Companion Links and the Anglican Communion
The second day of General Synod business began with an opening address from bishops of the Anglican Communion, representing the provinces of South Africa, Pakistan and Aoteroa, New Zealand and Polynesia.This was followed by a paper (link here) commending the value of companion links to English dioceses and asking bishops to offer hospitality to their bishop colleagues who are attending the Lambeth Conference in 2020.Although not called upon to speak in the debate, Bishop Tim shares his own thoughts on the importance of our links with other parts of the Anglican Communion to our faith and our mission:
My focus is on the underlying purpose of Companion Links. I believe that they are central to mission and discipleship, because the ultimate significance of Jesus is revealed in these intercultural relationships. In what follows I draw on the writings of Andrew Walls and on some key themes found in Ephesians.
I’ve spent a good part of my life either living and ministering in another Province or travelling across the Anglican Communion. I’m now bishop of a Diocese that has five Provincial links in Africa and Asia, and also links with Dioceses in Europe and S America. Most of these links are over 50 years old; one is over a hundred years old. We rejoice in multiple contacts that range from parish-to-parish engagements through to Diocesan level visits for major Provincial events.
Given all these Companion Links, I’ve often reflected on their purpose. I come back to one main answer. In these intercultural relationships we discover the ultimate significance of Jesus: the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ is revealed as more people across the world come to know him and follow him, interpreting Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in their own cultural context and sharing the gospel with others.
The Winchester Coat of Arms, the keys of Peter and the sword of Paul, remind us of the intercultural reality of Jesus. For Peter it was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a non-Jewish setting which revealed this; for Paul it was an experience of the risen Jesus who called him, as a Jew, to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. The result was a new religious movement – a religion for all cultures of the world: Christianity. Christians believe the whole of creation, heaven and earth, will be drawn together and united in Jesus.
So our Companion Links are not a hobby for those interested in world mission or in exotic discipleship; rather they are the key to our Christian identity. We can only understand ourselves with the help of others: we belong to them in Christ. Christians from other cultures brought the gospel to these islands because they loved us in Christ. More of Jesus was, and is, revealed as Britons become Christian. The person of Jesus is revealed as the gospel is translated into another culture, and as people turn, convert, to Christ. We are interdependent and mutually responsible because that’s how we were made in Christ: that we might reveal the manifold wisdom of God’s glory in the plurality and interaction of our cultures.
The mystery, hidden from the foundation of the world, is that the full revelation of Jesus – the ultimate significance of Jesus – requires all the cultures of the world, because all these cultures were created through him for God’s glory. Christianity is therefore primarily a world faith in which Western Christianity is but a small part and in which the current secular Western trends are the exception rather than the norm. The European migrations of the 19th century took Christianity around the world; the migrations of the 21st century are bringing Christianity back to Europe. Christian migrants are changing Europe again.
I’ve learnt something of the reality of receiving intercultural hospitality. The present Bishop of Nairobi and I were ordained together and worked together for five years as young men in our 30s. Day by day we worked with each other, sharing our different views on life, the gospel and history. But remember this: the British had put his people in concentration camps and destroyed the clan structure of his culture. And here I was now reliant on his help and having to learn how the Anglican Church of Kenya worked in a fast-changing context like the vast city of Nairobi. I was vulnerable. His commitment to me was like the age-set commitment young Kikuyu men make to each other when coming of age. This was the gospel of reconciliation, and this was also the gospel of cultures converted and working together for Christ.
Companion Link relationships can’t stand still, e.g., being linked with both DR Congo and Myanmar draws us into the major social changes facing these two countries. We engage, mostly behind the scenes in small ways, standing alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re also re-engaging with the money question, reflecting on how the Biblical image of the ‘the righteous rich’ might result in new understandings of mutual responsibility and interdependence. We also have growing schools links and are developing FE & HE college links. Lastly, we recognise that relationships within the regions of Africa or Asia are now strategic, as Africans support Africans and Asians support Asians in mission. We’ve asked if some of our leaders can train alongside those preparing regional leaders for regional mission.
So I’m passionate about a faith that is deeply relational, that is first global and therefore local, and in which we share the good things of our culture and also correct each others’ cultures, so that Jesus might be revealed all the more in the way that we live as his disciples. I pray that Lambeth 2020 will be an opportunity for the ultimate – intercultural – significance of Jesus to be revealed amongst the bishops.
The Diocesan Synod in October 2016 confirmed our Companion Links as one of 12 focuses of our mission action plan at a diocesan level.You can find out more about the provinces and dioceses with which we are connected here.