Books make great gifts!

It’s Christmas-shopping season and to help out The Living Church magazine asked 44 of its friends to name a book they would recommend to their friends.

My own Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity made the list.

tlc backpacking 3

It’s an excellent time to note that Backpacking is available at a sub-Amazon sale price on

Another great gift idea for your friends: a subscription to The Living Church itself.

Books make great gifts!

He’s a fan

Always great to see tweets like these, especially from everyone’s favourite Roman-Catholic-turned-Episcopal priest.

Have you read Backpacking through the Anglican Communion yet?

Have a watch of the video Fr. Albert links to as well.

“At turns prayerful, thoughtful, challenging, and moving…”

Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for UnityThe Church Times this week reviews my book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity.







IN HER book Travelling In, Monica Furlong wrote: “Priests are justified only by their powers of being and seeing.”…

Thank God, then, for a priest such as Jesse Zink, who transparently understands this, and who can communicate William Blake’s “minute particulars” with an eye to their global significance, and with love and intelligence.

Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A search for unity is a marvellous book, at turns prayerful, thoughtful, challenging, and moving. Above all, it glows with a luminosity that gives its readers space for real engagement with the material before them.

Being and seeing are increasingly rare qualities that Zink possesses in spades. In a way that is convincing, he invites and encourages his readers to embrace them, too. His book is a working out of that powerful injunction from Henri Nouwen: “Don’t just do something – stand there!”…

In truth, his book is much needed…

Zink wants us to embrace the truth that unity is mission. It is an argument that he advances in the best traditions of Anglican apologetic, with beauty, clarity, and insight. His book is a must-read for those who truly believe that belonging to the worldwide body of Christ – where there is difference, and should be charity and love – is what discipleship means.

Read the whole review online.

“Refreshing glimpses” into a growing church

Anglican Journal, the newspaper of the Anglican Church of Canada, has a review of Backpacking through the Anglican Communion:

For Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike who have become inured to the seemingly endless debates and strife—mostly recently focused on sexuality—between various members of the leadership of the Anglican Communion, Zink’s anecdotes offer the reader a series of refreshing glimpses into a church that is vital and growing in some places but faces tremendous social, political and developmental challenges in others.

Read the whole thing here.

Canadian readers have reported difficulties ordering Backpacking through Cokesbury and other American outlets. May I suggest trying Crux Books in Toronto, which ships within Canada?

Nigerian students and the Anglican Communion

The threat which many young women face as they seek education in northern Nigeria has been forcefully brought home in recent weeks by the abduction of several hundred young students.

Not long ago, I visited an Anglican diocese not far from where the students were recently abducted. On that visit, I learned from Bishop Marcus Ibrahim and others in the Diocese of Yola about the church’s outsize role in education and the vital importance of English-language education for all students, regardless of gender.

I wrote about the church’s role in education in my new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion. Here’s an excerpt.

A major focus of the diocese’s work was education. The weakness of the government in Nigeria means it has essentially abdicated any role in schools. When he became bishop, Marcus started the Anglican Junior Seminary Yola, a secondary school. When I visited, there were about sixty students at AJSY, and they met in an old house that had been donated by a family in the diocese. The language of instruction is English, unlike many of the Islamic-run schools in the area, and the school admits boys and girls equally, making AJSY one of the few institutions in the state that educates girls in English. I was asked to speak to an assembly, and was impressed by how articulate and interesting the students were. They had very good and challenging questions for me and were promising young Nigerians. It was clear, however, that the house was too small. The assembly met while crammed into what I imagined was the main living space, with students standing against walls or sitting on the ground with their knees scrunched up against their chests to make space for the people around them.IMG_2683

Marcus took me out to see the spacious piece of land the diocese purchased on the edge of Yola to build a new school. Progress was coming, but it was slow. In the two years prior to my visit, the diocese raised the funds necessary for three classroom blocks, which have enough space for double the number of students currently enrolled. But delays in building the dormitory meant the school was not yet able to open. The builders had completed the dorm’s foundation, but then the money ran out. Marcus and I walked across the foundation, and he pointed to where the individual rooms and communal spaces would be. He was bubbling over with excitement about the possibilities of the school, sketching in the dirt possibilities for expansion once this initial site was up and running.

All the money for the construction had come from Nigerians, some from donors who lived outside the diocese, but much from members of the diocese. At a diocesan council meeting I attended, the conversation centered on raising funds for the four hundred bags of cement necessary to finish the dorm. Each bag cost about fifteen dollars. Council members brainstormed ways to raise the money: Ask each deanery to contribute a set amount? Approach the richer members of congregations? Eventually, they settled on assigning each congregation a specific number of bags of cement to provide based on the congregation’s size and average offering in the past year….

“Have you looked for any international support?” I asked Marcus when we were at the school site. Off the top of my head, I could think of several organizations that were interested in funding projects exactly like this one.

“We have,” Marcus said, in a tone that combined disappointment, frustration, and regret. “But no one will help us. They think because of the problems in the Anglican Communion that they can’t work with us in Nigeria.”…

“Look,” Marcus said. “I want to build this school. Children need to be educated. Girls need to be educated. That’s not happening in Yola. Anglicans can work together on this.” We let the words hang in the air. We both knew that. But how could other people come to know?…

The sun was setting. We stood on the foundation and looked back at the future AJSY together. The empty classroom blocks and the dormitory foundation, as well as the students crammed into classrooms in an old house, represented the real-life lost opportunities that result from the narrative of disunity in the Anglican Communion, a narrative that has been propagated by some of its most senior members. Marcus and I were testament to the utter wrongness of that narrative. But our story would never seize headlines or lead to special meetings of Anglican leaders. As we headed back to the car, my steps were heavy with deep, profound sorrow.

As we pray for the return of these kidnapped students, we also pray for the grace to act to ensure an educated future for all in the region who want to learn.

When I initially visited the school, I wrote about it in two different posts. You can also read more about how the Nigerian government has abdicated its role in education in this post, about a visit to a different school in southeastern Nigeria.

New review of “Backpacking”

Fulcrum, an evangelical Anglican organization in the Church of England, has reviewed my new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion.

You can read the whole review yourself. Here’s a snippet:

He writes beautifully. His descriptions of people and places and the accounts of conversations are crafted with skill and sensitivity. Even if Jesse has not covered the entire Communion, he’s managed to get to places where few white Anglicans have penetrated. I suspect if the project could be financially supported, we could in future be reading about many more backpacker journeys. Anglicans today know next to nothing about fellow Anglicans living beyond their particular provinces and this makes it a valuable project.

To the point about such future backpacking journeys, the answer can only be, “Of course!”

(Bestselling) Backpacking Q & A

The latest issue of Trinity News from Trinity Wall St. has a question and answer with me about my new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion.

Trinity: During your travels to Ecuador, a man tells you he doesn’t speak much when he meets Americans because Americans are so busy talking all he can do is listen.

JZ: I think one of the greatest challenges in the Anglican Communion is having people speak for themselves. When people speak for themselves, especially people who may not speak English as a first language, who may not have access to the Internet, it really challenges the listening skills of someone like you or me. So in order for more people to speak for themselves, a lot of us are going to have to become better listeners.

Read the whole interview here, by flipping to page 28.

best-sellersThe Christian Century has published its semi-annual report of religious best-sellers and Backpacking is number 4 on Church Publishing’s list.

Keep reading—and buyingBackpacking and all the other great books on this and other lists to keep publishing a strong and vital ministry in the church!

iPhones, Backpacks, and the Best Travel Agency in the World: Mission and Unity in the Anglican Communion

The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut has kindly posted a video of my keynote address to the diocese’s annual mission conference in early March. It’s adapted from my book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion.

Some excerpts:

[iPhones are] an honest description of the world we live in. On the one hand, we have globalization, those forces that are drawing us ever more closely together so that distance and time cease to matter in the way they once did. On the other hand, we have the frank recognition that globalization benefits some people more than it does others, that it imposes costs on some people more than others, and that we are a long way from the Biblical model of relationships marked by mutuality, love, and mercy. The very fact that I don’t know where this device came from, that I can only hazard a guess as to who had a role in producing it, is an indication of just how broken these relationships are. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that they cannot say to one another, “I have no need of you,” but we seem intent of saying something like, “I may have a need of you, but I’m going to do my best to ensure I don’t have to acknowledge that.”…

The way the Christian community shows its distinctiveness and difference is in the quality of relationships within it. Christians are different because we relate to other Christians in a way that is unique in the world….

There’s one more thing to say about the way in which the community of followers of Jesus is different from other communities in the world: we don’t get to choose who else is in the community. God’s love is open to all people and those who respond in baptism become members of this community. Whether we want them or not is, quite frankly, of no concern to God. The community in mission is a community that holds together a lot of difference. People from all different kinds of backgrounds and beliefs are brought together by the gracious love of God. And that’s a good thing, even though it is sometimes painful and difficult, and may make us want to scream at the top of our lungs, “I have no need of you!” Belonging to the church means believing that all other baptized Christians have something to offer us and we to them, no matter how different they may be. This is a truly counter-cultural idea….

Sometimes we hear it said that the church can find unity in mission. But the more accurate thing to say is that unity is mission. Our life together as Christians in a divided world is part of our witness to the world. Does the church model another way of living to a fractured world? Or does it simply mimic the world in its patterns of broken, global relationships?…

At its best and at its strongest, the Anglican Communion is a network of people who share these mutual, life-giving, counter-cultural relationships, people who want to make known the reconciling love of God in Christ. It is our role to seek these people out—to let them seek us out as well—and come to acknowledge the unity in which we are called to live. The unity of the Anglican Communion could be good news to a divided world. 

Does Giles Fraser use an iPhone?

IMG_1085Does Giles Fraser use an iPhone? He’s clearly a Mac user but based on his recent column, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Writing for The Guardian, Giles Fraser captures a common view of the Anglican Communion:

All this means that the bishops won’t be able to do a damn thing about their clergy having same-sex marriages…. And when this happens, the toys will be thrown from many a Nigerian church pram. The fiction that is the Anglican Communion will be over and we can go back to being the Church of England, rather than the local arm of the empire at prayer. And thank God for that.

This view sees the Anglican Communion as a distraction from the real business of being the Church of England. If only, the argument seems to be, we could stop concerning ourselves with the views of those Nigerian bishops, then we could really be the church we’re meant to be. It doesn’t matter how many toys are thrown “from many a Nigerian church pram.” We need to distance ourselves from global relationships.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where we can’t ignore global relationships. Our iPhones embody this. The next time Giles Fraser uses his smartphone, perhaps he can consider the global relationships it represents, from the rare minerals that are mined in distant corners of the world to make its capacitors function to the Chinese factory workers who assemble it. When you get dressed in the morning or tap out your next tweet, think about all of the people around the world who have touched your clothes and phone before you. Whether we like it nor, in the twenty-first century we are enmeshed in global relationships. And many of these relationships are a long way from the model of mutual, trusting, and truthful relationships set forth in the Bible.

But there’s another possible view here. What if instead of seeing the Anglican Communion as a distraction, we saw it as an asset to our mission to the world? What if the Anglican Communion could present to the world a model of relationship that is different from the world around us, a model that emphasizes wholeness and relatedness, rather than brokenness and fracture? Don’t you think if the world church was offering this kind of model, people might look at it and say, “Hey, look at what they have going on over there. I want to be part of that!”

Anglicans are, of course, singularly failing to grasp this opportunity at the moment. In part, our failure is a result of the poverty of the Communion’s discourse, a discourse that has been defined by a very small group of men (many of them bishops) who are very successful at making their voices heard, issues statements, and denouncing various actions.

The trouble is, of course, most Anglicans are neither bishops, nor men, nor specialize in making their voices heard. It is this reality that prompted me to write Backpacking through the Anglican Communion, a book that tries to give voice to those at the local level of the church around the world. When you move beyond the men who dominate the current conversation, you find many voices offering a variety of opinions on issues of sexuality, gender, and a whole lot else—and this as true in Nigeria as anywhere else. The Anglican Communion is a lot more complex than our discourse makes it out to be.

So the right thing to do is not to turn our backs on our sister and brother Anglicans. The right thing to do is to start listening to those voices which have not yet been heard and moving towards the rich, global relationships to which God is calling us.


Backpacking excerpt in the Church Times

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.”

Read the whole excerpt. Or just go out and buy the book yourself.