Thursday 14 April 2016

'Unity is neither conformity nor uniformity but oneness in Christ' – Blog from ACC-16

Continuing our Bible studies on the Book of Ruth* here in Lusaka, we learned in chapter three about the origins of the David lineage, the nature of God and our response. We also continued to discern the mind and heart of Ruth and the “plans” of Naomi.

Lusaka Cathedral, the ACC-16 venue (Photo: Compass Rose Society)
I could not help but note countertransference as Ruth “uncovered the feet” of Boaz and in the group, quickly making Boaz a villain in the story. We read that a welter of emotions isn't the story and shared our vulnerability as we identified with characters involved in this chapter. I noticed how I and the group skillfully avoided talking about human sexuality, even when it was implied in the passage. We tiptoed around this minefield so to speak, lest we had to end the session before we could conclude a discussion.

The reports of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity Faith and Order (IASCUFO), the body responsible for promoting the deepening of communion between us and our ecumenical partners, placed in context and completed a gestalt for me as I could now fully understand a lot of the commissions on which our ACSA reps serve or attend. We heard that we have reached an Agreed Statement on Christology with the Oriental Orthodox Church, a first step towards our desired organic unity. What I heard from the IASCUFO discussions is that unity is neither conformity nor uniformity but oneness in Christ, as he prayed in the high priestly prayer, “that we may be one as he and the Father are one.” We hear the unresolved matter of the Filioque being mentioned quickly without even a pause.

Given the litigation our Province has gone through in recent years, I listen to these reports with ears open and eyes shut, anxious to learn how we can avoid our church order – that is, the ordering of our affairs, our polity and our roles in the church – from being destroyed. It was soothing to hear that church order is there to enable humans to flourish. I listened attentively to the various agreements that we have at communion level, some of which I am aware of and others of which were news to me. Some agreements work well for ACSA, whereas some have in reality regressed and need to be re-examined. I know that when it comes to doctrinal matters, even within the SA Council of Churches, we prefer to trip over each other as we welcome the inter-religious family rather than face up to our differences. What I learnt again today is that at the heart of communion is prayer. I could not agree more.  So we need to continue in mission and to act together, for example to stop human trafficking, without doctrinal barriers.

Following almost a whole day of heavy information and discussion of the IASCUFO report, we went back into groups and spent valuable time on the theme of ACC-16, our experiences of intentional discipleship. Compared to my last two ACC meetings, the staff at this gathering had plenty of input time, and the group discussion and open plenary were most welcome. What I heard from the feedback in this plenary is that discipleship is about loss of privilege, following, learning and being mentored and supported, given opportunities and held accountable. As our daughter reminds me on occasion, we learn not “by osmosis, teach me, Dad.” We have to be there, model and walk alongside others. That is how I was catechised and how Anglican worship and liturgy were affirmed for me.

The resolutions have started coming in now and as in most church chambers, they bring a different dynamic to the room. I chaired the first session of the resolutions committee last night after dinner. We have a full plate before we submit our work to members. We need prayers and the skill to craft resolutions clearly for all to hear. As Habbakuk says: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.”

The sun came out on Wednesday but then vanished again. It was the warmest day we have had but was still cool. At tea time I spoke to someone who recalled as a young girl in 1978 having been at school during a helicopter-borne attack on liberation movement members on the village they lived in. I continue to hear snippets of these redemptive stories. On current issues, I continue to hear quiet yet deep concern that the water level in Kariba Dam is far too low to support the Zambians, and of the impact of this on farming and mining. There is also concern that with clothes dumped from China, the cotton industry is under severe pressure. Each of these discussions ends with, “Please pray for us.” Indeed, the heart of communion is prayer. Tomorrow the team will go out to encounter some parts of Lusaka and there will be no formal session, except for those of us who are members of the resolutions committee.

*The ACC-16 Bible studies are here [PDF file] 

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