My dear friends
As many of you know, I spent a fortnight in Zambia in April, attending a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (as a newly appointed member of the Primates’ Standing Committee). My apologies to all those in this diocese who were affected by necessary alterations to my diary, but my presence in Zambia was required only following the meeting of the Anglican Primates in Canterbury, held in mid-January. The conference in Lusaka was, as it happens, my first visit to Africa, and much about the trip has left a deep impression on me.
The meeting itself was useful and reinforced the sense of the Anglican Communion being a worldwide community, comprising an enormous range of cultures and perspectives. In the small group within which I was working for most of the time, we had representatives from Pakistan, Myanmar, Hong Kong, The United States, Cyprus, Ghana and Congo in addition to myself. It was both informative and moving to study the scriptures together from very different perspectives and to learn of the experiences of other Anglicans. Particularly heartrending was to learn at first-hand that the violent persecution of Christians is a daily reality for so many of our co-religionists in the world of today. In the wider context we were reminded that we should place at the top of our agendas of discipleship - in whatever part of the world we may live - evangelism, responsibility for the environment, and the care of those who are driven from their own homes by violence and poverty.
Although there is no doubt that the meeting might have usefully been shorter than the two weeks it used up, this was more than made up for by the experience of experiencing the life of the local Church. We were given immense generosity and shown huge friendliness by the diocese and local parishes in this Province of Central Africa. An experience that will remain long in my memory was celebrating Holy Communion is a small village church some twenty-five miles out of Lusaka on one of the Sundays. As with almost all the worship we experienced in Zambia, this was a very natural combination of what was strong Anglican liturgy with informal singing (and dancing). It was an infectious and exhilarating mix. Perhaps most memorable for me was the experience of individually blessing somewhere in the region of 180 children at the conclusion of the worship. As I have explained proudly to a number of people, only one cried at the sight of me!
On a very different note, I was reminded on just how small is the world we live in when a group of us, visiting areas outside the city of Lusaka were having lunch in a outdoor restaurant near a nature reserve. One of our number started chatting to a young white woman who was sitting nearby at another table. She asked if there were any Irish people in our group as she was Irish (working in Zambia on a development project with her English husband). Chatting to her, it transpired that not only was she from Maynooth (where I lived for 16 years as Bishop of Meath and Kildare prior to my move to Armagh), but she had played hockey with my daughter in the local hockey club. We live in a small and inter-connected world indeed.
May God bless you in these coming weeks of summer.