Bishop's letter: Growing the Church ~ From Peru with Love

First published 26th May 2012

This month Bishop Lee describes how the Anglican Church in Peru has been growing and asks what we might learn from them here in the Diocese of Bristol.

Bishop Bill Godfrey is the Anglican Bishop of Peru. A few months ago I was fascinated to hear him speak about how the church has been growing in his adopted country.

The Anglican Church in Peru dates back to 1846 but was virtually non-existent when he was sent to Peru from Uruguay in 1998. There were four Priests and one Deacon, no parishes, no churches and no liturgy (including for Holy Communion). Those who were members of the Anglican Church were almost entirely Latin American Spanish speakers rather than from the indigenous peoples. Now there are 36 Priests, all but four Peruvian, with some 55 places of Sunday worship, two seminaries and an internet based training programme which is being used in Bolivia, Uruguay and the US.

According to Bishop Bill, the key to their growth has been raising local people as ministers and ensuring that the Christian faith is modelled authentically in a way which impacts local communities.

The church must reveal Jesus by what we do, he says. To make this absolutely crystal clear, parishes are liable to lose their status as parishes if they are not seen to be doing what a Christian community should be doing.

The hallmarks are making disciples and engaging in social justice and Bishop Bill is robust on what makes and marks out a disciple: prayer, being sent in mission, being engaged in healing and forgiving others, taking bread to the hungry, being associated with signs and wonders, and being crucified.

He is also very clear about what he expects from the clergy. In the seminaries, clergy are told that their role is not to teach what they think is right but what the church believes is true. Everything revolves around the person of Jesus - disciples are those who have been with those who have been with Jesus. The Church is fully Trinitarian but with a Christ-centred spirituality.

The pre-eminent question is how can people be moved closer to Jesus? Will the villages, towns and cities be touched by the fragrance of Christ or not?

As I listened I was aware of the gulf between the church Bishop Bill spoke about and so much of the Church of England. What struck me most was the great clarity and simplicity of what he said. Of course there are huge differences between our contexts and cultures but I wondered whether in our sophistication and complexity we have lost contact with the key values and purpose that motivates the Church of Peru. I was left asking how many parishes in the UK would pass Bishop Bills test of remaining a parish.

His strategy for growing the church was simple and clear but it was neither simplistic nor superficial. It sounded like Peru has a good deal to teach us.


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