Sunday 31 July 2017

Yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury led the four hour service that inaugurated the new (39th) Province of Sudan. Packed, joyful, chaotic (in the best and most enjoyable sense), it also saw the wonderful Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo installed as the first Primate of the new province. There are loads of photos and videos on Twitter, but I simply post here a photo I took – possibly the worst ever taken of an Archbishop of Canterbury at work.

Although the Inauguration was the primary reason for coming to Sudan, we did a lot of other stuff. We started off staying with the UK Ambassador who, despite being an excellent ambassador, turns out disappointingly to be an Arsenal fan. However, he is a fluent Arabic speaker, so the odd weirdness is forgivable.

The four-day trip also saw us flying down to Kadugli in South Kordofan on Saturday after only two hours sleep. With a serious security accompaniment into town, we met with the Governor before engaging with religious leaders about the realities behind the rhetoric of religious harmony. Two things emerged: (a) Christians and Muslims really do live side by side here, despite the recent history of violence and civil war – which is not to do with religious identity, but with ethnic and political claims; (b) Sudan has been remarkably generous in welcoming refugees from South Sudan and (in Kadugli) from the Nuba Mountains regardless of religious identity. Discussions were frank and informative.

This set the tone for what followed. Having returned to Khartoum in the evening, we got some sleep ahead of the great Inauguration on Sunday which was attended by government and Muslim leaders.

Sunday, however, did not only see loud and lively worship (visually obscured by unrestrained media and security men). In the early evening a small group of us went to visit the President of Sudan. We spent just under an hour in respectful but frank conversation about Sudan, its international reputation, the challenges faced by Christian churches, and other matters. It was good-humoured, but open. The demolition of churches was just one of the issues addressed, but so was the challenge to Sudan of continuing US sanctions.

So far, so interesting. And the Archbishop demonstrated both stamina and diplomacy in a succession of demanding engagements. Even the celebration dinner at a Khartoum hotel meant talking relentlessly to a wide range of people. It was all hugely enjoyable.

So, today continued the rounds. A Sudan roundtable meeting this morning raised questions about how the new Province should be supported – and how that support should be prioritised and coordinated – by external partner dioceses and agencies. I had to leave with Archbishop Ezekiel after two hours as we had to join the Archbishop of Canterbury’s group at a series of meetings with government ministers.

At each of these meetings – with the Governor of Khartoum State, then the Foreign Minister, and finally with the Minister of Guidance and Endowment (religious affairs) – the Archbishop raised matters of concern alongside discussing wider political and economic issues. It was both wide-ranging and focused, and questions of religious discrimination, demolition of churches, freedom of religion, etc. were all discussed honestly and respectfully.

The trip basically concluded with a dinner laid on by the UK ambassador at his residence. A number of ambassadors and diplomats joined in a serious discussion about Sudan, its challenges and gifts, and its potential futures. A big question haunting most conversations during the trip emerged again: the need for the United States to lift sanctions against Sudan on 12 October. The UK Government supports this, believing the three-month extension from 12 July must be the last. Interestingly, it wasn’t just the economic cost (or political pressure) that dominated the discussion; rather, it was the potential loss of hope by ordinary Sudanese that would prove most damaging. Of course, it is easier to measure economic impact than psycho-social despair.

This probably doesn’t read as very exciting. I write it mainly in order to keep a record of it. But, I also need to demonstrate that the agenda of the Church runs wider than the issues it is normally associated with in the media. Poverty, reconciliation, economics and politics go to the heart of the Christian gospel, and there can be no abstract discussion of such matters without an intelligent, informed, questioning and serious engagement with the people involved – both the powerless and the powerful.

The Archbishop moves on to Uganda tomorrow morning. I return to the UK on Wednesday, flying out of Khartoum late tomorrow night.

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Relationships change everything.

The media often have a perception of the church that allows through their filter only anything that has to do with sex or conflict. The 2008 Lambeth Conference involved a load of relationship building that didn’t press the buttons of the people looking only for conflict. It is hard – nigh impossible – to measure relationships.

In the last thirty years Anglican dioceses have established links with other dioceses in parts of the world where the culture, language and church is different. For the last eleven years of my ministry in the Diocese of Southwark we were closely linked to dioceses in Zimbabwe. Bradford is linked with Southwestern Virginia in the USA and Sudan.

A three-way link is a gift. Looking at developments in the American diocese though the lens of an English diocese is interesting enough. But, to look through the eyes and listen through the ears of Sudanese Anglicans provides a whole different challenge.

Yesterday I had a long conversation with Bishop Andudu who has been forced into exile from his Diocese of Kadugli in Sudan. While he was having medical treatment in the USA his home was destroyed, his cathedral torched, his office looted, his people attacked and dispersed. Andudu cannot now return to his people, so is ministering to his people who are exiled in a variety of places including Southern Sudan, Egypt, the USA and the UK.

While Bishop Andudu is here in the USA the Archdeacon of Bradford is in Sudan with another of the Bradford clergy.

The Youth Council here in Roanoke has raised $35,000 to fund 142,000 food packs for Sudanese refugees who have been expelled from their homes since the conflicts and ultimate separation of Southern Sudan from the north. This evening we will help them pack them, ready for transport to where they are needed. Who said all young people are selfish narcissists?

The young people have with them a remarkable man with a remarkable story to tell. He is a Sudanese rapper (former child soldier) called Emmanuel Jal and he has been brought over from London to work with the young people here in Roanoke. I am writing this as he has 200 teenagers on their feet dancing. Even Bishop Andudu is dancing. I am sparing everyone’s embarrassment and sitting at the back writing…

This is the Anglican Communion. This is what the media misses when thinking, writing or broadcasting about the Anglican Church. Sudan has a different response to some of the ethical and social challenges faced in the USA or UK, but we are all here together and focused on making a difference where we can.

It is a remarkable sight (and sound). It is the sound of a common vocation and a common humanity in and though a common church. It is colourful. And it is very loud…

 

 

The great thing about spending a week in Southwestern Virginia before the annual Council is that we got to meet a shed load of people and arrived at the Council already knowing many new friends. It also means that people trust me enough not to be perturbed when they come across something that surprises them.

Someone who heard me preach last Sunday morning at St Peter, Altavista, subsequently took a look at this blog. Down at the bottom were attachments – usually just the pictures I had embedded in the post. However, this one also seemed to have two (and I quote) “compromising pictures” attached. I have no idea what this means or where they came from. Furthermore, I can’t see them – but, clearly, others have. Funny old world… and now I am curious.

Anyway, the day began with a meeting with clergy and spouses from the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. Four of us formed a panel: a retired bishop from Tanzania, exiled Bishop Andudu from Kadugli in Sudan, Angela Ifill who works with the office of the Presiding Bishop in New York City, and me. We each introduced ourselves, said a bit about our ministry, then were open to question.

Most of the questions focused on the situation in Sudan and Andudu was excellent. However, towards the end of the session someone asked about tribalism in Sudan and which elements of the conflict there have to do with race or religion. This led into a fascinating conversation about ‘tribalism’, during which I rehearsed the perceptive Helmut Schmidt encouragement to German politicians: don’t go into politics unless you speak at least two foreign languages to a competent level. Why not? Because in order to understand your own culture you need to look through the lens of another culture… and to do that you need to know something of that other culture’s language.

And how was that relevant to questions of tribalism in Sudan? Well, simply because, as I pointed out, tribalism is a human phenomenon and not an African one. A week in the USA (and Virginia in particular) makes it blindingly obvious to an outsider that even Americans are tribal. Mention the ‘recent unpleasantness’ (the Civil War to you and me) and you quickly see who is in which ‘tribe’. Loyal identification with one’s state also tells its own story. I also added that, as a good Brit, I know all about tribalism in the UK, in England and in any institution. (Although it was both undiplomatic and unnecessary for someone to ask if Liverpool fan’s attitude to Manchester United was another example…)

The point (which was followed up by a number of people afterwards) was that we easily identify the weaknesses, factionalisms and myopic loyalties of others whilst being unaware of our own. Something reminds me here of what someone once said about ‘planks and motes’…

But, being enabled to look at oneself through the lens of another is a complete gift and privilege. Being here in Roanoke offers not only an experience of another culture and another church, but also compels me to look though the eyes of interlocutors here at myself and my own culture. It isn’t always comfortable.

As Bishop Gerrard from Tanzania put it: “We don’t necessarily agree with each other on a host of issues, but we are friends… and that is why we are here.” That is maturity. We recognise our tribalisms, but our unity (as Christians and as human beings) transcends the identified and owned differences and prejudices.

And if this post is accompanied by ‘compromising pictures’, it has nothing to do with me.

 

Having been out of my office for the last week (in parishes and meetings – not skiving), I haven’t been able to update on what is happening in Northern Sudan or what we are doing in relation to it. So, the latest is as follows:

There is a very good interview with Bishop Andudu (Bishop of Kadugli) in Religion Dispatches (an online magazine based in San Fransisco).

Bishop Andudu also issued a call to prayer and fasting – a call being taken up in this country, too. He wrote on 18 June as follows:

On behalf of my people in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan we are asking all Sudanese Christians wherever they are, and the Church throughout the world to join with us in a day of prayer and fasting on June 26, 2011. Once again we are facing the nightmare of genocide of our people in a final attempt to erase our culture and society from the face of the earth. It is not a war between armies that is being fought in our land, but the utter destruction of our way of life and our history, as demonstrated by the genocide of our neighbors and relatives in Darfur. This is a war of domination and eradication, at its core it is a war of terror by the government of Sudan against their people. As we approach the July 9 day of independence for the New South Sudan, President Bashir has declared for all the world to hear that Sharia will be the law of the land for the North, refusing to recognize the legitimate presence of the Christian minority. It is a declaration of their determination to also end the remembrance of our Christian heritage that dates back two thousand years to the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (who was from modern day Sudan). At this moment, there is a meeting in Ethiopia with the different parties of Sudan, the African Union and other international parties seeking to find a true path of peace that recognizes our right to survive and thrive as a people, both Muslim and Christian alike, with equality and justice for all. Please pray and fast with us as you are able for a solution to this crisis.

On 21 June the Africa Minister in the UK Foreign Office, Henry Bellingham, welcomed the Interim Agreement brokered by the African Union, saying:

I welcome the news that the parties have signed the Abyei Interim Agreement, which should lead to swift withdrawal of Sudanese Armed Forces and the deployment of Ethiopian peacekeeping forces under a UN mandate. This is a positive step towards peace in Abyei, and towards full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. I urge the parties to redouble their efforts to reach agreement on all outstanding issues, including the status of Abyei, without delay. I reiterate my call for the parties to cease violence in Southern Kordofan and to grant and sustain full access to humanitarian aid.

I congratulate former President Mbeki, Prime Minister Meles, the AU High Level Implementation Panel and the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) on this agreement. I am grateful to them for their hard work on facilitating interim security arrangements for Abyei that will enable IDPs to return in safety, and also for their ongoing efforts to find a negotiated outcome for Southern Kordofan.

I admire his optimism, but we will watch this space with a degree of caution and pray for our brothers and sisters whose lives lie in the hands of those who will make or break any agreement after partition. Regular updates form the Bradford perspective can be found on our website.