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TEAM offers inspiration, hope for a Communion focused on mission, Episcopal delegates say

By Matthew Davies
3/13/2007
[Episcopal News Service]  The five official delegates from the Episcopal Church attending the Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference, meeting March 7-14 in Boksburg, South Africa, have spoken passionately about the eight-day gathering, the vitality of the Communion when it's focused on mission, and their commitment to working for the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The Episcopal delegation, led by former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, includes President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson; the Rev. Canon Eugene Sutton, canon pastor at Washington National Cathedral and director of its center for prayer and pilgrimage; Laura Amendola, youth delegate and parishioner from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Duluth, Minnesota; and the Very Rev. Pascual Torres, chancellor of the Diocese of Honduras.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori arrived in Boksburg March 12 to attend the final days of the conference and deliver the closing keynote address March 14.

In addition, several Episcopal bishops and staff of the Episcopal Church Center have joined the more than 400 people who have gathered for a week of Bible study, worship, workshops, plenary sessions, networking and strategizing, all focused on the church's commitment to the MDGs -- an eight-prong declaration that has at its core the eradication of extreme poverty by 2015.

The TEAM conference, Griswold said, demonstrates the true nature of the Anglican Communion and its purpose. "It is not about documents or posturing. This is about people with a genuine sense of Christ's call to serve the world, coming together and finding that their own immediate sense of that call has been expanded by conversation and fellowship with people from other parts of the world."

Anderson said it had been a transformative experience "coming into this setting as a privileged American, sitting down to meals and speaking with people about what their lives are like; looking them in the eye, then greeting them on the grounds and stopping to chat about something that's maybe unfinished."

"It's all about relationships," she added, "[and] when we start to understand the depth of the suffering that is worldwide, it's transformative."

Sutton said the conference "models for all of us in the world the relationship between worship and biblical reflection and prayer, and bringing it to bear on this world that God loves so much, that God gave his only son for."

"I have seen nothing but the Holy Spirit enacted in everything," Amendola noted with enthusiasm. "The Anglican Communion is alive and well; I have seen nothing to contraindicate that. It's a Communion that loves each other and embraces one another."

For Torres, the conference has demonstrated "that we are not isolated -- we are part of a family, a world family, a Communion actually. We come together to talk and share our experiences about our work as a family."

Framework for mission
Meeting through March 14 at the Birchwood Conference Centre near Johannesburg, TEAM has welcomed more than 400 people from 30 of the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces to review the church's response to the MDGs and how it can do more as one of the world's largest grassroots development networks.

Griswold said the MDGs are an important framework for the church "because they really embrace in a very specific way some of the dominant needs of the human community around the world. They also correspond to the mandates of the gospel."

Anderson noted that in the Episcopal Church the MDGs have provided a good model for the church's mission for several reasons. "They're easy to understand; they're listed out; they have numbers; they have words that we can translate into what is our own personal knowledge of each one of those," she said.

The MDGs, Griswold said, "need to be set in a context of biblical and theological reflection so that we have the energy to sustain our involvement, which is only possible when we rely on God's grace and not simply on imagination."

The transfer of information and learning has been one of the most valuable aspects of the conference, Griswold said. "Networks have been formed, information is now available, various entities that can be of help have now identified themselves. I think that's the concreteness people will take away, and certainly from the perspective of a member of the Episcopal Church, I see the value of Episcopal Relief and Development and all the ways that we seek to be partners and accompany our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world as they deal with these overwhelming crises."

Griswold described the "genius" of the Anglican Communion as "the capacity to come together, to share stories, to share struggles with articulating the gospel in any variety of contexts and in so doing I think we are much fuller and given a deeper sense of what it means to be members of Christ's risen body.

"Regardless of where we come from or what our perspectives on any number of things might be, there's a deep and overwhelming common sense of mission -- the church is for the sake of the world."

Unity, not uniformity
The TEAM conference, Sutton said, "emphasizes that we are together in common mission."

The more than 400 Anglicans who've traveled to Boksburg are looking for "unity, not uniformity," he said. "There will always be differences; there will be theological differences and others, but this conference reminds us that we really are one in Jesus Christ when we focus on the essentials: prayer, what God has done for us, and what God is doing in the world. When we have that, sure we can discuss our differences, but we can be united in mission."

Torres said it has been a valuable experience to network at the conference, to hear new ideas, gather more information, especially in the area of HIV/AIDS, an issue which Torres is committed to in his own context. "The fight against poverty and diseases should be the main focus in our agenda."

A local vernacular expression and constant theme throughout the conference, ubuntu -- which roughly translates as "I am diminished if I don't know you" -- "sums up the meaning of the baptismal covenant that calls for respecting the dignity of every human being," Anderson said.

She acknowledged that Christians have a gospel call to issues of social justice. "What have we promised in our baptismal covenant?" she asked. "What are we called to do by Jesus Christ with regards to those around us?"

"In the Anglican Communion, there's an interdependence that has to do with being autonomous. What it says is: I respect you; I respect how you live your life; I respect your 'rules.' But we have work to do together that transcends those kinds of rules."

The conference had also provided Anderson with the opportunity to speak with people about how the Episcopal Church's polity works, "and to hear about how other Anglican provinces make decisions," she said.

Of particular concern to Anderson are the MDGs that address women and children. "A lot of the daily life is facilitated by women. I've realized that women are great multitaskers all around the world. In some countries that means carrying wood, carrying water, putting food on the table, raising the children, protecting the children, keeping yourself as a woman fed -- but that's last," she said. "In many of the households I've heard about in patriarchal systems, the women and children -- particularly the girls -- eat last. Those things have really touched my heart."

Anderson recalled the words of Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town during his opening address, in which he said: "Jesus said the word becomes flesh. He didn't say that word becomes text," a moment that many of the delegates have described as inspirational.

"So we've been communicating throughout the Anglican Communion with these documents," Anderson said. "What isn't always available to us is what we've experienced here and that is looking each other in the eye, holding hands during worship -- those kinds of 'flesh' things have been enabled here."

For Amendola, Ndungane's comment was also a significant moment. "That is why we're here -- to live the word out human to human, flesh to flesh," she said. "That is why I think it is so powerful for people to be gathered, as opposed to communicating though conference calls and emails."

Sutton explained that when all of the church's orders meet -- "lay people, priests, deacons, as well as bishops -- then you get the full panoply of what the issues are that are affecting us."

As long as we think that the only Anglicans who need to get together are the bishops and the archbishops then the agenda becomes very narrow," he said. "We have to hear from those who normally do not have a voice in the Anglican Communion. We have to hear from the poor, from women, from youth. This is one of the very few occasions for us to do this when all of the voices are present."

Geology, morality, theology
Sutton, who has been committed to "greening" Washington National Cathedral, said he was particularly affected by the workshops on climate change.

"We are in the midst of an ecological crisis in this world, and the United States of America and some other countries are very responsible for leaving a very large footprint on this earth," he said. "That is not just a geological issue; it is a moral issue, it's a theological issue for us. Unless we do something to meet the environmental disasters that are before us, we will not make poverty history, we will make poverty permanent."

Undergirding all the immediate concerns embodied in the MDGs, Griswold said, "is the realization that all of this exists within the environment ... and that people's health really depends not just on our care and respect for one another, but our care and respect for the ecology of the environment. If the world can't sustain human life because of our misuse of creation, then none of these other ways of serving the community are actually going to bear fruit."

Sutton addressed the US Senate in the summer of 2006 on global warming, calling it "one of the great moral crises of our day." After also hearing from members of the scientific community, who spoke about the need for the US to reduce its carbon emissions, the Senate passed a bill called the "Global Warming Reduction Act."

On his return to Washington, Sutton said he will commit to helping the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and do what he can in America to raise up environmental concerns. "We simply must as American Christians put high on our agenda our waste of God's creation," he said.

Amendola has enjoyed and appreciated the story-telling aspects of the conference. In particular, she noted parts of Pakistan Bishop Mano Rumalshah's presentation in which he spoke about 9/11, the challenges involving fundamentalist militants in his country, and how that has affected the whole world.

Another conference highlight for Amendola was the address by the Rev. Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest who serves as the director of the Institute for the Healing of Memories based in Cape Town, South Africa, "again because of the storytelling," she said. "He's very much into having our stories come out in the church and I think that is something the church doesn't do enough of."

Amendola, who serves on the Diocesan of Minnesota's MDG task force, as well as her parish's evangelism committee and social justice ministries, also appreciated Lapsley's "bluntness" in talking about sexuality in the church as something that need not be a divisive issue. "Instead, he challenged us to think about the things that unite us and how we're hurting humanity in the ways of poverty, in the ways of gender inequality, as well as sexual discrimination," she said.

When she returns to Minnesota, Amendola has solid ideas for following up on the conference. "The diocesan MDG task force has already planned an MDG-awareness day for September 15. Being here has really impressed upon me the importance of having that be a holistic day, seeing what governmental individuals we can get there," as well as joining with other denominations in creating an awareness for the state of Minnesota as opposed to just the Episcopal diocese, she said.

"I am also fascinated with the different materials we have been given here in the way of different bible studies around the MDGs, the various texts and presentations people have created, and I am excited about taking that back to our parishes and making it work for our initiatives," she added. Furthermore, Amendola plans on what she calls "talking the network;" visiting parishes throughout her diocese, delivering speeches on the MDGs, and sharing her experiences of the TEAM conference.

Torres, along with a fellow Honduran attending the conference, is planning how to advocate more effectively in his own context, especially for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

"It has been a great opportunity to be renewed again and get fresh ideas," he said. "I hope to return to Honduras and help the church to be more up to date on the various issues affecting us and to help build a church with more concern for all God's people, no matter their situation or their preferences."

More information about TEAM is available at the conference website. Continuing ENS coverage is available here.