African bishops, global partners head to Uganda for weeklong meeting

August 22, 2010

More than 400 Anglican bishops from Africa are being joined by international partners, diplomats and representatives from relief and development organizations for a weeklong gathering in Entebbe, Uganda, to focus on issues of conflict, poverty, corruption and disease on the continent.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni is scheduled to address the All Africa Bishops Conference on Aug. 25 and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will be the guest preacher at the opening Eucharist on Aug. 24. Williams' attendance at the gathering marks the first time he has visited Uganda since he became archbishop of Canterbury in 2002.

The gathering brings together bishops from the 12 Anglican provinces in Africa -- Burundi, Central Africa, Congo, Indian Ocean, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Southern Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and West Africa -- as well as the Diocese of Egypt.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sent a greeting to the gathering, which is sponsored by the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) and whose theme is "Securing the Future: Unlocking our Potential," based on the biblical text from Hebrews 12:1-2.

"The Episcopal Church holds you in prayer as you gather as the Anglican provinces of Africa," said Jefferts Schori in her letter. "May you be equipped for the challenges of building the reign of God ... casting aside the burdens of colonial histories and the current political realities. May your ministries be a blessing to a hungry world."

The Rev. Canon Petero Sabune is among the attendees from the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, which has longstanding partnerships with most of the Anglican provinces in Africa. Sabune, the Episcopal Church's Africa partnerships officer, told ENS that Jefferts Schori's message sums up why he is attending the conference.

"CAPA can be the church for the 21st century," he said. "This gathering is a clarion call to reach out with the power of the Gospel, using the new tools of technology.”

Sabune noted that in 1900, there were 10 million Christians in Africa, but by 2000 that number had grown to 360 million. "Christ is doing new things," he said. "The continent with the most ancient Christian community is exploding at the seams with new life in Jesus."

Sabune said he will bring "good news of great joy from the Episcopal Church that those in prison are being visited, the hungry are fed and the homeless have homes. Jesus is proclaimed as Lord and Savior in small rural churches and in large urban cathedrals. The Episcopal Church is low church evangelical and high church Anglo-catholic."

Episcopal Relief & Development is represented by six staff members, who are attending the gathering as observers and to connect with partners in Anglican dioceses and provinces throughout Africa. They include Rob Radtke, president; Malaika Kamunanwire, senior director of marketing and communications; Nagulan Nesiah and Danielle Tirello, program officers; and Shaun Walsh and Kellie McDaniel of the NetsforLife program, a partnership that has benefited 18 million people by implementing integrated malaria-prevention programs in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Trinity Church, Wall Street, which through its grants program supports projects throughout Africa, also will be represented at the gathering. Representatives also are expected from the Anglican Communion Office, Lambeth Palace, United Nations bodies and the African Union.

Presentations will focus on nurturing family life, building healthy populations, securing an economic future, disempowering the powerful and empowering the vulnerable, and making leadership work to secure the future and unlock potential on the continent.

"In the short term CAPA can take a lead in formulating regional areas of ministry," said Sabune, noting that church leaders will be able to share ideas in areas such as education, healthcare, refugee and prison ministry.

The conference is the second of its kind, the first being held in November 2004 in Lagos, Nigeria.

"We need such opportunities to explore together both what we have in common and where we differ, as we affirm Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, and strive to bring his gospel to every inch of this vast and needy continent," Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, who is unable to attend the gathering due to previous commitments, told ENS. "We can be strengthened and encouraged by exchanging experiences of the good news of the incarnate Christ in Africa -- a perspective and priority that we uniquely share as we grapple with all that we have to be and do, in faithful response to God's call to mission."

Makgoba acknowledged the many contextual challenges in Africa, such as spiritual and material hunger and poverty; disease; inadequate water, sanitation and other basic services; problems of corruption, political instability and other failures of good governance. Such challenges, he said, "shape what it is to be church, how we do church, and how we interpret and express the eternal truths of the Word of God in ways that speak into our particular circumstances."

An integral aspect of the conference, Makgoba said, will be considering "how to harness our relationships across the global Anglican family to counter the adverse consequences for Africa of too much international, and developed-world, economic and environmental policy-making.

"The need to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ incarnate appropriately and clearly into these and the other contexts we face demonstrates that questions of good biblical interpretation go far wider than human sexuality," he added. "I hope that facing these challenges will be the priority, and that -- avoiding becoming bogged down in rhetoric or deepening 'ideological' or artificial ecclesial positions -- the gathering will speak prophetically and with courage into our situation, the communion and the world."