Over 90 representatives attended, most of them from Anglican dioceses, mission agencies and overseas churches. The theme of the conference, The Future of Partnership was introduced by the chairman of PWM, the Rt Rev Mike Hill, Bishop of Bristol.
In welcoming members he identified areas which called for urgent consideration, namely the changing relationships between donors and recipients, the effect of money on partnerships, and the need to bring together the wide variety of organisations involving both mission and development. He stressed the need for real encouragement between partners and drew attention to the value of links such as the Bristol/Uganda Link. It is important to show tolerance and understanding when dealing with contentious issues such as homosexuality, and the difficulties caused when bishops are consecrated for service extra-territorially e.g. outside their own provinces.
Bishop Mike warmly welcomed the Rt Rev Chad Gandiya, Bishop of Harare, Zimbabwe. Bishop Chad spoke of the difficulty of establishing true partnership when one side is seen to be the donor, thereby exercising undue influence on the recipient. Money is inevitably a significant part of sharing, but both sides must respect each other and both must be involved in any decisions taken. It must not be a boss/boy relationship. Mission cannot be done with Western money and African personnel.
In the past the Mission Agencies had a monopoly of links with churches overseas, but this is no longer the case. There are more church to church links. Mission Agencies are losing out on giving, and having to reduce their staff and projects. The sending/receiving model is out of date and mission is now from everywhere to everywhere, In the past missionaries sometimes westernised Africans and gave them European names such as Sylvia, and Jennifer, which do not appear in the Bible. The Crusades inflicted great harm on relationships between Christians and the modern world. Today the emphasis must be on building relationships of trust and respect.
Christ Neal of CMS stressed that enormous changes lie ahead and we must learn to live in new ways. CMS has been reconstituted as a community rather than a society and has more members working in the UK than overseas.
Bishop Michael Doe of USPG posed a number of questions concerning the future of overseas mission, e.g. should church to church links provide the major stream for funding rather than the agencies? Do British churches cherry pick projects which they think will appeal to UK parishioners rather than consult the overseas churches about their real needs? Do links concentrate on too limited a geographical area? What happens to areas where there are no links? Can the mission agencies work more closely with linked churches? Could the agencies provide added value to the links?
In the course of wide ranging discussions it was agreed that mission activities should be audited to establish their usefulness and effectiveness. Do we really need to send money to Nigeria and other countries where the churches are often wealthier than churches in the UK? Should we pay to compensate for our carbon footprint when we go overseas? Should we give more attention to the persecuted church and Muslim countries?
It was noted that although the UK Anglican church may be regarded as the mother church, many overseas churches are now more influential and effective at mission. The centre of gravity of the Anglican community is moving away from the Caucasian world.
The Rev Dr Phil Groves of the Anglican Communion Office concluded that Partnership requires commitment that may at times lead to suffering in solidarity. It requires the ability to rejoice in the partners success. When entering a partnership the question must be asked, Is each prepared to share in the suffering of the other? Are all prepared to share delight in victories?
The conference provided a valuable opportunity for exchanging ideas and insights which will affect all who
will be involved in mission in the future. Bible studies led by the Rev Dr Evie Vernon from Jamaica and African music led by Peter Kasamba from Uganda greatly enriched our worship. Let us pray that the debate will now continue among all who will be involved in the future of Partnership.
Representing Bristol West Deanery.