Learning from indigenous peoples. #pisky #ecobishops #anglican


We need to learn from the experience of indigenous peoples. One of the themes which has been emerging here at the Eco-Bishops Conference has been the need to recover and learn from the wisdom and experience of indigenous peoples.

The picture is of our Eucharist yesterday morning led by Bishop Mark, Canadian National Bishop for Indigenous Peoples. We sat in the ground conscious that we are hosted by creation rather than users of it. Our worship ‘under the trees’ with Bishop Api of Fiji carried similar messages. His people are aware of rising sea levels as a daily reality – the need to move whole populations is is becoming a possibility which they will need to contemplate.

These ages-old ways of thinking are integrated and subtle – which makes them hard to grasp for those of us who are used to the very binary ways of thinking in the developed world.

But I found myself being drawn towards the affinities between these ways of thinking which are embedded in the lives and traditions of indigenous people and the insights and understandings of Celtic Spirituality. The connections are in ways of integrating understandings of earth and heaven, the mundane and the spiritual.

So we are moving here from addressing climate change issues – and what others here prefer to call ‘climate justice’ – as a matter of a few tweaks in lifestyle, important as that may be. This is about challenging ways of thinking and theologies which have brought us to the crisis which now faces the world

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With the Eco-Bishops. #ecobishops. #pisky. #anglican


‘Maybe a little piece of heaven ….?’ I said enquiringly to Andrew Deitsche, Bishop of New York as we headed into the Eco-Bishops dinner in a winery in Stellenbosch this evening. A beautiful South African evening in a lovely place – and the extraordinarily diverse group of Eco-Bishops reminding us of the global family of which we are a part.

Anyway .. It turned out to be a remarkable evening at which Helen Ziille, Premier of the Western Cape and Opposition a Leader was being honoured by the Tutzing Academy of West Germany.

We found ourselves in the presence of some authentic and moral communication of the strongest kind. She expressed her political philosophy: that everybody has the opportunity and the means to live the life which expresses the freedoms which they value’.

Such a comment has a particular poignancy when spoken in a beautiful place – when round the corner countless thousands of people are living in abject poverty and indignity in the townships of Cape Town.

And then she moved on to say what is special about South Africa – that the privilege of being South African is to take a shortcut through history – moving from being a pariah state to being a state where people learn to live their togetherness.

We have been listening this morning to Bishop Tom Wilmot of Perth – Australia’s Perth that is. He set out the reality of the crisis facing humanity. I’m learning but I can see that if we are to make any progress at all on addressing these issues, we need a new quality of political leadership – less of short-term pragmatism and more of vision expressed in practical reality. We heard some of that in the South African context last night – and we need to hear more of it in the global context

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Coherent Communion

It has often been stated that what the Anglican Communion offers is a way of being a global church without a centralised authority. But how to cohere – in the sense of holding together? Previous generations spoke of bonds of affection but that sounds a bit ‘soft’ to me. We’ve explored Anglican Covenant but that that isn’t the way forward.

The ‘single issue’ pressures which threaten to pull us apart are very strong. Both within provinces and across the Communion, clarity about divergence seems to offer more security than patient engagement in ‘honest conversation across difference’. Archbishop Justin speaks of ‘visible unity in Christ with functional diversity’

There are however many strands of our life which do help us to hold together. We have an extraordinary network of diocesan companionships – like our relationship in the Diocese of St Andrews with the Diocese of Calcutta – which quietly help us to explore and affirm what we share. Our contexts could not be more different – yet there is a commonality to our life which sustains our belonging together

And there are the Anglican Networks. I’m in South Africa at the moment – heading towards an Eco-Bishops Meeting which is being held at the invitation of Archbishop Thabo of South Africa. Shared concern about the impact of climate change is another agenda around which we can gather. I’ll be going to listen and learn from the experience of people whose lives are affected by climate change in dramatic ways. That meeting around climate change – like other meetings around other agendas – are part of the reason why I have hope for our Communion

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Eco-Bishops Meeting in South Africa

I’ll be writing more about this – but this is the reason why I am in South Africa at present

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Chair of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, is calling together a group of bishops from various countries impacted by climate change.
Bishops have been chosen from countries reflecting the great challenges we face, from the sea level rise of Fiji, the deforestation of Argentina, the droughts of Namibia, the hurricanes of the Philippines and the storms of New York, and the warming of Alaska. These bishops are united in their commitment to addressing these environmental challenges.
Sixteen bishops will be gathering in Capetown from the 23rd of February to exchange ideas and concerns, to share challenges and successes. First the bishops will hear about the challenges faced in different parts of the globe.
Then they will share actions and theologies that have been helpful in moving forward. The goal is to strategize together in order strategies for raising the issue of climate change and environmental degradation throughout the global Anglican Church.
What is the event?
A strategic planning meeting hosted by the Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa of a core group of bishops and archbishops whose dioceses or Provinces are in areas affected by climate change or in areas that contribute significantly to conditions that lead to climate change. The bishops and archbishops identified are already active in responding to climate change and environmental degradation as a result of human activity in various ways, eg, through theological exposition and challenge, advocacy, greening churches and communities, and supporting local mitigation.
Building on relationships already established virtually, the meeting will foster a strengthened, working collegiality among the bishops who have been identified and ultimately serve as a catalyst for further response and activities throughout the Communion.
The bishops will share their experience in responding to climate change so far, their hopes, their concerns, and ideas about how they, specifically, might organize themselves better for that purpose. They will have an opportunity to reflect and study together, and to look at the obstacles they face and discern what they can do, by working together, to move through these obstacles.
Drawing on their own experience and ideas, a strategic plan will be developed for themselves, with proposals for broader engagement in the Anglican Communion.
Science and the experience of the impacts of climate change suggest that in many ways survival is at stake – for human communities, for the ecosystems on which human life depends. We have listened to Anglicans in a number of regions where congregations face food and water shortages and other stresses that are directly linked to climate change. The meeting and the broader project will enable Anglicans at leadership level to make coordinated efforts towards upholding human dignity and the integrity of creation, and strengthening interdependence within the Anglican Communion as we become better stewards of God’s creation. It is hoped that the outcomes of this project will have an impact that reaches far beyond the present time.
Expected outcomes
To form a group of bishops and archbishops (Eco Bishops) representative of the regions of the Anglican Communion, who will have participated in the core group as described above and worked together to formulate an action plan for themselves, with proposals for broader Anglican engagement in responding to climate change, faithfully, prayerfully and proactively.
The core group of bishops will become visible in offering biblical and moral leadership in the area of climate justice. Their experience and deliberations will be communicated to Anglicans and others around the world via ACEN, news releases and other forms of media.
As a resource for the broader Communion, a concise report will be produced, gathering the bishops’ lived experience and responses to climate change and setting out future actions. More Anglicans will understand that responding to climate change is part and parcel of our baptismal vocation and will be active in greening their homes, churches and communities and in speaking out on behalf of those experiencing the worst effects of climate change. The Anglican Church will become active in global advocacy.
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (currently the chair of ACEN) will have shared the experiences and deliberations of the core group with his sister and brother Primates. Anglican leadership will increasingly be taking the initiative in networking effectively with ecumenical partners, other faith groups, government and UN structures. Those currently affected by the impacts of climate change will be given a voice at the international level of the Communion, and know that they are remembered and supported, both in the prayer and in practical ways.
Those who have the power to curtail carbon emissions will have a fresh sense of how their actions can have a positive impact on their sisters and brothers in other parts of the world and contribute towards climate justice.
The Anglican Communion will benefit from a shared endeavour.
The following Eco-Bishops will be coming to Cape Town:
Jane Alexander, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Bishop, Canada; Andrew Dietsche, New York, The Episcopal Church; Nick Drayson, Northern Argentina; Nicholas Holtam, Salisbury, Church of England; David Chillingworth, Primus Scottish Episcopal Church; Chad Gandiya, Harare, Central Africa; William Mchombo, Eastern Zambia, Central Africa; Ellinah Wamukoya, Swaziland, Southern Africa; Stephen Moreo, Johannesburg, Southern Africa; Nathaniel Nakwatumbah, Namibia, Southern Africa; Thabo Makgoba, Cape Town, Church of Southern Africa; Thomas Oommen, Madhya Kerala, Church of South India; Andrew Chan, Hong Kong; Jonathan Casimina, Davao, Philippines; Tom Wilmot, Perth, Australia; and Apimeleki Qiliho, Fiji, Aotearoa-New Zealand.

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Revisiting South Africa

I first came here in 2003 – on sabbatical from ministry in Northern Ireland. Many of us who were struggling to make an impact on the relentless sectarianism of Northern Ireland came to South Africa to get a flavour of what seemed to us like a miracle of reconciliation. And it was – I remember particularly driving around and listening to the talk radio. There was a sort of grace about it – something almost entirely absent in Northern Ireland. I remember deciding that I wouldn’t accept any more invitations to go on BBC’s Talkback. It didn’t seem to me to serve any purpose to provide a pretext for bitter phone-in comments and the unending cycles of what we came to call ‘Whataboutery’

This is my third visit – 21 years after the end of white minority rule. It takes a long time. As the plane dipped towards the runway in Capetown, it skimmed a small township/shanty town. Across the motorway outside the airport is the vast sprawl of Khayletsha township. I spent part of Holy Week there with Revd Rachel Mash whom I look forward to meeting next week at the Anglican Eco-Bishops Meeting in Hermanus – of which more later. I remember being moved by the experience of washing calloused black feet in pink plastic basins on Maundy Thursday. I drove back through miles of darkened township – following Rachel’s cheerful direction, ‘Just head towards the lights of the planes coming into the airport’

And I did until, with some relief I found the slip road back onto the motorway – leading back to relative security of the world I knew and away from human indignity the like of which I hadn’t seen before.

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Lots more today about the arrival of the driverless car. At present it looks fairly much a local ‘take me to the shops’ kind of thing. So it will be important when I get a bit older and they say, ‘Maybe you should think about …’

Of course what I needed was the driverless car to take me home from our Cascade evening in Stirling last week. It was 40 miles on a dark and wet road and staying on the right side of the average speed cameras on the A9.

Driverless, I could have got on with reading Boris’ book on Churchill which I am working my way through at present. Of course it’s more about Boris than about Churchill. But he does a fascinating analysis of the oratorical devices in Churchill’s speeches – varying the length of sentences … using Anglo-Saxon roots because he believes that that is the way to tug at Sassenach heartstrings.

Food for thought for the preacher?

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It was a good day yesterday – I was in St Margaret’s, Leven, for the baptism of Elsa. Elsa is the child of Thomas Brauer, our Diocesan Missioner and his wife Cheryl.

Else’s baptism became a day of celebration for our congregations in Lochgelly, Glenrothes and Leven. It took me back to ideas and themes which I used to think about constantly. I remember bending the parish computer to make it do the calculation – the outcome was the information that our parish list recorded the names of about 300 children under the age of seven. And we did four or five baptisms every month.

What made that interesting was the context – we were in the heart of the Bible Belt of Northern Ireland. The challenges to the practice of infant baptism were constant – most commonly that we were attempting to shape salvation through a ritual which was automatic.

The reality was … that we were attempting to shape parish life of a quality which would nurture children in faith – and nurture them for faith decision. We tried hard to create worship which caught the imagination of children – children who are both the present and the future church. I can’t claim that we were startlingly successful. But we tried hard to support parents and to to make children feel both welcome and valued.

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Yesterday was the most beautiful morning – bright and crystal clear. I was doing a bit of personal housekeeping. First a visit to my Pastoral Supervisor. That’s another case of ‘We didn’t need one of those before’. Then a haircut. That of course works on the basis that the time involved is inverse proportion to the amount of hair. And there’s the chat – which takes a while.

By the time I got to the end, their respective contributions to my well-being had begun to blend into one. Stuart, my coiffeur. reminded me that the early part of the seventh decade of life is a time when one can decide not to worry about many things which troubled one earlier on. The message was really ‘hang loose’

Meanwhile back with the ‘we didn’t need one of those before’ Pastoral Supervisor, things were a little more bracing.

It seems to me that this relationship is about trying to work out what is happening in the interface between personal feelings and the practice of ministry. I want to explore why certain things affect me deeply – and I need to be reminded that I should not believe my own propaganda.

And facing outwards from that exploration, it seems to me that, however passionately committed I am personally, I should be constantly thinking as ‘we’ and not as ‘I’

As in the Cascade evening in Stirling on Thursday, I see an important part of my role as being to open up a space and to keep it open – a space in which the church can reflect deeply and theologically on complex issues; a space in which quiet and compassionate voices can be heard; a space in which we can explore the integrity of what ‘visible unity in Christ’ means for us.

In the end, my morning was about making myself accountable – about allowing others to get close enough to say to me some things which had ‘challenge with compassion’ inside them.

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Never needed one of these before


This is Revd Thomas Brauer who has just begun ministry as our Diocesan Missioner. Thomas has spent the last two and a half years as Rector of our Central Fife Group of congregations. So he knows about the long, slow task of working with people to rebuild congregations.

Of course, when I started out in ministry, there was none of this. The expectation was that I would be a visiting machine. After all, it was self-evident that a ‘home-going priest makes a church-going people’. So in the pastoral ministry tradition of the Church of Ireland, I ‘knew my people and was known by them’. I couldn’t begin to estimate how many doors I have knocked in my time. And it worked until it didn’t really work any more

Since then we’ve been in changing times in ministry – trying out different paradigms. Thomas is there because we recognise that clergy and congregations need support in finding new ways forward – strategic planning, developing worship, exploring spirituality, engaging with community, learning to pray, teaching faith ….

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We’ve had the third of our Cascade Conversations in the diocese this evening – they’ve been in Perth, St Andrews and Stirling. Numbers have been strong. People want to talk about human sexuality.

We’ve tried to re-create something of the atmosphere of the Pitlochry Conference. We’ve modelled ‘honest conversation across difference’ and tried to engage with diversity.

For me, all this is part of the way in which our church engages with human sexuality questions in general – and same sex marriage in particular. We’re opening up a space in which difficult conversation can take place. I’ve watched people searching for the words in which they can articulate deep feelings.

It’s that space for dialogue which our church needs at this point. We’re preparing for the time when we shall address the same issues synodically. Speaking to the Church of England General Synod about his travels to every Province of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Justin Welby said that the prize was ‘visible unity in Christ with functional diversity’

Visible unity in Christ transcends our diversity and makes possible a church in which functional diversity becomes possible.

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