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Listening: New Indian Ocean Primate will uphold unity, theological education

By Matthew Davies
1/31/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  Bishop Ian Ernest of Mauritius has been elected as the next Primate of the Indian Ocean and will succeed Archbishop Remi Joseph Rabenirina when he is enthroned on February 19, 2006.

A member of the 2008 Lambeth Conference Design Group Committee and convener of the Target Group for Bishops Training within the Task Force of Theological Education for the Anglican Communion, Ernest is an important voice in Anglican Communion affairs.

He took a four-month sabbatical in late 2005 to study as a Procter Fellow at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While visiting staff at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City on October 10, he spoke about theological education and unity as key priorities for the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Elected bishop in 2001, Ernest explained that it is important for the Anglican Church to have a strong presence in society, "but Anglicans need to be well informed so that they are not being torn apart," he said. "At times the church can be at risk if we do not give a proper balance of the liturgical and intellectual."

Margaret Larom, director of Anglican and Global Relations, described Ernest as "a man of great vision and ability, and widely recognized as a towering intellect," she said. "But what touched me personally was his compassion, his self-effacing openness and transparency, his readiness to share personal experiences that have led him to new understandings. It was clear to me that this highly educated educator never stops learning from daily life, from the events that happen or the opportunities that come his way, from the responsibilities that he has shouldered.

"Thankfully, he found his sabbatical time in our church very rewarding," Larom added. "And, he had very reassuring words about the future of the Anglican Communion, for which I also give thanks. Our prayers and best wishes are with him as he prepares for his new role as primate."

The Province of the Indian Ocean, which includes seven dioceses covering Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles, was founded in 1973. The Anglican mission began in Mauritius in 1810, after the British capture of the island from the French.

Theological education has been offered intermittently in the province since 1869 at St. Paul's Theological College, Madagascar. Ernest has helped develop a Diocesan Training Center for Ministries and Community Development to "sustain and serve the people of God."

Ernest is committed to including women fully in the life of the province. Out of 36 lay leaders being trained at the college, 10 are women. "In the years to come, I could be the first bishop [in the Indian Ocean] to ordain women to the priesthood," he said while addressing staff in New York City. "Today we are really ready to add women to ordained ministry."

Ernest's wife, Kamla, works at the Mauritius Institute of Education and is president of the Mothers' Union. "The women of Mauritius are very determined and are the backbone of the church," she said. "We now have a younger group of women coming in who are very dynamic and want to be a voice that is heard in the church and Mauritian society."

Ernest is enthusiastic about welcoming missionaries from the Episcopal Church to live and work in the province to assist with theological training, particularly in the areas of liturgy and Anglicanism.

[An earlier ENS article, "Mauritian bishop underscores theological education, Anglican unity as priorities," can be found online at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_68500_ENG_HTM.htm]