Monday, January 3, 2005

The Future of the Anglican Communion

Looking at the Micro-Level

The Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll
Vice Chancellor
Mukono, Uganda


I have been asked to speak, along with others, about “The Future of the Anglican Communion.” I have just prepared an address for the upcoming Mere Anglicanism conference in Charleston, envisioning what I call “The Global Anglican Communion,” in particular the development of a “Global Anglican Covenant” that will give identity and direction to the Anglican Communion, or that part of the Communion which is prepared to obey the Bible and the classic formularies of Anglicanism.
I shall not go into this subject except to state several of my conclusions with regard to the current state of Anglicanism here in North America and in the so-called Global South:
  1. The Episcopal Church USA is now a heretical sect and will continue as such until it finally dies out some time in mid-21st century. Alternative bodies are in place or arising out of the Episcopal Church to represent Anglicanism in North America. Personally, I hope that the Common Cause movement will bring about a unified church or at least a friendly network of Anglican churches in this country.
  1. The Anglican Communion itself has been thrown into crisis by the actions of the Episcopal Church and other Western churches. The Communion will not survive as presently constituted: hence the need to recover the formularies and reform structures of the Communion through a Covenant. This new or renewed Communion will be de-centered from Canterbury and re-centered in the Global South, whether or not the historic role of the Archbishop of Canterbury is retained.
  1. One of the prime characteristics of the new Communion will be a dedication to the Great Commission of Christ, with the Church as a bringer of Good News to all peoples. One of the strengths of the Anglican Communion is its wide global coverage. It will be necessary to develop further the partnerships with other evangelical churches which have developed in recent crisis years in the service of Christ’s Kingdom.
As you may know, I am an Episcopal priest (diocese of Pittsburgh I hasten to add), a missionary with Global Teams (formerly Episcopal World Mission), and Vice Chancellor (President) of Uganda Christian University in the Province of the Church of Uganda. I have spent five-plus years in Uganda helping to build a Christian university on the foundations of the historic Bishop Tucker Theological College. I am also founder and Board member of Uganda Christian University Partners, a support society in the States that networks with churches and aid agencies to assist with the growth of the University. My calling has led me to think a good deal about how people in the West and Anglicans in particular can become true partners with the churches in Africa.
I am going to focus my talk at the micro-level. What I mean by micro-level is those areas of church and national life which I see living in Uganda, in East Africa. I hesitate to make generalizations for the whole Global South. Singapore is quite different from Recife, which is quite different from Kaduna in Nigeria. I do think there may be many commonalities in those regions of East Africa evangelized by the Church Mission Society – Uganda, Kenya, Eastern Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, and Western Tanzania. But even there we find great differences. Indeed, even in Uganda there is a wide gap between the southern regions of the country, which have enjoyed relative peace and development and the North, which has been terrorized by rebel thugs for over twenty years.
Many faithful ECUSA churches have of late aligned themselves with African provinces, and many in AMiA have been supporting and receiving support from the Church in Rwanda. But often they don’t have much idea where these churches are, much less what their real needs are. So let me select four areas where I believe faithful Anglican Christians in this country could collaborate with Christians in my part of the world, i.e., East Africa.


One of my deepest concerns about the Episcopal Church over the years of my ministry, both as a pastor and a professor, has been the casual attitude taken toward the Great Commission of Jesus Christ to make disciples of all nations. Clearly, the revisionist wing of the Church does not understand the importance of the mission call, and where they do get involved, they pervert the meaning of mission. But it is also a problem for otherwise orthodox churches.
There are encouraging signs that faithful Anglicans in the USA have begun to take seriously the necessity of the mission mandate. I have been privileged over the entire span of my ordained ministry to be associated with Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, and so far as I know it represents the most comprehensive attempt to make mission an integral part of its parish identity. I was also involved with the formation of the Stanway Institute at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in 1989, the move of mission societies to Ambridge, and the beginning of the New Wineskins conferences that have occurred every three years since 1994. Then there is the strong mission emphasis in the AMiA documents and the recent appeal by Bishops John Rodgers, John Rucyahana and the Rev. William Beasley. (I should note that Bishop John Rodgers has been instrumental in keeping mission front and center wherever he has served.)
In principle, the Global South churches are strongly committed to spreading the faith, and often they have done so with striking success, e.g., in Nigeria and China. Let me also say, however, that the Global South is not so uniformly mission-minded as some might believe. On the one hand, a country like Uganda has been the beneficiary of the mission movement of the 19th century, and its great success was due to the deployment of Ugandan evangelists from the first area of evangelization (Buganda) to other kingdoms of the region, all the way to Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Under the influence of the East African Revival starting in the 1920s, there has been a strong commitment to personal evangelism, as well as stellar individuals like Festo Kivengere, who have preached on the world stage.
On the other hand, Uganda has not been particularly active, in recent decades at least, in sending missionaries outside the boundaries of the “Church of Uganda,” which is sometimes thought of as settled territory, even as it is regionalized by ethnic group. In this regard, the Church of Uganda has not shown the kind of zeal or strategic boldness of the Church of Nigeria.
In 2002, a joint consultation of Africans and Westerners met at Uganda Christian University to found the Global South Institute for Mission, Leadership and Public Policy. Here is a brief synopsis of the program areas of the Global South Institute.
  • Mission and Evangelism. The Institute will seek to instill through its programmes a vision for a mission-minded church mobilised to take the Gospel across boundaries.
  • Leadership Development. The Institute will seek to instill through its programmes a vision for Christian leaders equipped with a biblically-based and comprehensive theory and practice of leadership development at all levels in society.
  • Public Policy. The Institute will seek to instill through its programmes a vision for a Church engaged with the challenges of the global environment and involved in the public square.
  • Anglican Identity and Mission. The Institute will seek to instill through its programmes a vision for a vital Anglican identity, rooted in the essentials of Scripture and drawing from the distinctive mission history and contemporary expansion of the churches of the Global South.
I must confess that it has been difficult to mobilize adequate interest and support for the Institute, either from the side of Uganda (and other African countries) or from the West. It seems to me a Christian think-tank and mission-moblizing organizations are essential to the fulfilling of the mission call, but it will take mutual commitment across the Communion.

Parish Leadership

I have great love and admiration for the churches and leaders in Uganda. For this reason, I do not think it is helpful to romanticize them. Philip Jenkins book, I fear, has given rise to the notion of the invincible church in Africa. I don’t see it that way. To be sure, Christianity in Africa has made great advances in the 20th century and shows every indication of continuing growth. The “mile-wide inch-deep” caricature is also valid, and we should not lightly accept this situation as acceptable or inevitable. When military regimes, systemic corruption, and rampant HIV/AIDS beset “Christian” countries, it is a sign that all is not well.
I need to report that Western popular culture is very powerful among the young and educated people of Africa, from Oprah to hip-hop. Even in Christian circles, more media-savvy forms of the faith are challenging the Anglicans. You may read that 35% of Ugandans are Anglican, but that is somewhat misleading. Most Pentecostals will be counted as “Anglican” in surveys, and there is a large population of nominal Anglicans, anywhere up to 50%. Some of this nominalism is the price of success in the past: one is an Anglican by birth. But it should not be taken lightly.
Another disturbing reality is the lowly state of the clergy. Most children of pastors in the Church of Uganda have no intention of entering the ministry because they regard it as a sure route to poverty. Parishes do not support their priests adequately, and most capable clergy try to move out of parish ministry as quickly as possible, becoming headmasters of schools or archdeacons. Bishops often seek short-cuts for theological education or even no-cuts by simply ordaining people. Again, some of the problem is due to the general poverty of the country, but some is due to a static parish system inherited in part from the British missionaries.
My point is this. The church in the States has resources to offer the church in Africa that go beyond merely sending money. American churches, in my view, are stronger in the area of parish strategy and management. Now there is no magical transfer that can take place from one setting to another. Nor can it be accomplished purely by more seminars and one-off visits. There must be a willingness for the bishops in Uganda to give over some authority for pilot projects that might bear fruit. The Global South Institute held a Ministry Strategy Conference last year to propose just such experiments. So far it has not been followed up on.
Even in the area of church planting, there has been more thorough strategizing in the West than in Africa. To be sure, many Western formulas applied heedlessly will fail. At the same time, if we could build a relationship with patient, respectful listening between the churches in the States and those in parts of Africa, I think it might widen and deepen the revival that is happening on that continent and bless the church here as well.

Investing in Africa

Africa has been the recipient of billions of dollars of aid and multiple plans of relief and development. I must confess that I myself am a participant in the scramble for funds and talent. At the same time, I watch with considerable unease the unhealthy dynamic of patronage that seems to please the elites of the West. Note the high profile of Bono and the Gateses, or the recent British Committee for Africa. Some have dared to speak of a kind of neo-colonialism at work. In Uganda, for instance, 50% of the national budget is donor-funded, and Ugandans simultaneously compete for donor funds and resent them.
The same is true in the Church. The churches have had long histories of dependence on mission societies, companion dioceses and parishes, and direct aid from wealthy Christians in the West. I am sure you know, the Episcopal Church in particular is playing the aid card with some of the poorest provinces in the region. I am glad to say that the Church of Uganda has followed through with its break with ECUSA with more thoroughness than I might have thought possible. But it is not easy to turn down a free lunch when it is offered “with no strings attached.” Especially if one has had no breakfast.
At the same time, some observers of the global scene like Canon Bill Atwood have been openly critical of the apparent stinginess of American churches toward their poorer partners. It sometimes appears that churches in the States are more interested in building up their escrow accounts or funding new capital projects than in making a real difference to the Church in Africa. They may even use “donor fatigue” as an excuse to do little or nothing. I try not to think this way, but occasionally I meet an individual Episcopalian and I think to myself: “This man could fund an entire dormitory or an entire nursing program at UCU and not even miss the money.”
Rather than thinking in such negative terms, I would challenge individuals and churches in the West to begin thinking about investing in Africa. I once asked a very fine Christian man whether he would consider extending a loan to a project in Uganda, or making his collateral available. He said he would prefer to donate money because “Africa is such a poor risk.” I would not deny that there is risk in investing in Africa. I am not suggesting that people mindlessly back any old scheme that comes their way. But I think there is a way that Christians and church leaders could work together to design and fund truly worthwhile and profitable projects.
Let me give you a specific example from my setting. A local chieftain in our area donated a square mile of farmland to our college in 1921 in order to support the students there (at that time theological students only). For 85 years, that land has sat fallow, accumulating only a population of squatters (who can blame them, in a way, for filling the vacuum). Now the land is on the edge of the suburbs of Kampala, and it could be developed for good social purposes and for the advantage of our institution. I have experienced first-hand the problems posed by the economist Hernando de Soto in his important book, titled The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Works in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. It has taken over three years of negotiation with local officials, government agencies, and church officials to secure a clear leasehold on the land. Now the problem is getting the planning and capital to develop it. We take for granted this kind of expertise and enlightened self-interest in the West. It is in short supply in Uganda. And my situation is hardly unique. The Church of Uganda as a whole possesses large land assets, most of which go undeveloped.
I believe that if the churches in the West could mobilize mission-minded investors to strategize with Christians and the Church in Africa, there could be genuine benefit to both, and the cycle of dependency could be gradually undone. Other parts of the developing world, some Christian and some not, have moved out of poverty. It should be a challenge and priority for those Anglicans who look to the African church for inspiration to likewise bring their strategic gifts and funds to help.


I shall be giving a seminar later at the Winter Conference on the subject “Higher Education as Mission.” If you ask the average Ugandan, “what do you most want?” the answer will be, not anti-retroviral drugs, or a bore hole for clean water, or debt relief, but “school fees.” Africans have been bitten by the education bug, and they see education as the future for their children. Dare we disagree? In a globalized and technological economy, education is indeed the prime asset for wealth creation.
The church has had a major role to play in education since colonial times. The best high schools in Uganda are either Anglican- or Roman Catholic-founded, and the Islamic, Anglican and Roman Catholics have each founded a University. Church-founded schools are free to teach the faith openly, and the Church of Uganda has been quite successful in evangelizing school children. At the same time, because of its poverty, the church has handed over considerable power to Government in running its school, and this has often led to a lowering of standards. In Uganda what is called “universal primary education,” funded by the World Bank, is now being followed by universal secondary education. These projects are by no means unmixed blessings and may in fact be lowering the overall standards of learning. Again, the Church, in partnership with Christian educators and investors in the West, could become a leader in what is a critical area of human development. I tell people that at Uganda Christian University we have the opportunity to reach the next generation of national leaders and church leaders for Christ. This is the most precious asset the nation possesses and it is there for the asking.


I have mentioned four micro- areas which I have encountered in my admittedly limited experience of church and society in Uganda. I am sure other church leaders from Africa would add other areas. I think many will confirm what I say.
In my view, if there is to be a reformed and revived Global Anglican Communion, churches and individuals will have to involve themselves at the micro- level with the spiritual, social, economic and educational challenges of the developing world, not coming in as know-it-all benefactors, but in the spirit that St. Paul took around the Mediterranean world among his churches:
And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:10-15)
As you give from certain historically-accidental advantages of your culture, so you will receive blessings from other churches and other cultures. And so there may be equality – under the banner of the one God and one Lord Jesus Christ. Implementing such a vision (or failing to do so) will, in my view, make (or break) the future of the Anglican Communion.
3 January 2005
I gave this address to a group of theological students of the Anglican Mission in America meeting in Birmingham, AL.

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