By the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham
Whatever else we can say about the Anglican Communion, a sense of focus and common purpose is not something that most of us would put at the top of the list of its character at present. We seem to spend a very high proportion of our time examining in more and more grisly detail the reasons and rationales for our separation.
Anyone involved in these discussions has become more expert than we would wish on aspects of human character (especially sexuality) and is wishing profoundly that we could talk, think or be known for anything else.
And yet … and yet we find that in parts of the communion, or all over the communion in aspects of our lives, there is a sense of focus, even of reconciliation, and it comes not from endless debate and discussion of what achieves this, but principally from mission and its collateral benefits.
By mission I mean two things. First, it is the conscious engagement of churches at local, diocesan, provincial, national and global levels with the challenges and issues that diminish flourishing in the human race. Whether global or local, mission means building bridges from the world of the Kingdom of God into the world of human life and sin and celebration and weakness and strength.
Secondly, mission means taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ across that bridge, so that not only are we seen to be nice people doing nice things (there is a certain amount of British irony about that) but, with the good wishes, good intentions and helpful hands, there is the love of Christ that constrains us, that drives us forward, and that, when allowed to reign and rule in our individual lives and in the lives of societies and communities, transforms structures and practices and permits human flourishing.
Mission is a wonderful thing for many reasons. First, it is commanded by God, and thus to do it is to obey God. Second, it causes us to look outwards, away from those things that divide us, and to find ourselves shoulder to shoulder with others with whom we may disagree profoundly but with whom we share one unutterably precious thing — that we both love Jesus Christ and for His sake we are doing what we are doing.
Across the Anglican Communion, we are profoundly divided on many things, and yet at the same time there are links through diocesan and provincial partnerships. The more we are engaged in these works of mission, carrying in word and action the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world that is more and more in need of Him, the more we find ourselves regarding those with whom we disagree as fellow Christians, who may be wrong but with whom we are called to live, whose love we receive and to whom we owe such love.
“The miracle of the church,” said the vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton in the 1980s, the Rev. Sandy Millar, “is not that like-minded people agree but extremely unlike-minded people love each other while managing somehow to live in common service to Christ.”
The Diocese of Virginia has recently, through the common prayer of Bishop Shannon Johnston and the Rev. Tory Baucum, rector of Truro Anglican Church, set an example of coming together before Christ in order to overcome the division that has arrived in the past few years.
To move away from such flowery language, the message is simple: If you want to get together, get on with mission, together.