Called to be a bridge-builder for the Lord
Meet the Most Revd Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the new Secretary General of the Anglican Communion
What was a defining moment in your ministry up until now?
The defining moment in my ministry of building bridges between Christians and Muslims was the day I broke down weeping while presenting my essay on “The Status of a Non-Muslim in an Islamic State” to my class in Birmingham in 1981. It was crystal clear to me that the Lord was calling me to the ministry of promoting a culture of respect and understanding between these two religious communities.
What do you bring uniquely as a Nigerian to this leadership role of a global Christian communion?
As a Nigerian I hope to bring to this new rolethe ability to maintain highly productive, positive relationships with a range of stakeholders and partners in a multi-cultural, international framework of complex relationships and policy. In my twenty-five years as bishop, I’ve learned a culture of respect for people with different opinions and the promotion of peaceful coexistence through the discipline of dialogue.
Some have sounded the death knell for the Communion due to disparate understandings of certain biblical teachings. Is unity in diversity possible, can the Communion encompass all who call themselves Anglican/Episcopalian?
A major problem in the Communion is that we have lost the Anglican theological understanding of the Church as explained by Richard Hooker, William Palmer and other [classical] Anglican [theologians].
There is therefore a need to re-think: are we willing to be committed to this specific ecclesiological understanding or do we desire to leave and join other groups with a different theology of the Church?
I think we should stay within and fight for what will bring glory to the Lord and not divisions. If, on the other hand, Anglicans – lay, clergy and bishops – believe it is time to change this specific way of being church, a forum for well-informed debate should be provided for the three houses.
What do you see as the biggest growing edge for the Anglican Communion in the next five years?
The biggest area of potential of the Communion lies in the 70% of Anglicans who represent the Anglican via media, or“middle way”, as expounded by Richard Hooker.
I would like to improve networking, focusing on this group, and at the same time encourage every Anglican to be an agent of change in whatever part of the Communion the Lord has placed her or him.
Debating issues is a characteristic of Anglicanism. We need to promote this culture among all so that the bishops play their role better as leaders who listen and take decisions on issues based on what their members have had the opportunity to contribute.
What do you think will be the steepest learning curve for you personally?
Achieving consensus and seeing each other as members of the same family, [providing checks and balances for] each other and preventing arrogance and condemnatory spirits. This will certainly be tough but not unachievable.
What excites you about this new ministry?
We do not know each other in this Communion. I am excited to promote inter-diocesan and provincial visits to synods and conventions, and local ways of making the Gospel relevant. I believe the Communion will become healthier if there is a growing understanding of our diversity.
An expanded version of this interview was printed in the August Issue ofAnglican World, the Anglican Communion’s quarterly magazine.Subscribe to Anglican World for more stories and reflections from the global Anglican Communion.
This article published by the Anglican Church News Service (ACNS) reveals the results of a Question & Answer session conducted with the new Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, the Most Revd Josiah Idowu-Fearon. A former Archbishop in the Nigerian Province, The new Sec. General has a difficult task before him – the re-vitalisation of the world wide Anglican Communion, after the creation of the GAFCON group of Provinces (including Nigeria) which have withheld the presence of their Primates and Bishops from the most recent meetings of the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Council of the A.C., and from meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council – in a show of protestation against those Western Provinces of the Church that have advocated the inclusion of LGBTQI people amongst their membership and ministry teams.
When the new Secretary-General speaks of his first task, we discover this Q and A :
“Q. What do you see as the biggest growing edge for the Anglican Communion in the next five years?
A. The biggest area of potential of the Communion lies in the 70% of Anglicans who represent the Anglican via media, or“middle way”, as expounded by Richard Hooker.”
From this answer to the question of Church Growth in the Anglican world, it is obvious that the Sec. General is referring to the Anglican Provinces of the Global South (70%?), which today includes the GAFCON Provinces, and which probably are resistant to any movement in their provinces towards the acceptance of homosexuality as a valid way of living out an authentic life as members of the Church. The Sec. General’s task, therefore, will require the utmost tact and power of persuasion to recovering the one-time ‘Unity in Diversity’ characteristic that formerly was accepted as the ‘via media’ ethos of the Anglican Communion.
With his emphasis on the need for an improved theological education capability in the 70% majority of Anglicanism – which resides primarily in the Global South African and Asian Provinces of the Church (South Africa already accepts the place of gay people in the Church) – a lot will depend on the willingness of the Primates of the Global South (including GAFCON) to be open to new teaching on human gender and sexuality that is consistent with the modern understanding of those anthropological issues that presently provided the testing ground upon which difference exist among the provincial Churches of the Communion.
Without the possibility of common ground being reached between the Western and Global South components of the Communion, it would seem that any attempt to restore the basis for eirenic fellowship that would allow for a viable future for the Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican Consultative Council, might fall short of the target.
Considering the cultural background of the new Secretary-General – coming out of the ethos of the Anglican Church in Nigeria – it will be interesting to see what force he can bring to bear on the Global South Provinces to resile from their unwillingness to live with the cultural ethos of TEC, the Anglican Church of Canada, and other Churches of the Communion which have already made great strides in freeing their provinces from the out-dated culture of homophobia and sexism. Perhaps the ultimate test will be seen in the action of the Archbishop of Canterbury – whether, or not, he will be ready to call another Lambeth Conference – to which ALL bishops of the Communion would be invited and were willing to accept the invitation.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand