The USPG Conference has provided a remarkable opportunity to hear Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba deliver the two keynote addresses and to hear them interact as members of the discussion panel on Wednesday evening.
Bishop Katherine used her address to outline an ethos for mission and then to describe the history and polity of the Episcopal Church in some detail. In response to a question from me, she outlined how the church’s response to slavery 200 years ago laid the foundations of a commitment to justice and equality in the church which has led to the development over 50 years of a radically inclusive policy towards LGBT people.
Archbishop Thabo used his address to talk in detail about the Church of Southeran Africa, the Anglican Communion and the effect of the Episcopal Church’s polity. Andrew commented on Thinking Anglicans, Archbishop Thabo is being what Archbishop Rowan is trying (and failing) to be - an honest broker dedicated to maintaining the unity of the Communion as far as possible and wasn’t afraid to talk directly to Presiding Bishop Katharine in his address.
The Primate of Brazil, the Most Revd Mauricio Andrade and the Rt Revd Dr Jo Seoka are also here together with participants from Ghana, Zimbabwe, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
If there are Global South Primates ruthlessly determined to split the Communion over the issue of human sexuality, then nothing is going to divert them from their chosen path. But despite their continued aggressive rhetoric and the poison spewed by Stand Firm and VirtueOnline in the USA, the split still hasn’t occurred. Having listened to Archbishop Thabo in a 90 minute interest group this morning and asked him detailed questions, I have no doubt that he has the capacity to engage with other Global South Primates and remind them that they are not the sole representatives of Global South attitudes.
The Province of Southern Africa continues to be divided in its attitude to LGBT people, but Archbishop Thabo described how the church is engaging with difference in a creative and constructive way. The Province is setting a model example not only for the rest of Africa but for the whole Communion. There is clearly more openness and honesty and respect for difference in South Africa than in the Church of England.
Primate Katherine and Archbishop Thabo have restored my confidence in the possibility of the Communion weathering the current storm and emerging with changing attitudes inspired with a more radical commitment to the Christian gospel.