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TEAM: Presiding Bishop tells conference to carry out prophetic witness

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
3/14/2007
[Episcopal News Service]  At the March 14 closing session of the Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference, which has described itself, in part, as an international conference on prophetic witness, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told the participants that they stand in a long line of Jewish and Christian -- including Anglican -- prophets.

A prophet, she said, is ''literally, one who speaks for God -- one like Isaiah or Jeremiah who dares to critique the evils of human systems and also dares to speak a vision for what God believes things should look like -- the godly characteristics to which a human society could and should aspire.''

''The opportunity that is the Anglican Communion is a gift given for a reason, and that reason is the healing of God's creation,'' Jefferts Schori told the conference gathered for its final meal together at the Birchwood Conference Centre in Boksburg, near the Johannesburg airport.

''The bonds of affection born and nurtured here in Boksburg are going to continue to transform this larger world for a very long time to come. Because we know our neighbor, and have heard the cries of our brothers and sisters in Burundi or Sudan or South Africa or Nigeria, we can tell that story, and help others in our own contexts to hear those cries in the wilderness. Because we know our neighbor, we have heard the cries of those made captive to consumerist societies, particularly in the wilderness of the developed world and we can tell that story,'' she said. ''We are invited into the prophetic work of claiming our oneness in God, and striving to make God's vision for our oneness more effectively real and complete in this world.''

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the main focus of the TEAM conference, ''begin with a recognizably prophetic naming of the ways in which God's children suffer,'' Jefferts Schori told the conference.

 ''We are here talking about the MDGs because we affirm that we are involved with the lives of others, whether they live next door or across the world, whether they are Christian or Anglican or not, and even whether they are currently living or not,'' she said. ''When we say we believe in the communion of the saints, it certainly includes those who have come before us, but it also at some level must include those yet to breathe this air of earth. We are caretakers and caregivers of all of God's creation, both present and yet to come, and that is an important Christian recognition of the eschatological implications of the MDGs.''

Jefferts Schori reminded the participants that Jesus called himself Wisdom's prophet, adding that ''his deeds and words can perhaps be most creatively understood in a prophetic framework.''

''His choice of companions, his parables, his cursing of fig trees and overturning of tables are all ways of speaking for God about the dismal state of the world and the yet unmet possibilities of God's dream for creation,'' she said. ''Even the scandals that we call the incarnation and the resurrection make more sense in a prophetic framework. They are God's response to those who 'cry in the wilderness.'''

God's continuing attention to cries in the wilderness underlies all of salvation history, she said. ''And it's important to recognize that it's not over and done with at the last page of Revelation. God hears and God responds by continuing to lure us into a world that looks more like eternity, more like a heavenly banquet, more like God is Lord and not we ourselves.''
 
Likewise, ''the MDGs only begin to address that kind of eschatological vision,'' she said. 

''The first goal seeks only to cut in half the kind of desperate poverty that keeps people starving. It does not reach beyond to that vision of a heavenly banquet. The goals are a great start, but it will take the vision of faith, a vision rooted in God's intent for all creation, to keep us moving toward that kind of radically abundant life for the whole world.''

To move forward, ''we're going to have to engage the attitudes that say it's not possible, will cost too much, is unrealistic, or is simply the fantastic and futile dream of fools,'' she said. ''The faith that is within us is the starting point of a response. The prophets tell us that sometimes our vocation is to play the fool -- the holy fool -- to dream impossible dreams and hope in ways that make no human sense.''

The Incarnation means that God took the human condition seriously enough to join it ''in all its complexity and organic messiness,'' the Presiding Bishop said.

''Salvation is for all humanity and it is for the whole person, however much we might like to divide that being up into parts that we label physical, moral, psychological, sexual, intellectual, or spiritual,'' she said. 

Churches ''where we gather week by week are the most remarkable nexus of possibility for delivering abundant life possible,'' Jefferts Schori said. ''We already have the delivery system on the ground that can feed people, encourage education, provide vaccinations and disease prevention, organize people to address water needs, and partner with others.''

Jefferts Schori praised Anglicanism's ''heritage of prophets,'' naming, among others, Elizabeth I, Richard Hooker and Hilda of Whitby, ''all of whom spoke for unity in diversity.''

''Some of the great prophets of our tradition were involved in major critique and change of socially accepted norms,'' she said, naming anti-slavery advocates William Wilberforce, David Livingstone and Bishop Steere in Zanzibar. (During the recent Primates' Meeting in Tanzania, she and many of her colleagues traveled by boat to Zanzibar to celebrate Eucharist at the Anglican cathedral there, which is built over a former slave-trade market.)

''In spite of support that many parts of the Church offered for tradition (which included slavery) in many parts of the church, all of those prophets challenged the spiritual wisdom of their day,'' she said. ''In the case of slavery, that received wisdom most often said slaves should obey their masters. The prophetic response offered a larger and more abundant vision that said all human beings are made in the image of God and deserving of full and equal dignity.''

Jefferts Schori also noted former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, ''who said this church is the only institution that exists primarily for the good of those outside itself,'' and former Cape Town Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ''who challenged another religious system that said some were of more value than others, and then, when the system finally began to crumble, sought to heal the community through insisting on the place of both offender and offended in the same body of Christ.''

''That tradition is not dead, indeed it rings through our work in this place and around the world,'' she said. ''This prophetic tradition challenges all of us to speak truth to power, to say to our governments and to the world that there is something gravely and sinfully wrong with a world where the division between rich and poor continues to expand, where some live in palaces and recline on ivory couches while others starve outside the gates.   Another prophet in our midst, Archbishop Ndungane, has put it most clearly when he said recently that the rich are getting 'stinking rich.''' 

Jefferts Schori noted that the MDGs had their origin in the calculations of some economists that giving by the developed nations at the level of 0.7% of their annual incomes could eliminate poverty. Only the Scandinavian countries are giving at that level, she said.

''The developed nations of the world have a responsibility and opportunity to provide leadership, and we have our own opportunity to challenge those governments to lead in life-giving ways,'' she said.

''Our voices, raised on behalf of the widows and orphans and the aliens in our midst, can motivate our governments to respond and participate in this vision of healing the world,'' Jefferts Schori said. ''Like the prophets of ancient Israel, we have been called to proclaim justice in the gate, to rise up and insist that the hungry be fed, the naked clothed, and the suffering provided comfort and relief. We know that is God's will for all of creation.''

MDG-focused mission work ''must take seriously the gifts that are already present in developing nations,'' Jefferts Schori said. She also warned that money alone will not solve the world's problems.

''When many people are confronted by suffering in distant land, their immediate response is to send money. That is important, but it is not enough,'' she said.  ''Money without relationship can quickly become manipulation -- either an attempted manipulation of our relationship with God, or a dismissal of our involvement in the suffering of others.''

Building relationships and partnerships is the ''great gift'' of gatherings such as TEAM, she said. ''To see and know another's gifts, and to understand that together we can accomplish far more than any of us alone. When God created humankind, God said, 'it is not good that adham, humanity, should be alone. I will make a helper as a partner.' That applies to all of us, not just the guy named Adam … Unexpected things happen when we begin to recognize and claim our membership in the body of God.'' 

The complete text of Jefferts Schori's address is available here.

On the last morning of the conference, participants met in a final session to hear Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, Primate of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, summarize the conference's final report, which will be released soon. Jefferts Schori and the five members of the Episcopal Church's official delegation led the TEAM community in a closing Eucharist.

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.

More than 400 people from 30 of the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces attended the March 7-14 TEAM conference to review the Communion's response to the MDGs and how the church can do more as one of the world's largest grassroots development networks. The TEAM conference was in part a follow up to the first-ever pan-Anglican conference on HIV/AIDS, which was hosted by Ndungane in Boksburg in 2001.

The conference was also meant to "encourage a prophetic articulation for an Anglican theology which supports witness and action for social justice."

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