Friday, 29 July 2011

Reflections on what the Archbishop said last year at New Wine CSW #nwcsw11

In preparation for this year's New Wine Conference, I've been looking at my notes from last year's main speaker: the Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Orombi.

I find it a helpful process to reflect on the new that may be coming by looking at the old that has been.

The Archbishop spoke very powerfully from the first few chapters of Joshua. It's that time in Israel's history when they're finally claiming the land that God promised them. Some of God's first words to Joshua are "Be courageous and be strong; don't be terrified." Wise words indeed, especially considering the Israelites were entering a land of 'giants' who forged stronger weapons and built bigger walls than anything they had previously experienced.

Henry Orombi spoke as the Archbishop of 10 million Ugandan Christians in a country of 33 million - that's nearly a third of his country who belong to the church. Itt's been a long time since the UK could claim that 1 in 3 people belonged to the Church of England. Joshua's story has many parallels with those of us in the UK church. In many ways we are a weak minority who has lost any claim on the land. Much of the success and shame of the Church of England (which sometimes feel like they occur in equal measure) has all happened in the past. Many must view us as lingering lifelessly in hollow halls - lesser sons of greater sires.

But that's not what the Archbishop said. The story of Joshua is the story of triumph against overwhelming odds - success by trusting in God. The walls of Jericho did not fall through strength of arms, but by silent walking obedience and a blast of trumpets on the thirteenth journey. We must do the same - not to give up when our congregations are dwindling or be terrified by injustice. We must find the space and time to listen to God and discern the journey he is taking us on, no matter how unlikely it may seem. And on the journey, just as He urged Joshua, we must be courageous and strong.

On his final day, something the Archbishop said really hit home to me. He urged those of us in the Anglican church to stay within the Anglican church. You could argue cynically that as Archbishop he would say that. The Church of England often seems riven by debate over difficult issues - women bishops, homosexuality to name two. It must be tempting just to leave and say to ourselves "No - I believe this way about this issue - I will debate it no longer and form my own church." But the thing is, church is family - families fall out with each other, they argue, they disagree, but they are still family. It would be a shame if we ran away from the church because we were afraid of the debate.

Maybe that's one of the ways we are called to be courageous and be strong: to approach debate about difficult issues bravely and not to be terrified about the consequences of losing (or indeed winning) an argument.

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