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Knowing the Lord is about giving the poor a fair trial, Williams tells TEAM conference
Archbishop of Canterbury delivers keynote address in Boksburg, South Africa

By Matthew Davies

ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams tells delegates attending the Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference March 8 that a world where no one is forgotten, no one is invisible, "is a world in which God's promise has been fulfilled."   (ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg)

[Episcopal News Service]  A world where no one is forgotten, no one is invisible, "is a world in which God's promise has been fulfilled," Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told delegates attending the Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference in his keynote address March 8 in Boksburg, South Africa.

"It requires absolute commitment to the whole community and everyone within it," he said.

Meeting through March 14 at the Birchwood Conference Centre near Johannesburg, TEAM is welcoming more than 400 people from 30 of the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces to review the church's response to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and how it can do more as one of the world's largest grassroots development networks.

Jenny Humphries, World Mission Adviser of the Diocese of Bath and Wells in the Church of England, introduced Williams with appreciation for "his skills of care and compassion and listening."

On the TEAM conference, Humphries said it is an "incredible privilege to realize that effective world mission involves all of us from everywhere of all ages."

Williams opened his keynote address by acknowledging his "enormous pleasure and privilege" to be in South Africa, noting that he has been looking forward to returning to the country for many years.

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

He said that TEAM's opening March 7 Eucharist, which drew more than 1,000 people to the local township, Tsakane, "awakened the most exciting and deep-rooted memories from those years ago."

Williams paid tribute to Ndungane for his work in convening the TEAM conference and his commitment to the issues represented in the MDGs, in particular for his dedication in addressing the challenges of HIV/AIDS on the African continent.

He cited a presentation at the 2001 Anglican Primates' Meeting at which the Rev. Gideon Byamugisha of Uganda, the first African Anglican priest to publicly declare he was HIV positive, circulated a paper about how present church history might be documented in fifty or a hundred years time.

"When people look back on this era, and particularly the history of the Anglican Communion, how will it look?" Williams asked. "At the moment it is not all that clear that the history is what Byamugisha would like it to be. But this week we have a chance of turning around what the perceptions might be of the church ... what the mission might be and what the identity of the church could be."

Drawing from the Old Testament, Williams said: "If we're talking about mission we must begin with a conviction about mission being that set of actions, habits that makes God in Jesus Christ known. Mission is about helping people to know God, and knowing God is one of those phrases that crops up in the Old Testament."

Some modern translations, Williams noted, talk about "acknowledging God, which strikes me as a much weaker term than ‘knowing' God. Knowing does mean intimacy, it means more than awareness of facts."

Referring to the Book of Jeremiah, Williams said that knowing the Lord is about giving the poor a fair trial. "Knowing the Lord is about sharing God's perspective on the world he has made. It won't happen over night. It will only be finally realized when God has at last acted to make his presence clear upon earth, finally to overcome our sins and failures and take us into a new being."

Comparing Old Testament texts from Chronicles, Jeremiah and Hosea which cite the law of Israel, Williams said that "fairness for the poor is not the only principle of the Law, but it is a central one," because the essence of the law of the Old Testament "is that no one is forgotten and no one is invisible."

Williams said that God promises absolute commitment to the whole community and everyone within it. "No one is outside that relationship, therefore no one is forgotten and no one is invisible," he said. "If fairness of the poor is knowing the Lord, having something of the perspective of God is bound up of an existence in this world of a community where no one is invisible."

The law acts out a covenant, Williams said, "which makes real, makes concrete the commitment of God to all."

The New Testament principle, as described in Corinthians, Williams said, is that "if one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it."

St. Paul begins by talking about how the spirit equips one for the good of all, Williams said. "But something else dawns on him: if everyone exists for the sake of others then everyone's deprivation is everyone's loss of community. If any one is deprived or diminished, then something is wrong with everything in the church."

Williams underscored that every human being is potentially a member of the body of Christ and that no one can be forgotten. "The church says that this is the kind of community that makes God known ... whose whole being is selflessness."

"A community gathered around the Lord's table is a sign of God's future," he added. "The Lord's table is everyone's table. And when people come, they come with an awareness that the needs of the neighbor comes first. We look sideways as well as forwards and as we see them being fed by Christ we ask: how can I be part of Christ's feeding them. ... The Lord's supper is for all -- an open door into the new world."

He noted that in the Anglican Communion there is much discussion about communion and what it means -- theologies of communion, being in and out of communion, in impaired or broken communion.

"It does seem to me that we are cutting ourselves off from our deepest roots when we fail to understand that all that really matters is ... being nurtured at the Holy Communion," he said, adding that it is a "fantasy" that one bit of the human family can exist without the other.  "It goes against God's truth, God's reality. There is a fundamental untruth, fundamental unreality in that. There are no gated communities in the kingdom."

Central to the work of Jesus is not just talking about justice, but "reshaping, redefining" what people understand by the people of God, he said, noting that the community around Jesus shows what things will be like in the kingdom of God -- "a community in which each [person] lives for the good of all."

"Jesus is reshaping what it means to belong to the people of God. In relation to him, every person can now find their destiny and freedom and particularly those who did not think that they had a destiny in God," he said. "They are the new definition of the people of God. Jesus is doing what the law did -- saying that no one is forgotten and showing that no one is forgotten."

The community that gathers around Jesus, Williams added, has reshaped and reinvented the kingdom of God. "What does the end of the world look like?" he asked. "A community in which each is living for all."

Williams offered a reflection on how this might be applied to the current situation.

Faced with the Millennium Development Goals, the Anglican Communion needs to be asking, "who is being forgotten here, who is not being heard, to be asking who are the ones who are not reached by the law and the gospel, whose depravation or diminution is hurting us all here," Williams said. "The church has to be involved in creating participation and empowerment ... The church is involved in creating a place where they can make choices that can make a difference to them and others. They may be very small choices but they are real choices; they may be very small differences, but they are real differences."

It is tempting to think that the only differences that matter are global differences, Williams added, citing the biblical account of the poor widow who gave more than the rich men, because she gave everything that she had. "You don't have to make every kind of difference, but you do have to make the difference that only you can make."

The TEAM conference, Williams said, "is about mobilizing those small and precious resources we have that nobody else has. The church is probably the only organization in civil society that can deliver goals concretely at grassroots levels in modest but real ways."

Williams said the church needs to be asking the question: "have you understood that you are deprived and dehumanized by global injustice, by a system that tolerates the idea of superfluous people. We are victims of injustice as well" because to be a perpetrator is to be a victim.

Referring to the MDGs, Williams insisted the goals are not just about working for the needy and poor as a separate category of human beings -- "it is working for our own healing too ... and for that form of healing that we usually call conversion."

Finally, Williams said, "the church has a mission of calling all to know the Lord, so that we are summoned and enabled to share God's loving perspective on the world he has made ... When we can say of the whole human race: not them, but we."

"Our task is working towards a human family where no one is forgotten, because by God's gift and God's spirit we have begun to know the Lord," he added. "And as the histories are written may it be said of us: we gave the poor a fair trial. That is what it means to know the Lord."

An audio version of Williams' address will be posted later today here. More information about TEAM is available at the conference website here. Continuing ENS coverage is available here.