Wayne Smith's occasional blog of pilgrimages and journeys

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday & Wednesday, July 8-9. The Conference.

The more I learn about Sudan, the more I realize the complexities facing that country and all who care about its people.

Here is but one example. Archbishop Daniel began the first full day of the conference with a keynote address, detailing twelve priorities for the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) during the next few years. Now, most serious planners would argue that twelve priorities suggest a lack of focus, that when everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority at all. That being the case, all twelve of Archbishop Daniel's points nonetheless carry a certain urgency. None of them is really an option. He listed them in time sequence of necessity, so the first three, although requiring some financial outlay, are not as confounding as those lower down the list. Here they are:

1.Paying provincial (that is, ECS) debts and arrears.
2.Basic communication for the office of the archbishop.
3.Provincial office refurbishment. (The archbishop has neither desk nor chairs.)
5.Peace-building, reconciliation, and advocacy.
6.Rehabilitation and relief for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees.
7.Agriculture and food security.
10.Capacity building and leadership development.
11.Reconstruction of churches.
12.Professional mission personnel (that is, missioners from the professions—teachers, agriculturists, engineers, teachers, experts in finance and accounting, etc., not professional “church workers” in the usual sense)

It is interesting that while many westerners present mostly struggled to make sense of the list, especially the first items, the Sudanese bishops spoke as one voice in support. Therein lies a gap, and a challenge for westerners not simply to impose external sensibilities onto the stated needs of brothers and sisters in Sudan.

The Bishop of Sherborne, Tim Thornton, one of the suffragans in the Diocese of Salisbury (every English suffragan having the title of a city within the diocese) came next and suggested just one more complexity to be observed. He cited Archbishop Daniel's sermon from last Sunday, in which he had pleaded for a new frankness among all the Sudan partners. The conversation after Bishop Tim's address shifted in tone, especially with Archbishop Daniel welcoming without anxiety those initial, cautiously frank remarks. The waters had to be tested. There was general agreement in the room that we need to go deeper, take risks with one another, and trust the grace of God to sustain us.

My reflection on the two addresses is this. The answer to the issue of priorities for all the partners involved is not straightforward, and more complicated than one party or the other having the “final say.” The partners in Sudan deserve the integrity of being able to name what is important for them, without western imposition. Having the initial say in this situation may be more significant than having the final say, and this privilege does in fact go to Sudan. It is paternalistic for westerners to survey the Sudanese landscape and say, “Here's what you need,” as if knowing better from the outset. The discipline of waiting is not a bad one for westerners, and the initiative rightfully goes to Sudan. And yet giving carte blanche to one partner is another kind of paternalism, rather a more doting kind, not helpful in the relationship into which all partners are called.

I believe that we are called into deeper, messier, and riskier conversation for the sake of what God is doing in Sudan and in the west. And I hope that you notice my avoidance of the terms, we-and-they, us-and-them. I believe that when it comes to mission, we are in this together—and that we are being saved together, or not at all (to let theologies of mission and salvation converge).

It is worth noting that there is much emotion and worry around the referendum coming in 2011: Will Southern Sudan continue in a federation with the North? Or will it become an independent nation? People in the South will get to vote on the matter, one Sudan or two. Bishop Anthony Pogo, of the Diocese of Kajo Keji, said in one of the addresses given in response at the conference's end, that he, though older than forty, has never voted. No one in the entire country knows what it is like to vote! There are no traditions of voting, no customary practices. And yet much hinges on the decision in 2011. Bishop Anthony asked: What is the role of ECS in preparing the nation to vote? He assumed that there is one, and he implied that western partners, who are after all accustomed to voting, might lend a hand.

This was a very good meeting, well worth the time and effort to be in Salisbury. And I have yet to process all that I have heard.

Two final notes about Salisbury and Sudan. Saturday at the Cathedral will be the dedication of a statue of Canon Ezra, a martyr of Sudan killed during the civil war and a colleague of Bishop Bullen, who was with him at his death. Canon Ezra was also the translator of scripture into the Moru language. More important, the statue is emblematic of the 2.5 million Sudanese, mostly Christian, who died in the 1983-2005 war. Archbishop Daniel will preside at the dedication. The statue was put in place just today, and I will take a walk over for a look, when I finish this post. My wife, Debbie, by the way, has noted with a little scorn that I do not even own a digital camera, and that I might have to relinquish any tourist credentials I might otherwise have. See my first post. So I cannot provide a picture. But I can give you a link, here.

Then Sunday Archbishop Daniel will preside at the Cathedral eucharist, and the preacher will be Presiding Bishop Katharine. It is a big weekend for Salisbury Cathedral.


Emily said...

Bishop Smith - if you have the chance, could you please ask someone about the interrelationship of church and state in Sudan? I.e., is it okay to preach in support of a certain decision or candidate? Do you risk violence, imprisonment, or a tax audit if you do so?

Lisa Fox said...

I've been pondering your comments here for more than a week, and I have not known how to respond.

With you, I sometimes find it difficult to accept and understand the priorities of our friends from Sudan. I pray that you gained more understanding. And I hope you might make time to meet with the Companion Diocese Ctte when you return.

I give thanks for the relationship we have with Lui, and I am profoundly grateful for the time you have here.

But I seek more understanding about the priorities. I hope you have gained it.