A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By Very Rev. Tom Woodward
July 20, 2004
Dear members of the Eames Commission,
I write to you from a somewhat unique perspective, as I have been the Episcopal Chaplain at several major universities in the United States over the past forty years. A major part of the focus in our ministry was always ministry to and with Anglican students and faculty from around the world. For over twenty five years I was in daily ministry with Anglicans from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Argentina, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Uganda, various parts of India, Malaysia, Saba, Sarawak, Mexico, El Salvador, Great Britain, several European countries and Guatemala. Among these Anglicans were Martin Kaunda, former Ambassador to Russia from Zambia, d Anima Bose, of the ruling family in Bengal, India and one of the leaders in the International Student Christian Movement in the 1950's -- and 1960's, as well as ordinary citizens from the cities and villages of their countries.
The experience I had that is relevant to your work is this: in nearly every instance in working with these international students and faculty, we found deep divisions in our understanding of Biblical authority, the role of the church in societal conflict and around various social issues (including inclusivity) -- yet we worshipped together, prayed together, shared our stories of faith and inspired one another even as we differed. Our divisions both between and amongst ourselves were just as deep as the divisions you, yourselves are facing in our divided communion. What held us together is what has held Anglicans together over the centuries -- a common loyalty to Jesus Christ and our sharing in the Eucharist. There was something else, as well. I had been influenced by the witness and teaching of one of our great missionaries, Bishop Leslie Newbigen, who wrote that for him, working with Hindus and Moslems, it finally came down to saying to those with whom we differ, "I would like for you to tell me your beautiful stories about God, and I would like to tell you mine." That spirit enabled us to respect and trust one another in ways that Christians in other bodies were not able to do. That is the spirit that is lacking in our current struggles in the Anglican Communion. There is a strong presumption that there is only one story to be told -- and that is simply wrong.
I ask for and pray for courage and forbearance as you reassert what has been our glory over the years, being able to respect and love others, even as we work out our differences in important matters. The moral and spiritual absolutism alive in the church, while part of our tradition, must never become our tradition -- for if it does, we will not have a tradition, but scores of rival traditions and they will not, in the end, be Anglican.
With great respect,
The Very Rev. Thomas B. Woodward
Rector, St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Salinas, California, USA
Deputy to General Convention 2000, 2003
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