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TEAM will build shared vision, energy around MDGs, Archbishop of Canterbury says
Anglican Church of Southern Africa to host Towards Effective Anglican Mission conference March 7-14

By Matthew Davies

ENS photo by Matthew Davies
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams addresses media gathered March 6 for the Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference in Boksburg, South Africa   (ENS photo by Matthew Davies)

[Episcopal News Service]  The Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference, meeting March 7-14 in Boksburg, South Africa, will provide the churches and provinces of the Anglican Communion with "a shared vision and a shared energy" for the tasks outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said during a March 6 media briefing.

Williams joined Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, and Bishop David Beetge of the host Diocese of the Highveld in addressing media gathered at the Birchwood Conference Centre near Johannesburg on the day before the TEAM conference is scheduled to commence with an opening eucharist at All Souls Anglican Church in Tsakane.

Williams, one of the conference's keynote speakers, will preach at the eucharist, which will be webcast from 5 p.m. local time (3 p.m. GMT, 10 a.m. EST) at the TEAM website.

The Mayor of Ekurhuleni, Counselor Dumankosi, and Canon Delene Mark, TEAM coordinator who has been instrumental in organizing the conference, also joined the media briefing.

Williams emphasized that the worldwide Anglican Communion -- composed of 38 provinces in 165 countries -- is trying to address the questions of the MDGs "in a more coordinated, better motivated, more reflective way."

In the days ahead, he said, "we will ask questions like: what are the resources that the Anglican Churches worldwide can bring to bear on these challenges; how do we better coordinate the provision of the help we can offer; how do we build effective relationships with government and voluntary organizations worldwide; and how do we keep our motivation in combating the scourge of poverty and disease sharp and focused?"

The meeting is expected to draw more than 350 people from across the Anglican Communion. "I hope that it can really pull us together, give us a shared vision and a shared energy for the tasks" outlined in the MDGs, Williams said.

Although his first official visit to South Africa as Archbishop of Canterbury, Williams and his wife, Jane, had spent some time in the country in the mid '80s during the apartheid years.

The Episcopal Church is represented at the Boksburg conference by an official delegation, which Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori named her predecessor, 25th Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, to lead. Jefferts Schori will also join the gathering next week.

Global apartheid
"Poverty is the scourge that we have in our days," said Ndungane, who was charged by the Anglican Primates in 2001 with the responsibility of moving the Anglican Communion forward by addressing the social issues of poverty, trade, debt and HIV/AIDS.

"There is global apartheid where the rich are getting too rich and the poor are getting desperately poor," he said, acknowledging that TEAM will equip the worldwide Anglican Communion to respond more intentionally to the issues represented by the MDGs.

The MDGs are the result of a United Nations eight-prong declaration, signed by the world's nations in 2000 as an attempt, among other things, to address global poverty, disease, HIV/AIDS, ensure environmental sustainability, and to empower women. Further information is available here.

The TEAM conference is in part a follow up to the first-ever pan-Anglican conference on HIV/AIDS, which was hosted by Ndungane in Boksburg in 2001. "We emerged from that conference with a toolkit for addressing HIV/AIDS," Ndungane said. "We made a definite decision that we are going to work towards a generation without AIDS and that we would come back five years from then to assess what we have done."

The first Boksburg conference initiated an AIDS program that is felt right throughout the African continent, Beetge told the media. "We were able to establish an AIDS capacity throughout the continent ... We so often forget that when we look at the AIDS figures in sub-Saharan Africa, they continue to increase daily."

In parts of Beetge's diocese it is estimated that as many as 50 percent of people might be HIV positive. "Poverty continues. In this area of Ekurhuleni there are 114 informal settlement areas where more than a million people are living in severe poverty," he said. "Of course education, health care, gender issues are all affecting us in this area. So it is a great privilege to have the Anglican Communion coming together in this place where we are faced every day with the reality of the Millennium Development Goals."

On behalf of Ekurhuleni, which means "place of peace" in the local Sitsonga language, Dumankosi said: "We are very excited that our religious leaders have been able to make time to be in our area and do work that really contributes practically to challenges that we're all working on.

"We are hoping to work to ensure that issues of hunger and disease are dealt with effectively and we hope that there can be greater prospects for mothers and infants having a greater survival and better lives," he added. "Obviously we should be able to look toward better educated children and further the issue of equal opportunities for women. We hope that we can link up with the MDGs to help the environment ... and that we will be able to see partnerships between the developed and the developing world that ensures a better life for all."

Responding to questions from the media regarding HIV/AIDS, Ndungane said that young people, particularly in South Africa, are asking for the skills to negotiate life from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. "They want to be equipped so they know what choices to make and the consequences of their decisions," he said. "We have developed programs that address those concerns and provide loving care and support to young people, and also to get their peers to be the ones to talk the language that they understand. It is our hope that throughout this conference we will address those concerns."

When addressing HIV/AIDS, Beetge said it is important to recognize that it is not only a health issue, but a social issue as well. "We believe that we are only going to be able to deal with this pandemic if it is dealt with in a holistic way," he said, noting that the Anglican Church of Southern Africa has appealed to the government to hold a national discussion and consultation with "all stakeholders -- faith-based organizations, NGOs academics, governments, healthcare workers, with everybody."

It is too great a pandemic for any one group to be able to tackle on their own, he said. "We are also committed to ensuring that those who are not HIV positive maintain that status, and our programs are geared towards that in terms of education and peer-group programs..."

Many of the delegates attending the TEAM conference are practitioners -- people who are involved in development issues, Ndungane said. "In fact, many of the people who have called for this conference are those who are working on the ground, so we hope that the strategies of how we engage on advocacy work in terms of poverty eradication [help] to stiffen our spines in dealing with these [issues]."

Williams underscored that much work is currently underway in the churches and provinces of the Anglican Communion toward achieving the MDGs. "It is being done at the grass roots level and being done very effectively by bodies like the Mothers' Union," he said. "So long as we don't share our experience, set our priorities, and work out regional and wider strategies, then that work doesn't reach its full potential."

Williams identified two hoped-for outcomes of the conference: "the willingness to build lasting networks and strengthen existing ones; and also to find ways of working with and through the Anglican Observer at the United Nations," a role to which Uganda's Hellen Wangusa was recently appointed.

Wangusa, former United Nations Africa coordinator of the Millennium Development Goals, will attend the TEAM conference and offer workshops.

Williams also cited Anglicans in Development, an initiative of the Archbishop of Canterbury's office which attempts to share and coordinate information, stimulate building up new relationships, and to form strategies around the Communion.