholls of Canada and Archbishop Marinez Santos Bassotto of Brazil serve widely distinct provinces. Canada, vast and complex, has a long history of Anglican presence; Brazil, also vast and complex, has a much more recent history of Anglican ministry.

Nicolls and Santos Bassotto have struck a deep and supportive friendship. The invitation to attend the Sacred Circle was a sign of their particular way of fulfilling their episcopal ministry. Their friendship is a sign of hope for the ever-changing life of the whole Communion.

The two primates carved out a time to talk with me, to share their hopes and concerns for the coming years. We were joined by the multilingual Dr. Paulo Ueti, theological adviser and Latin America regional director of the Anglican Alliance, who served as interpreter.

Can you share about the nature of your friendship, as well as the work that you do?

Nicholls: Our friendship was an “accident” of both our elections. Marinez had been elected the new Bishop of Amazonia just after I was elected the new Bishop of Huron, in late 2015.

Santos Bassotto: And I was elected in 2018.

Nicholls: My diocese at the time, Huron, was already the companion diocese of Amazonia. That relationship existed for about four years prior to that. Since 2013.

She invited me to come and preach at her consecration. I did! It was so wonderful. I went to Belém. And [Cuban] Bishop Griselda [Delgado del Carpio, now retired] preached at her installation the next morning.

What has it meant to you to have this friendship?

Santos Bassotto: For me it was very important to have Bishop Linda’s support. I was the first woman to be elected bishop in Brazil, and I needed a sister. Bishop Linda fulfilled this role. She was always there for me, with kindness, presence, and support. This is how our friendship began. We cherish one another.

Are you the only female bishop in South America?

Santos Bassotto: In 2018, when I was elected, I was the only female bishop in South America. In Brazil, it took almost 33 years to elect a woman as bishop, even though it wasn’t forbidden. Women have been priests since 1985, and that same year we voted to allow women into all three orders. But I was the first elected bishop — then it was like a wall fell down. No opposition. Then in the next year another woman was elected bishop, and then a third two years later. So now a third of the bishops in Brazil are women!

How does that compare to Canada?

Nicholls: It’s about a third, if not more, in Canada. In the whole house, at least a third of bishops are women, and almost a quarter of the bishops are Indigenous.

Archbishop Linda, what has it been like having Marinez as your sister?

Nicholls: It has been wonderful to watch her leading the diocese, although it is small, in comparison with a very Roman Catholic country. They are passionate about the issues we need to be passionate about: Indigenous relations, climate, environmental issues, also the way in which the diocese reaches out in evangelism. It is not held back at all by its size.

Dioceses that I have worked in, Huron and Toronto, are large and have been relatively well off. They’ve been very complacent about their history, until recently. So in Brazil, in Amazonia, we have a diocese that doesn’t stop its ministry worrying about resources. I have watched Marinez, and I have tremendous admiration for her courage — traveling down the Amazon in dangerous and difficult circumstances, to take the Eucharist and the sacraments to the Indigenous people in the heart of the Amazon, where there isn’t a building in sight, no church, nothing. To see the development of the ministry in Manaus [a city of 2 million people located 800 miles southwest of Belém]. It is so encouraging when you are in a very established, slow-to-change church that is struggling to see its way forward.

Marinez brings such energy and passion to that. And wisdom. Her leadership in the Anglican Communion on environmental matters — she is highly respected and she has a voice people listen to. I love being able to say I know her. She’s my friend.

What would you say this partnership brings to you both, not just personally, but to the churches, and the whole communion?

Nicholls: I was invited to the General Synod of Brazil in 2018. So I got to meet the other bishops of Brazil and build friendships with them. This relationship witnesses to our whole church across the world. We are bigger than just what we see. I know people appreciate that. Canadian Anglicans appreciate it. They appreciate that I connect them to the wider Church when I talk about Marinez, when I talk about Amazonia, when I talk about Brazil. There is a way in which we represent that network, that connection.

Santos Bassotto: We feel the same in Brazil. The church in Brazil, the people in Brazil, appreciate that this relationship exists. Not only the personal relationship, but what we bring together as church leaders. And the issues that we call the Anglican Communion to be concerned about: inclusivity, environmental justice, commitment with Indigenous people, and gender equity.

Nicholls: One of the current — I could say — tropes about our Communion is the division between Global South and Global North. Our friendship shows that there is diversity in both the Global South and the Global North. The questions, struggles, and conversations that Brazil faces around gender equity and human sexuality are the same ones we are facing.

It gives us [in the North] a different perspective on them. I remember being in the [Brazilian] General Synod in 2018, when they were voting on same-sex marriage, and watching the way in which, despite the fact that the country was not unified, they have the same diversity that we have here. There was a deep sense of walking together. I was so taken by the solidarity of the church in Brazil, at a time when our church had been tearing itself apart over those same issues, and not able to speak as one. [In Brazil] there was a generosity of spirit between the dioceses that opposed the motion [authorizing same-sex marriage] and those who were in favor.

Isn’t that the way Anglicans do things when we are at our best?

Nicholls: Sharing these stories of how different parts of the communion handle these subjects, really listening to one another, can help us to recognize where we may need some learning, repentance, and growth.

Marinez, would you share some of the challenges that you face?

Santos Bassotto: Brazil is an immense and diverse country. As a nation, we are now living in a moment of hope. We have lived for the past four years through a very difficult time. We are still feeling this past; we are pushing to move through it. The previous government dismantled many protections and put maybe a third of the population into extreme poverty.

The people in the church were deeply affected by these policies. Church members, churches as well, were affected by what we call the previous government’s policy of death. On one hand, the church needs to look after its people, and on the other, it needs to be a prophetic voice. These past four years, the church has been working very hard, very intentionally, to confront these policies of death — the Anglican church, and the ecumenical movement as well.

Now we are witnessing a moment of hope; we are seeing changes in the governmental policies. We still need to be vigilant, alert. One of our main challenges is to maintain our prophetic voice, to increase our advocacy work, and at the same time to be a restorative presence to those who have been pushed to the margins. There have been huge divisions, a great polarization of the country, in the past four years. Our other role is to be that reconciling presence.

We have three paths to follow for the next few years: to serve, to bear witness, and to work on reconciliation. These are our challenges, to live these in the midst of the diversity in Brazil. The Diocese of Amazona is enormous; it covers 43 percent of the national territory. We grew in numbers during the pandemic. Before we were in two states and now we are in three more states. More people, more challenges, more troubles. We only have six clergy. But we are not complaining!

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