Creating Global Anglican Perspectives and Possibilities

By Lisa McIndoo

The word “Anglican” can mean different things to different groups these days, especially within the United States. By definition, an Anglican is someone who is in communion with the See of Canterbury—the Church of England. Anglicanism exists all over the world in similar church structures and practices. Because of our long-standing communion with The Church of England, The Episcopal Church is the Anglican Church in the U.S. Recently, that definition is being tested by groups that have broken away from The Episcopal Church. The Rev. Dr. Christopher Bryan, C. K. Benedict Professor emeritus of The School of Theology, and an Englishman, says, “Breakaway groups separating from The Episcopal Church call themselves ‘Anglican’—and it’s working! I regularly get asked ‘are you Episcopalian or Anglican’—as if ‘Anglican’ meant the breakaway group down the road. It doesn’t!  Incidentally, that’s why it’s important we always pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury in the liturgy as well as for our own bishops. We pray for the Archbishop because our communion with Canterbury IS what defines us as Anglican.”

The lack of understanding of the word “Anglican” creates confusion for many Americans, including Episcopalians. Bryan says, “I’ve found myself being asked by someone, ‘oh, are you an Episcopalian or an Anglican?’ It doesn’t seem to answer the question when I say ‘both’.”

So what does it all mean? What does the word “Anglican” mean in today’s context? How has technology changed the way the Anglican Communion operates? How can Episcopalians expand their global mindset to strengthen their relationship with the Anglican world?

In 2013, The School of Theology adopted a strategic plan that committed to a goal in establishing shared programs and defined partnerships across the Anglican Communion. The Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, dean of The School of Theology, hopes that by investing in global education for all students at the School, either through the experience of learning from a global bishop or through shared programs abroad, it can be a gift to our sisters and brothers in other parts of the Communion. “We need to hear their questions, their concerns, their ideas, and their challenges in ministry. And they need to hear what we’re doing and to what we are being faithful, where we’re making a difference and maybe even where we’re failing,” explains Alexander. “We need to know each other and walk with each other.”

Communicating Globally

It is hard to imagine the world before iPhones, but it has only been 20 years since the broad use of cell phones and reliance on the Internet became the mainstream mode of communication. Since the mid 1990s, the way we look at the rest of the world has expanded. Although communication technology has broken down walls of isolation, there are still ways in which Americans in The Episcopal Church remain disconnected culturally from the rest of the Anglican world.

Advances in technology are only part of a healthy global vision of the Church. The former Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Frank Griswold, stated recently that he deeply values the Anglican Communion because, “it is a communion and that means we are bound together as limbs and members of one larger reality which transcends the boundaries of The Episcopal Church. I cannot be fully with and for the Lord by simply living within the structure of The Episcopal Church. I need to be in active relationship with men and women across the world in 164 countries, who together make a much bigger sense of the body of Christ than one’s own national church or national identity.” The reality of establishing “active relationships” requires the commitment of temporal and financial resources, but the outcomes can prove transformative for students and the whole body of the Church.

Recognizing Cultural Differences

The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Hughes III, professor of systematic theology and the Norma and Olan Mills Professor of Divinity, emeritus, and his wife, Barbara, have travelled the world listening to, teaching, and learning from many different cultures under the Anglican umbrella. The couple has led several intensive three-week immersion trips to Tanzania for students at The School of Theology. “Our immersion programs are not based on a project,” says Hughes. “Now if you get there and there’s something to do, you might do it. But the first thing we’ve learned is, until you stop and listen and get to know the people, your project may be ill-designed!” Hughes and his wife stress that the importance of an immersion trip is not to “fix” anything, but to be with other Anglicans who’s world view is different from ours. “The first gift of the Holy Spirit to the new Christian community after the Resurrection of Jesus was its own common life. Our common life together is the fundamental sacramental reality. And to understand our common life in a broader context is just life giving. Theologically I would say it’s sacramentally necessary.” Hughes stresses that experiencing life and worship with another culture is invaluable to seminary students. “We are trying to empower future leaders in the world, not just in the South.”

School of Theology seminarian, Kemper Anderson, T’15, traveled with Hughes to Tanzania last summer. Anderson was stuck by the drastic cultural differences and moved by the deep faith of the people he met. “Anglican worship in the village of Mtumba (Tanzania) is conducted in Swahili and is very music-centric. Even the smallest church has at least three choirs! It is not at all unusual to hear songs of praise, carried on the breeze from one side of the village to the other, after sunset in the evenings. The average daily household income in Mtumba is about a dollar. There is no running water, and only about 45% of the homes have electricity. All of the cooking is done outside, over wood or charcoal fires. There is never enough food or medicine or money. But most of the villagers I met are on speaking terms with God and they are confident that God is listening and that God will do what is best for them. I was humbled by the faith of my new friends and gained a fresh understanding about how wealth can constitute a barrier to our relationship with God. After visiting Tanzania, I would hesitate to wish American “abundance" on anyone,” says Anderson.

Educating Future Global Leaders

Students at The School of Theology currently participate in relationships that the School has with other organizations and programs in many countries around the world including the United Kingdom, Tanzania, Cuba, Israel, and Haiti. As the Rev. Canon James F. Turrell, academic dean, explains, “These programs give students the opportunity to gain a broader perspective on the church as it exists in the world-wide Anglican Communion.”

As part of the University of the South’s and The School of Theology’s broader, long-range vision, The School of Theology appointed the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, Ph.D., chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council and former bishop of Malawi, as the visiting professor of global Anglicanism last year. John M. McCardell Jr., vice-chancellor of the University of the South, commented, "We want to see students matriculating here from across the Anglican Communion. Tengatenga’s appointment underscores this global orientation as we seek to increase Sewanee’s diversity in both the college and The School of Theology.”
Alexander believes that Tengatenga brings a vast perspective to Sewanee students. He recently noted, "Dr. Tengatenga has few peers in his extensive experience in the leadership of the Anglican Communion and his understanding of the church’s mission throughout the world. His leadership of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion and of the Anglican Consultative Council gives him a comprehensive knowledge of Anglican mission throughout the world that few can equal. Bringing this rich experience to our academic program is an enormous gift to our students, and his knowledge of the Anglican Communion will be vital to Sewanee’s deeper engagement in the life of the worldwide church.”
Tengatenga hopes that by bringing his perspective and his differences to The School of Theology, he will show, “that this is what the world community is like. I hope I can create possibilities for exploring relationships and show what different ways of being church in different places looks like—what it means for all of us to be one big tradition.” He believes that Episcopal seminarians in the United States need to realize that they are part of something bigger than themselves, even though that way of thinking does not come naturally to Americans. “There are many expressions of who you are out there in the world and what I bring is but one of those expressions of what it is to be Anglican and be Christian.” 

Building Strong Global Relationships

Tengatenga is renowned for working to build strong relationships and bonds in all corners of the Anglican Communion. Griswold recounts: “I asked him come once to the House of Bishop’s meeting to describe the consequences of some of the things we were doing in The Episcopal Church in his part of Africa. He did it so gracefully but so clearly. Another bishop said, “We’d never thought of it that way. There is no doubt that Christianity is about Incarnation and ‘being with.’ The more we can ‘be with’ the more we can learn and our consciousness can be transformed and our views expanded and enriched by the life experiences of others who are faithful Christians, in contexts very different from our own.”

Tengatenga believes that relationships with different countries and cultures within the Anglican Communion are about getting “into each other’s skin.” He asserts that honest discussion can uncover differences that lead to greater union and understanding. “Some have been hurt, some have felt ignored, and some feel like they’re being bashed for nothing. But at the end of the day, do we really know what’s actually happening? If you don’t talk about it, if you don’t engage at a deep level, how are you going to know? How are you going to build the body of Christ?” asks Tengatenga. Controversies and disagreements continue to exist between factions of the Communion. Tengatenga believes, however, that working for respectful dialogue and mutual accountability is a Gospel imperative and can be done not only by bishops in councils, but by seminary students willing to be open to the opinions of others.

The Days of Isolationism Are Over

The School of Theology at Sewanee has made considerable efforts to build bridges between The Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion by offering opportunities to future priests and leaders of the Church to acquire broader perspectives. “I think it’s important to have a global view of the Church, and a global view therefore of theological education,” says Alexander. “Quite frankly, the world is an increasingly smaller place. What went on in one part of the world was unknown to and had no impact upon what went on in some other part of the world. And now with instant communication, something can happen virtually anywhere and everybody in the world can know that in literally a matter of seconds. The kind of isolationism from different parts of the world, whether that’s a national isolationism or, or ecclesiastical isolationism, or however that might be manifest, is not only difficult to maintain, it’s simply not a good idea. We must have a global vision of how we go about working, how we go about living, how we go about proclaiming the Gospel; and that’s hugely challenging, because we still have different cultures, different political systems, different economic realities, and theological leanings. The days of ecclesiastical isolationism are just over.”

The Unexpected Role of Anglican Clergy

In other parts of the globe, Anglican clergy are sometimes viewed in ways that one would not readily expect. For example, Tengatenga, while serving as the bishop of Malawi, found himself as the bridge builder between the Presbyterians and the Roman Catholics. “In this respect, the Anglican priest or bishop tends to be the one that people trust as we Anglicans straddle the traditions.”

Tengatenga recalls how he grew up with that dynamic, first as a priest, then as bishop. “We have gone through some very interesting political situations in Malawi and in those situations, it has fallen to the Anglican bishops to lead, not because they are cleverer, but because they are trusted and their tradition is respected world-wide. In a sense you carry a burden that you don’t want to drop the ball—not for your tradition alone, but for the whole church.”

This dynamic is not unique to Africa. Bryan recalls his experience as an assistant in the Church of England in the 1960s. “Our vicar considered that as the Church of England parish priest he was called to serve the whole geographical parish. He was proud of the fact that he had visited every house in it regardless of religious affiliation.”

Bryan admits that his perceptions of the role of the Anglican in a parish are based on his experiences many years ago. So do they still hold true today? For that, we spoke to a recent American transplant, the Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz, now serving as vicar of Petrockstowe and rural dean of the Torridge deanery.

Metz says that a lot of what Bryan remembers is still true. The Church of England plays a big role in day-to-day parish life as it is the historically established church. No matter what denomination, she says, when speaking of the local parish “church” they mean the Anglican Church. “I engage with everyone—in the fields, in the pub, in the market—and we will talk about spirituality, even with the atheists.” And that is yet another reason why they think of her as “their” priest.

What do you think? Let us know.