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Frank T. Griswold

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was once asked what holds the Anglican Communion together. He replied: We meet! Crucial to any notion of community is the willingness to meet one another face to face in the full reality of how our faith has been shaped by the contexts in which we have lived our lives.

It was my great privilege to take part in the Third International Conference on Afro-Anglicanism, some of the fruits of which are included in this issue. One of the great values of these once-a-decade events is that they draw Anglican Christians with a common heritage together in the full force of the cultural, linguistic, and national identities that have shaped and formed them. The gatherings bring people from different provinces of the Communion together to experience the reality of Christ present in all the singularities and complexities of the lives of the participants. Collectively they reveal something of Christ’s totality and capacity to manifest his real presence in widely differing contexts and applications of the gospel.

At this time in the life of the Anglican Communion there are strains on the “bonds of affection” we Anglicans have regarded so highly. There is not a universal ability and willingness to see the gospel reflected in those whose experience and views differ profoundly. Therefore, it is a sign of hope that Afro-Anglicans can bear witness across all sorts of divides to the power of the risen Christ to reconcile all things in himself and to make us, in the reality of our differences, ministers of that same healing and reconciling love.

One of the most significant lessons I have learned from my contacts with African Anglicans is that their self-understanding as persons is derived from their sense of being part of a community. Western notions of the free-standing individual stand in contrast to their experience. The whole notion of defining oneself over against one’s community is unthinkable.

This same notion applied to the church puts me in mind of Paul’s understanding of the body of Christ being made up of limbs and members all of whom are integral to the totality and well being of the body as a whole. Particularly for Western Christians who are the children of the Enlightenment, a communitarian vision of human community offers a balancing perspective.

One of Satan’s most effective ploys is to dehumanize those who differ from us and turn them into abstractions, usually identified by some pejorative label. God’s way, however, is not one of abstraction but rather of incarnation. The very fact that God chose to pitch his tent in our midst in the person of Jesus reminds us that God is most truly to be found not in a position or a document but in persons. That insistence on incarnation has given life to the Afro-Anglican conferences and will be the life force of all those that lie in the future.

The papers in this issue bear careful reading and reflection and are a significant gift to our Communion as a whole.

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