January 18, 2012

Back to Africa

So it begins. I am on sabbatical for the first time and returning to Africa after 25 years. My time begins with a formal visit to our sister church in Uganda, St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Nakiwogo near Entebbe.

In 1987 I traveled to Nigeria for 14 weeks as an exchange priest in a program sponsored by Midwestern Episcopal Dioceses and all the dioceses of Nigeria. It was a time when the Episcopal Church was trying to live into the principles of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence that had been the hallmark of global Anglican relations since its adoption in 1963 at the Anglican Congress in Toronto under the leadership of Stephen Bayne, former bishop of Olympia. It called for deep listening on the part of the First World in its relationship with the Developing World. My exchange was part of that listening.

Much has changed in the Anglican communion in these past 25 years. Nigeria emerged as the nemesis of a newly gay friendly church in the United States. Uganda has broken communion with the Episcopal Church. Rwanda supports missionary bishops to proselytize what they view as an apostate nation in America, though that relationship isn’t working out so well.

And yet the connection of global Christians is not decided or mediated by synods and conventions but grounded in actual relationships. I go to Uganda to renew actual friendships.

I will be staying with a great friend of my parish, Frederick Lyaboda, and his family. Frederick completed post-graduate work at the University of Washington and during that time sang in our choir and joined our community. His daughter may be coming to Seattle for her undergraduate studies and will live with a parishioner.

Two years ago the priest with oversight for his congregation, Archdeacon Jonathan Kisawuzi, came with his wife Ruth for a two-week visit in Seattle. We became close friends. Now they will show me their home. This is what friendship looks like.

I don’t know if the Archbishop of Uganda Henry Luke Orombi knows of or approves of my visit. His church and my church are no longer in communion. But Frederick, Jonathan, Ruth and I will be breaking bread together.

My last visit to Africa changed forever my understanding of the church in the world. I hope 25 years later, despite the divisions and disagreements that riddle our communion at present, we might still be nursing a hope for mutual responsibility and interdependence.