Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves – Telling the Story
The Indaba process was an important experience in our partnership, which was established following the Lambeth Conference in 2008. Indaba allowed our three dioceses of El Camino Real, Gloucester and Western Tanganyika to share what we have learned being in partnership for 3 years, deepened our own experience of partnership, and join the wider Anglican Church in discovering ways of being communion across broad cultural difference. Our partnership has sought to have an emerging conversation over these past 4 years around matters that both divide and unite the Anglican Communion. It has taught us much as we have reflected together on our respective contexts, helped us better understand one another’s views around complex matters such as human sexuality, gender, and poverty, encouraged cross-cultural learning and conversation, developed mission projects and most certainly built up the bonds of affection and grace between us. The Indaba process, which allowed us three visits to our respective dioceses in one year, with teams of eight people from each diocese for each visit, helped us make significant strides in mutual understanding and respect. We are grateful for the advances we have made in our relationship as a result of Indaba and thankful that we have also been able to share our experience with the wider communion.
Of particular interest to me on our visit to DWT a year ago, was the realization that the ‘issues’ of things like human sexuality or women’s ordination are maybe presenting concerns for our Tanzanians partners. It is the reality of globalization to their highly (and enviable!) communal way of life that is often so troubling. They perceive that too much influence from the west could undermine their strong family and community ties. One woman on a visit to El Camino Real, said, “I cannot imagine not greeting all of my neighbors each morning…”, a common custom in Tanzania and other parts of Africa. In America, we can only imagine what our neighbors would say if we made our way down the street, knocking on doors and saying ‘good morning’ each day! This comment and many others like it have offered me a much better critique of our “progress” in the west as not always so beneficial to the human soul and psyche, maybe undermining our most basic need of being in loving relationship with all those around us. To further the point, in the United States, while in the 1970’s and 80’s statistical data reflects that a person in America felt they could call “almost four” people at a moment’s notice for an emergency, that statistical number has dropped to 1.9 now. In Tanzania and other highly communal contexts, surely that number in the double digits! While the desire is strong to eradicate Malaria and AIDS, improve access to high-tech communication and basic resources such as clean water and electricity, etc., my own sense is that they – rightly – receive “progress” from the west with caution.
In our partnership I have also had the opportunity to be present to the Church of England as it continues to discuss and (hopefully) work toward the presence of women in the episcopate. In the American context, broadly speaking, we are largely comfortable with women in the episcopate (although as in the corporate world there is a glass ceiling), and it has been an interesting experience to share my vocation as a bishop with the Diocese of Gloucester and beyond; to give members of the C of E a chance to see women in this ministry. As I have travelled to Gloucester and ministered there several times now, our pastoral bond has grown and been a blessing to many.
Finally, collectively, our three dioceses recognize that we have offered to the communion a way forward in being a global church in challenging times. When others have said there is no way to remain together as an Anglican Communion, we have managed it, sometimes ‘one day at a time’, but always with great respect, love and care for each other. This has not been without consequence or challenge from the wider church. Each bishop, and therefore diocese, has taken its share of criticism for partnering together given our very diverse values, perspectives and stands on key issues – as though seeking to reach across difference and cultural boundaries somehow violated Christian values. We have sought to witness to a grace greater than our theologies and our very real, local issues and concerns, and by that same grace – which comes from God alone – we will continue to do so.