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Archbishop Ian Ernest Addresses Provincial Council

Address by the Most Reverend Ian Ernest, Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean and Bishop of Mauritius at the Provincial Council of the Anglican Church of North America – June 21, 2011.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I am delighted to be with you and to share fellowship as it enables me to affirm the ties of friendship that hold us together. As we meet here, I would wish to address on issues of importance that we face as a Communion. It will certainly enable us to look for new perspectives and new opportunities in mission and evangelisation.

It seems that for a long time the Anglican Communion is in crisis – but what is a Crisis? We are in crisis. But what is a crisis? According to Scriptures, a crisis is a divine, opportune moment for appropriate action. We are in crisis and things will never be the same again.

The emerging role of the Primates, the priority given to theological education, the changing shape of the Anglican Communion with the powerful voice of the Global South and the advent of a Covenant give to us a good moment at which we can consider a new vision for world mission. In fact, there is in this moment of crisis, a moment of decision that we must be ready to meet.

Time is ripe for us to understand what kind of community the Anglican Communion is. Time is ripe for us to acknowledge the potential for transformation that we possess. This will compel us to recognise, in the midst of present tensions and challenges that the only thing that matters is for our Church to be faithful to God’s mission, which is our vocation.

Part of the problem in the Anglican Communion today results from the lack of clear understanding that Mission belongs to God and that the Church – The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to which we all belong – is an instrument of that Mission. This Church, as Body of Christ, is the expression of the work of the Holy Trinity in the world. The action of the Holy Trinity can be witnessed in such places where the people of God are visible.

The first three centuries witnessed the glorious days of Christianity and at that time the Church consisted of scattered little groups of insignificant people, many of them slaves, persecuted and threatened on all sides. Yet, they turned “the world upside down.”

So, we must not permit ourselves to think that the present crisis and difficulties that we face as a Communion is an indication of failure or defeat. Nevertheless, it is certainly a factor that we have to consider honestly if we are to play our role in God’s Mission within the Universal Church.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we are given a picture of the Church as a community that makes Christ visible. We are an “apostolic” Church and we trust that the acts of the Holy Spirit among the people within the Anglican Communion who have been called together in Christ make Jesus visible. So in spite of the awareness of the problems that threaten our unity as a Communion and of the bitterness and fear that this can bring us, it is good for us to trust the Holy Spirit and to let him bring Christ into the situation to make a Christ-like difference.

At times, we are not fully aware of the potential for transformation that the Church possesses. We are therefore called to recognise that this potential is a gift from God and thus as a Church we have something to offer to the world.

In the following words, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams defines it: “We do understand, don’t we that martyrdom for the sake of the gospel is the seed of the Church and that as a Christian Community, we do understand don’t we that we have something for everyone, we have bread for everyone’s hunger.”

This brings us to the role of the Church and Christians in the world It is a world created by God intended for great purposes involving great risks. We may have heard it before, but it is good to remind ourselves that the Church exists for God’s mission in the world. Both the Church and the world belong to God and his designs for the Church and the world are basically the same.

So, it is not advisable that the Church separates itself from the world in its conception of their ultimate purposes. Because the God we serve is Creator, Redeemer and Restorer of Creation. Our responsibility as the Anglican Communion within the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is to proclaim the full Gospel, to see that all things are to be summed up in Christ and that he becomes the Lord of all life.

But why is it that people are not attracted and astonished by what God can fulfil for them? Again, Dr. Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury has in vivid terms described the situation in one of his Bible studies delivered at the 13th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council held in Nottingham in 2005:

“Because in fact, we are slipping back fast into something like the ancient world. We are slipping back towards a world of narrow tunnel vision of religions and superstitious practice, a world where lots and lots of people have their lords and god, their practices and their mysticisms, that do not really relate to each other. We are slipping away from the idea that there might be a faith that would bring all human beings together. We are slipping back socially and internationally into the assumption that there really are such differences in human beings that we can forget about God’s universal righteousness.”

We men and women of all generations can thus be overpowered by what we most want to possess. We become unreasonably passionate by threats to our survival, our possessions and over our basic needs. This may lead to divisive, irrational and destructive situations.

These can also penetrate the human-made structures governing our lives. Evil then emerges and surrounds us. This can also happen in our Christian circle when mission becomes simply what the Church as an institution does and not what God intends to do though the Church. So, we are called to constantly discern what for and where the Holy Spirit is leading us.

The words of warning are given to us by Bishop Hugh Montefiore in his book Man and Nature, “There comes a point at which evils become so entrenched in society that they acquire a life and momentum of their own which may be called demonic. There are superhuman dimensions of evil which neither individual men nor society as a whole seem able to control them. Wars escalate —- arms race has got out of control and the less desirable aspects of technology proliferate in spite of us.”

This, being said, should not reduce our human responsibilities as it may lead us to place the blame for our failings and sins upon external forces. But this should not prevent the Church in fulfilling the mission that God has entrusted to her and to set itself to a prophetic task that is crucial to its role in the world today.

Seeing ourselves as a Communion in God’s Mission, it becomes our responsibility to intensify the recovery of a biblical world view in the Church and that of apostolicity. Unless, we see that sin overshadows the full potential of the charisms of creation and the glory of God, it will be impossible to give a sense of purpose to this world we live in.

We must recognise the deconstructive effect of secularisation and materialism and how elements of Paganism infiltrate our way of thinking and our standards of living. The Church in this process of recovery proclaims that God is Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier of our world and that there is a new creation given by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

If the church is inward looking, it fails in its mission to proclaim God as all-embracing and it fails in extending opportunities for us men and women of this age to change, to be open to a greater view of life that is biblical. There is today a need for our Communion to call for repentance as it is concerned with all areas of our lives. But this call is not to be limited or restricted to personal and family issues for it also addresses structural, economic, political and social sins of our own making which we take for granted. We, therefore, need to recapture our love and confidence for God’s Word. And this is to be transmitted to future generations.

So, one of the great responsibilities that we have today in this world-context is to call to a totally new way of life, a new world view and a reformed mind set. It is the only way to our becoming stand-ins for Christ and living a God-centred lifestyle. The Church has to dare to recover its authority and thus bishops are called to exercise their role as teachers and senders. In the New Testament, the principal word for authority, “exousia” means “strength of character” and not “an official position.”

So, the Leaders of the Communion have to teach the people that we are all called to hold an authority that acts as an Alter Christus, a Christic presence to others. That is people who are imbued with a desire to become truthful, prayerful and self-giving servants of God. This is what we Christians pray to become. One of the Eucharistic rites used by many of us, round the Communion describes this at its best: “Fill us with your grace and heavenly blessing; nourish us with the body and blood of your Son that we may grow in his likeness.”

As Christian mission reveals the yearning of God to embrace humanity in love, it is an imperative, in the light of the present context to offer a fresh vision of mission in the challenging environment of a globalised world. The Anglican Communion is itself a fruit of a vision for world mission. Though the decade of evangelism (1990-2000) in the Anglican Communion was a mixture of success and failure, it has drawn attention to this founding perspective and is still today encouraging churches of the Communion to explore what this perspective might mean for a new era.

We are indeed witnessing growth and development in many parts of the Communion and more essentially in the Global South. This is influencing the nature of the Communion at large. Consequently, one of the elements that comes into view again is that this growth spells out clearly that we are a family of churches who find their “Communion in Mission.” This Communion in Mission is described distinctively by the celebration of commonality and difference.

In its report to the 13th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism states: “As Anglicans we believe that both commonality and difference are sustained by apostolic truth and the final unity of all things as expressed in our worship.”

As a Communion in Mission, it is appropriate to give due consideration to “the patterns and traditions of our past, but also to affirm that they are developing as they are being transformed in Christ.

Facing the challenging issues of the day, it is not easy to indicate where we are heading as a Church. What will the final consequences of the present debate over human sexuality be? The Communion faces a historical challenge but within the structures which express our unity, we have an amount of reliable resources.

Our heritage and the tradition of our particular culture and context are adequate for the challenge. These resources strengthen our identity as a Communion. As a Communion in Mission, we need to sharpen our identity and our understanding of God’s mission in order to address the needs of our fellow human beings as we are doing already in many parts of the world.

In so far that we try to do this, I am convinced that we will be able to contribute to the future of both the world and of the worldwide Anglican Communion. To enable this contribution to bear fruits, it is essential that we have a clear understanding of our identity in Christ which can only come from a doctrinal foundation.

As Bishop and Archbishop of quite an isolated Province of the Communion, I find that we cannot adequately provide a faithful and effective account of who we are as Anglican Christians in a pluralist society.

This question comes again and again: Do we as Anglicans have a doctrinal basis? This is of profound importance to us in the Province of the Indian Ocean. So what as Anglicans do we stand for?

Archbishop Trevor Huddleston answers this question, “…In order to find out what characterises Anglican doctrine, the simplest way is to look at Anglican worship and to deduce Anglican doctrine to it.”

The Lambeth Conference of 1978 stressed this: “The recent adoption by almost all Anglican Provinces of new forms of liturgy which clearly resemble each other in their main outlines, in fact brings into prominence aspects of doctrine not previously given particular stress. Among these might be mentioned the congregation’s part in celebrating the Eucharist, the responsibility of ministry laid on all Christians, and the setting of the death of Christ within the whole context of the creation, history of salvation, incarnation, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”

So from our heritage it is clear that we do possess a unity of doctrine which is sufficient to build us together in faith and the worship of the “One Lord of the one, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Is this adequate enough for our work of mission and evangelism? Yes, it is adequate enough.

We as a Communion today have much to be proud of. We have had Saints and Martyrs who have been its missionaries and evangelists and we have had prophets of their time. People like Wilberforce, William Temple, Desmond Tutu who fought the dreadful social evils of their day have been those who not only proclaimed a “social Gospel,” but by their actions lived it.

Today, we are compelled to acknowledge our human interdependence – for any event in any part of the world has an immediate impact on every other part. But in this globalised world, there is a deep and wide division: There is indeed an indisputable drift to alienation and separation between nations and men.

This state of alienation undermines stability and we have seen during the past years how a human being has today the power to destroy. It is because of this that our “Anglican Communion” which forms part of the “Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” cannot and must not, retreat into itself, in spite of prevailing tensions that seem to undermine its unity. It is because of this that Christians must proclaim the “Good News,” that our world is God’s world and that He so loves it as to send His Son to share its life and in sharing it – to save it.

The challenges of discrimination, of lack of opportunities for the vulnerable, of prejudice, of abuse of power take various patterns in different nations and in distinct generations. All of them destroy human dignity. All are an insult to man and a woman made “in the image of God.”

This is indeed a challenge to our faith. Even though in some parts of the world, like in my own country, this challenge does not present itself in such unyielding forms, we dare not be complacent. So, from this we can see the emergence of a wide overriding priority for the Anglican Communion worldwide.

This consists of sustaining a powerful witness to that Anglican Christian faith in the world today. As we are aware, in spite of its origins, Anglican Christianity still depicts a particular and distinct kind of Christian faith. It stresses the benevolent care of God towards human society, and focuses upon the incarnation of the Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Because of that discernment in God’s providential presence in society, this particular and distinct Christian faith is a faith of engagement in society and mission to it.

One of the things that I would like to emphasize is that with the inherited tradition and resources we have “a church model to work with.” This model is about our presence in society.

Out of the theological tradition of Anglicanism, emerges a “church model” which gives to the incarnation its rightful place. This model of church surely springs out of the historical experience of English Christianity, but is by no means limited to the English experience. In this Anglican tradition, it is the most essential way, by which we can express the bountiful mercy of God.

So, out of this model arises six fundamental issues which we Anglicans have to address during the course of the next five years.

A. The Legacy from the Past

Our origin is based as a Church in the faith once given to the saints. It is therefore an imperative to build this apostolic succession in a way which tells us what lies ahead: justice, mutual respect, harmonious and pacific co-existence in a pluralistic society, the kingdom of God on Earth, the redistribution of resources and the alleviation of poverty and the eradication of hatred, violence and disease. We are thus called to make these notions concrete realities in the lives of the oppressed and vulnerable. It is not of our concern to devote ourselves to the consolidation of irrelevant memories. There should be an urge for creativity and development.

B. A Sustainable Liturgy

One of the most important aspects of our life together is our liturgical life. The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, as a vehicle of Liturgy has given to Anglicanism a most invaluable and significant contribution. It has been a criterion for expressing and sustaining a sound doctrine in faith. It has also conveyed a symbol of unity. Because of this, our liturgy does attract many non-Anglicans to our congregations.

But it is time in our quest for “Communion in Mission” to see how best we can translate it into our daily lives in the world. We have to build up spaces so that through imaginative and creative religious experiences, liturgy can nurture our world in need of unity within diversity. Creativity is an essential element that can make liturgy speak to the souls of people in particular contexts.

C. An Intense Sensitivity to Mission

We worship a God who sends and there is indeed no time to waste in finding models for missions. We have to discern what God wants of us.

I wish here to quote Bishop Goodridge who emphasises on this in is book, By Word and Deed, 1992, “It is the Spirit that regenerates, liberates and empowers for total ministry and mission. When we are hemmed in by various strictures and structures the Spirit modifies and reorientates our lives that we may have new horizons and new paths. We have a new awareness of the Spirit who stimulates and strengthens us, who makes us grow to maturity and emboldens us to witness. When this is experienced in the local church, the church-in-mission is realised.”

So, one of the greatest challenges that we face as Anglican Christians in this post-modern and globalised world, is to enhance the quality of our Christian calling in society. It is therefore an imperative to identify a properly Christian approach to mission. A sense of direction will be given for a strategy in mission if it is set about in conditions of the continuity with humanity which is implied in the doctrine of the Incarnations.

In our strategy for mission, our provinces are to be encouraged to be concerned and fully engaged in the society of which they are part. They must be disposed to take seriously their civic and political duties. We cannot afford to be content only with a concern for our own, limited ecclesiastical affairs.

Trevor Huddleston, Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean from 1978 to 1983 wrote in a Synodical Charge the following words, “Christians are called to be ‘Salt to the World’ and the purpose of salt is to preserve meat from going rotten, not to preserve itself? So the Church’s role is to preserve society: not to withdraw from it. The fact that Anglicans are such a small minority in many parts of the world cannot excuse them from this responsibility.”

We must carry the deep conviction of who we are and what we can be for the Universal Church as well as for our respective societies. We have a duty to the world as stewards of God. Through our integrity, we will be able to proclaim the true face of Christ to the world. The future will not be easy, but the richness of our tradition and its ability to federate different schools of thought is a sure source of hope and opportunity. Not of utopian hope, but of a hope that takes God as its foundation – a God who provides for us in the midst of change and tribulation. To be a Communion in Mission, we have to envisage a Church without walls.

D. Lay Vocation

The mission with which God has entrusted his Church is not the exclusive business of the bishop and his clergy. Whether we are ordained or not, we are called to work together, each according to his or her calling, to bear witness to the spirit of unity that Christ’s mission is spreading throughout the world.

We are all little more than instruments, which the Church can use and organise in a coherent way in order to achieve Christ’s mission in the lives of men and women in today’s world. Thus, the mission which Jesus Christ has entrusted to his Church is the responsibility of all those who have been baptised, each according to their respective role and calling.

In 1988, Pope John Paul II published an encyclical – Christifideles Laici – and in it he elaborates on the calling of the Laity. “In giving a response to the question who are the lay faithful, the Second Vatican Council opened itself to a decidedly positive vision and displayed a basic intention of asserting the full belonging of the lay faithful to the Church and to its mystery. At the same time it insisted on the unique character of their vocation, which is in a special way, to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God. Vocation of the lay faithful to holiness implies that life according to the Spirit expresses itself in a particular way in their involvement in temporal affairs and in their participation in earthly activities.”
It is good to note that along with the Anglican tradition, the Pope affirms what Paul affirmed, that is, that God calls all Christians and when we consider the role of the laity, they are the ones who are called to engagement in the realities of social life. So to enable a transformation in the way we do mission, we ought to define a theological curriculum that emerges from the institutions of society we belong to and from within the framework identify the doctrine of God to which we belong. It is only then that the Trinitarian character of God’s existence will prove to be most useful.

E. Evangelism: Our Fears Must Be Overcome

Mission loses of its authenticity without Evangelism. This aspect cannot be marginalised in the life and the identity of the Church. It exists for all Christians, for every ministry and for every function within the Church. Even though Mission means more than just evangelism, mission without evangelism is incomplete. Too often, we have been shy and afraid to be faithful to the imperatives of the mandate from Jesus Christ. Our Anglican integrity demands that we hold ourselves accountable more to our duty as Christians. This puts challenges and opportunities in perspective. The bringing in of new believers gives rise to new experiences and thus new gifts to the life of the Church. The Church, in return, is challenged to engage in theological reflection.

F. Catalyst for Interfaith Dialogue – All Embracing – Multi-faith/Cultural Context

The example of Mauritius, in this context, is precious. It is small nation, unheard of by many, with few natural resources. What is does have, however, is the deep-rooted respect of its inhabitants for the diversity of beliefs. There are occasional frictions and disgruntlements. However, for the past 43 years of independent life, the Mauritian nation has succeeded in embracing its internal differences, and using it as a force for development. In this, it has emulated no-one. The strength of this unity shows that it comes from humanity’s inherent thirst for oneness. Do not believe those who say that people are meant for division. As man and wife are one, and as we are one with God, our Communion is our very strength.

We are a people called by God to be His servants. May He bless us as we embark on the new perspectives in mission arising from the divine opportune moment which the present crisis offers us. May He guide us in our quest, illuminate our understanding and inspire our teaching for His honour and glory.

We surely cannot tell how God will use the Anglican Communion in the years ahead, but what we know is that we can be confident that “God cares” and He only asks of us that we live out what we pray, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done all over the earth as it is surely done in heaven.”


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