The Church Times this week publishes a lengthy excerpt of my new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion. In the excerpt, I describe the practice of “appreciation” I witnessed at a Nigerian church conference and wondered how to square it with the church’s Jerusalem Declaration.
With one exception, it was not all that different from what I remembered at the stewardship-ingathering Sunday at my home church in the US. The difference was that, as they approached the bucket, each man took the microphone, said his name, gave a short speech thanking the Bishop, and announced how much he was giving. After each announcement, there was applause, its volume dependent on the size of the gift.
While the appreciation continued, I flipped through the copy of the new Nigerian prayer-book I had been given a few days earlier. At the back is printed the Jerusalem Declaration, the manifesto that came out of the 2008 meeting of GAFCON in Jerusalem, which Nigerian bishops attended instead of the Lambeth Conference.
My eye was drawn to the declaration’s second point: “The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught, and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the Church’s historic and consensual teaching.”
As I looked up from the Jerusalem Declaration and watched the men with their envelopes, Jesus’s instruction in the Sermon on the Mount came to mind: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret, and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”
No matter how I tried to square it, the appreciation seemed in direct contravention of Jesus’s teaching. There was nothing secret about this appreciation. It fact, publicity was its purpose. It seemed impossible to reconcile the desire to read and obey the Bible in its “plain” sense with what I was seeing in front of me.
The excerpt has no shortage of pictures, including this one of the appreciation.
In the excerpt, I describe talking to a wide range of people about the issues before the Anglican Communion, including, of course, homosexuality.
Later, at a separate diocesan conference I attended, I sat next to Eugene, an older priest not far from retirement. He had fought for the Biafran rebel army, and then had a career as a secondary-school teacher.
His ecclesial ambitions were no greater than faithfully pastoring his congregation. We amiably reflected on the divisions in the Communion.
As our conversation came to an end, he said: “These problems have hurt our association in the past few years. But flexing our muscles, left and right, does not solve any of our problems. I don’t think we need to be in a hurry. With the passage of time, we can come to a greater understanding of each other.”
He looked at me: “You need to learn more about Nigeria, and we need to learn more about you. After all,” he said, “we are all Anglicans.”