I don't have much time these days for doing the blog. All I manage to put up is scripts or journalism. I recently did a paper at a theological conference, but 5,000 words is too many for this medium.

Tomorrow I head off to Tanzania to visit one of our Anglican partnership links: three dioceses in the north. So, here's a quick blast on a theme.

Most Church of England dioceses have links with dioceses around the world (or the Anglican Communion for these purposes). My diocese comprises three historic English dioceses and each had long-established links: Bradford with Sudan and Southwestern Virginia (USA), Wakefield with Tanzania and Skara (Sweden), Ripon & Leeds with Sri Lanka.

All the richness and complexity of the Anglican Communion is there. In Sudan the church faces dreadful pressure because African Christians (as opposed to Arabic Muslims) are being persecuted and squeezed. The reasons are complicated, but the separation of South Sudan from Sudan (and consequent vindictiveness) has led to a ratcheting up of the pressure. Look back to the posts I wrote when visiting Sudan in January 2013.)

Tanzania faces political and economic difficulties, and bears the marks of many of the problems of Africa. It is also beautiful. The church is divided in one of the dioceses we shall be visiting.

I visited Sri Lanka (see posts here) in October 2014, learning a huge amount about the politics and tribal tensions that lay beneath the decades-long civil war. I also witnessed the unique contribution being made by the Anglican Church in promoting and working for reconciliation between scarred peoples. Rebuilding broken communities lies at the heart of the church's witness.

Southwestern Virginia is a beautiful part of America where the church gets stuck into witnessing within its particular culture. The relationship with South Sudan is about to be brought to a conclusion. The diocese is currently enjoying its annual Council. I have visited twice – the second time for the consecration of the new bishop Mark Bourlakas. (I sat next to Michael Curry, now the Presiding Bishop, during the service. When the choir sang Parry's 'I was glad' I pointed out that it had been written for a coronation in England – and thought the Americans had fought hard to get away from this stuff. Michael turned to me and said: “We won the War of Independence, but you won the culture wars.” Excellent.)

I visited Skara briefly in 2014 to represent the Archbishop of Canterbury and my diocese at the 1000th anniversary of the diocese. I also managed to do a speech made up of a considerable number of Abba lyrics. They laughed.

In my diocese we cover major cities, post-industrial towns, deeply rural communities. All of life is here.

In other words, bring this lot together and all the complexities of the modern world are there. Christians struggling with persecution and pressure, those at the heart of a beautiful country that has moved from colonialism to civil war and beyond. Scandinavia, the United States and England represent a spread of modern western liberal democracies where the church takes a number of different forms and is having to face challenges different from those in, for example, Africa.

What often surprises me is how surprised others are when they hear about the reality of being a Christian in England and the west. They see the Church of England and English society as it was seventy years ago.

Last week I had Skype conversations with the Bishop of Colombo (Sri Lanka), the Archbishop of Khartoum and the Bishop of Southwestern Virginia. In the next couple of days I will meet the Tanzanians. I have had email correspondence with the Bishop of Skara. Why? Because these links are more than simply institutional connections; we are friends and brothers, able to be honest and open with each other.

So, why write this now? Well, mainly because I am planning to bring the bishops together in 2017 to live, pray, talk and learn together.

This is what the Anglican Communion is all about. And it is never boring.

So, to Tanzania…

 

Abba is best known as the Swedish poppers who at least gave us singalongamammamia. But, it is also the way Christians pray – abba being the intimate term of address Jesus told his friends to use when praying to God who is their father.

Not such an off-the-wall thought while the world burns tonight. I am in the diocese of Skara in Sweden to celebrate tomorrow the 1000th anniversary of its existence. Skara was linked with the historic diocese of Wakefield which is now part of the new diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales, and this is my fist visit – although technically I am here to represent the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The abba bit has crept up because not long after I arrived this evening I was invited to a closed-door conversation about the Middle East with bishops and others. The conversation was led by the Lutheran Bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land and an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox bishop. It was frank and robust.

I don’t intend to breach the implicit confidentiality of the discussion. Some conversations are only possible because confidentiality can be trusted. However, I am at liberty to make one or two observations on the back of it. Next week – particularly if I still have had no response from my letter to the Prime Minister about comprehensive strategy – I will come back to the questions I raised three weeks ago.

  • Churches outside the Middle East need to be working with and through the churches in the Middle East, and not simply channeling their support through NGOs. Christian leaders and communities on the ground know the reality and have the channels that work. (This applied also to places like Zimbabwe when I was involved some years ago.)
  • Churches outside the Middle East need to convey in multiple and varied ways the message and the reality that our brothers and sisters are not alone in their dire struggle. Relationship has to be demonstrated in multiple expressions that together build a picture.
  • Churches in the Middle East have enough statements made – they need a strategy for long-term survival. It is widely recognised that the loss of Christians from (for example) the Holy Land leaves the space to polarised conflict between two enemies. The presence of Christians brings a different set of relationships and allows ‘enemies’ to be held in the same space. Christians need to be in their lands for the benefit of others.
  • The West needs to let go of its paralysing guilt and develop a strategy that will hold in the long-term.
  • In the midst of the massive propaganda war over Gaza and Iraq/Syria – mediated by selective representation – it is murderously difficult to identify ‘truth’. But, how we address these questions has implications not only for people in conflict areas, but also for communities closer to home. See the rise in anti-semitism in England and wider afield in Europe – but also hear the voice of the Muslims who ask my how they can protect their Jewish neighbours and the synagogues in West Yorkshire.
  • The 1000 year history of the diocese of Skara in Sweden covers periods of success, disaster, war, oppression, fear, jubilation, and every other phenomenon that goes to make up life in the real world. Nothing romantic about it. But, it reinforces the commitment of Christian churches to place and territory – not to lord it over others, but to stay when others go, to serve when the world seems to be falling apart around us. In it for the duration.

Which, of course, is the hard question facing us in the Middle East: how do we enable Christians to stay in their lands and thrive into the longer-term future.

I am not saying this is the last word. Rather, I am simply ruminating on a difficult discussion this evening.