Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

Index of Articles

Wycliffe Hall Celebrations
reprinted from the September 2002 edition of Essentials


  Wycliffe Hall Oxford celebrates in 2002 its 125th anniversary, and in honour of this achievement a conference was organised to celebrate the past, and to gather pastors, lay people and theologians from around the world to discuss the prospects for worldwide Anglicanism in the new millennium. I was there as an undercover agent for Essentials, and thereby given my first taste of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Rhys Bezzant is editor of Essentials and Associate minister at St Jude's Carlton
  The programme, held in St Aldate's newly refitted church, was full, incorporating plenary presentations, small group discussions, and optional afternoon seminars, along with opportunities for more casual socialising. Most notable was the input received from leaders of the majority world. For example, Bishop Donald Mtetemela from the Diocese of Tanzania spoke on renewing a diocese for mission, Bishop Gideon Githiga described the role of the Anglican Church in Kenya's constitutional history since independence, and Canon Ng Moon Hing from the Philippines encouraged us to pursue the model of cell-based churches, which have been so formative in his region.  
  Although presentations varied in quality, there was one issue which undergirded substantial amounts of the discussion, and another which overshadowed all our work. We were brought back time and time again to the foundational issue of authority in our ministries, and the difficulty of reconciling tradition, reason and Scripture without making one of them superior to the others. Bishop Josiah Fearon (Nigeria) addressed this issue from his experiences in Western theological education and African ministry, but it became evident in Vaughan Roberts' exposition of Titus for preachers, as well as through John Stott's lecture on the cross and the revelation of God. The question of authority was central to the debates concerning reform in sixteenth century Oxford and was no less part of our agenda during the conference.  
  It was a difficult week as well for many of the North American representatives, as overshadowing our conference was the deadline drawn by the Bishop of New Westminster requiring his clergy to acknowledge a new liturgy for same-sex blessing. Some of those present had walked out of the Synod debate where this had been discussed. A visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the conference was providential, as senior leaders in the Communion were able to address him with their concerns, to which he responded during a service of Evening Prayer, acknowledging the schismatic nature of the Bishop's mandate. A group of consultants, meeting in a parallel stream at Wycliffe Hall during the week, were able to draft a communiqué outlining their concerns.  
  The best attended afternoon seminar of the week dealt with the interface between Islam and Christianity, in which the plight of minority Christians in Moslem dominated countries was described. Canon Patrick Sookhdeo encouraged us to "seek an engagement and relationship with the Islamic world which is honest enough and strong enough to ask hard questions of each other, that we might address the suffering of Christian minorities together".  
  On a personal note, I found the lecture on the core values of Anglicanism by Graeme Tomlin of Wycliffe Hall the most satisfying historically, tracking our distinctives since the sixteenth century and calling us to avoid "social conformity, liturgical rigidity, ecclesiastical superiority, pietistic withdrawal and clerical dominance". Of great benefit to my ministry in Melbourne was meeting the Rector of St Ebbe's Oxford, whose programmes for students and ministry apprenticeship scheme have similarities to our own in Carlton.  
  I have two major critiques of the conference. Much of our time was spent not strategising for the future, but processing the past, whether it be our role in nineteenth century African missions, talking about the disadvantages of establishment in the English context, or church and state in Kenya. I understand that adequately reviewing the past will give us space and wisdom to plan afresh. However, there was little opportunity to work back from a wish list for the future, to things that we will need to address now as a Communion if we want to arrive in the future prepared and outward-looking. We found ourselves reacting to many pressures which undermine creative planning.  
  Secondly, we did not engage in much detail with the doctrine of the church. We assumed that the only major cause of our decline as a Communion in the West was sociological. We are in debt to Dr Peter Brierly (Executive Director, Christian Research) for his excellent statistics and trends concerning worldwide Anglicanism, but figures are but one way of understanding the position we find ourselves in. As an evangelical trying to work out in more depth a robust ecclesiology, I would have liked to hear more presentations on a theological response to our decline. This would have helped me to see God's people through God's eyes, and would have encouraged me to stop blaming our opponents for our demise.  

  HOME Index of Articles