Recently, we reported that the Rt Revd Susan Goff, Bishop Suffragan of the TEC Diocese of Virginia, was asked to serve as an honorary assistant bishop in the CoE Diocese of Liverpool. The appointment was a step in strengthening the ties in the link status between the two dioceses. Subsequently, word has come out of Africa, that because of this appointment, the Rt Revd Simeon Borokini, bishop of the Diocese of Akure in Nigeria, which also has had a link relationship with the Dio Liverpool, had taken the decision to end that relationship because of +Susan’s appointment. Although he has not heard directly from Bishop Borokini, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, bishop of Liverpool, has written a letter responding to the news and has published it on the diocesan website.
I am writing this on my return from Ghana, where I was privileged to attend for the first time the 7th Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue. I was present together with bishops from different parts of Africa and from the United States and Canada. This meeting is one of a range of initiatives and responses that continue the “Indaba” conversations which were begun at the last Lambeth Conference. We prayed, sang, ate, discussed and laughed together as bishops of the Anglican Communion.
It is good to be in relationship with different parts of the Anglican Communion. In January this year the Primates of the Communion met and overwhelmingly agreed to “walk together” into the future. At the same meeting a number of specific “consequences” were agreed for The Episcopal Church (TEC) as a result of that church’s decisions on same-sex relationships in the US. These consequences concern the involvement of TEC in ecumenical and Communion-wide bodies. But as these consequences unfold TEC remains a member of the Anglican Communion, and our own strong and fruitful relationship with the Diocese of Virginia remains an opportunity for “walking together” as it has for many years.
Over a year ago, as part of this walking together, I asked the Suffragan bishop of Virginia, the Rt Revd Susan Goff, whether she would become one of our honorary assistant bishops (or “assisting bishops” as they call this sort of arrangement in TEC). She kindly accepted this invitation and, again last year, we secured the necessary permissions for her to minister here. As +Susan is an overseas bishop, these permissions do not extend to the conducting of ordinations. I remain delighted that our ministry here will be enriched by what +Susan will bring to us as a teacher, pastor and disciple. She will also be able to hear and to engage with the wide range of views in our Diocese on the way the Gospel is understood in these days.
It seems that this invitation has caused the Diocese of Akure, Nigeria, which has been another of our link dioceses, to issue a statement indicating that they no longer wish to be in a link-relationship with Liverpool. I regret this. I would prefer to walk together with Akure as well as with Virginia, within the one Communion whose life we share.
I have not yet received formal notification directly from the Bishop of Akure, but as and when I do I shall write to him expressing this regret. If our partners choose to close this door, this is a matter of sorrow for us but of course we respect their decision as free partners in a free relationship.
At one time this link was three-way and provided wonderful opportunities for sharing and mutual learning, though my colleagues tell me that five years ago, in 2011, the then Bishop of Akure formally indicated that his Diocese did not feel able to remain in such a three-way relationship.
As a result, in Bishop James’ time our Diocese was also in conversation with the Ghanaian Diocese of Kumasi, with a view to establishing a similar link with Liverpool and Virginia, built around the idea of a “triangle of hope” to counter the slave triangle of despair and darkness. While in Ghana I had further good conversations about this with the Archbishop of West Africa (who is also Bishop of Kumasi) and with the Bishop of Virginia, and I have prayerful hopes that this relationship too will bear fruit into the future.
Despite the tensions that beset us, the Anglican Communion still testifies to the love of the God who brings us together. In Liverpool I want us to play our part in this testimony of love. In the Holy Scripture we read “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18). In this spirit I want to continue as far as I can to walk together with partner dioceses, to learn from them, and to engage in fruitful conversations both about the issues which divide us and the matters that bind us together.
With every blessing as ever,
The emphasis is in the original on the diocesan website.