A rejected visa application and the future of the Anglican Communion

Two stories in the Church Times in the last two weeks highlight the challenges facing the Anglican Communion.

The first, from the current week’s issue, was reporter Madeleine Davis’ commendable effort to track down South Sudanese bishops and ask them what they thought about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent comments on same-sex marriage. She also spoke to some people in the UK who disagreed with what the archbishop had to say. To me, the various voices (all male) quoted in the article seemed to be speaking past one another with no one showing much interest in engaging with the particular context in which the other ministered. Perhaps that wasn’t the point of the article or of the questions they were asked. But it jumped out at me nonetheless.

The second article, from a week earlier, was about a Sudanese priest who was planning to visit the Diocese of Salisbury to raise awareness of the ongoing violence in his home—but was denied a visa. In a sense, this is the farthest thing from news. Sudanese and South Sudanese get denied visas to the UK all the time. I have been in South Sudan when church members—including bishops—are in the process of applying for a visa and I see how nervous and uncertain they get. The UK border machine is seen by some as capricious and unpredictable. It favours those who can speak English well enough to do well in an interview and who have the resources to travel to Nairobi or Kampala and then wait there for a result as you can’t apply for a UK visa in South Sudan.

The one conclusion I return to time and again in my travels in the Anglican Communion is how little Anglicans in different parts of the world truly know about one another. I am convinced that the way to remedy this is the patient building of mutual, honest, incarnate relationships, particularly relationships that move past the level of bishops and truly engage Anglicans at all levels of the church. But the difficulty of getting visas continues to obstruct this holy work.

For me, the juxtaposition of the two stories is a reminder of the significance of immigration policy. The pressure British politicians feel on immigration needs to come not only from screaming tabloid headlines but from faithful Christians who say, “We need to welcome these people to our home. They enrich our life together.”

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