Building International Relationships

by Andrea Meier

Early this October, St. John the Divine clergy Bishop Josiah Fearon and the Rev. Trent Pettit travelled to the Diocese of Kondoa in Tanzania to lead a conference for some 80 clergy there. This is an important milestone in Bishop Fearon’s mission to develop meaningful relationships with congregations and dioceses in the wider Anglican Communion, with St. John the Divine serving as a representative of The Episcopal Church (TEC) to the Global South.

Bishop Fearon had the privilege of promoting global partnerships during his seven years as Secretary-General of The Episcopal Church and, through his work, has witnessed challenges in the relationship between TEC and the Global South. He sees himself as a 'peacemaker' and emphasizes his role, and that of SJD and other partners in this initiative moving forward, as building stronger relationships and an understanding of fundamental commonality among the varied members of our global Anglican Communion.

"The narrative in the Global South is that The Episcopal Church (TEC) …has no believers or evangelicals,” the bishop explained. “I’m saddened by it. If you read the statements from the Lambeth Conference (an international meeting of Anglican bishops), you will see we emphasized interdependent partnerships."

Describing their trip, the Rev. Trent Pettit shares that "Bishop Given Gaula of Kondoa accepted our offer to come and asked us to present a conference for the pastors of the Diocese to equip them for their ministry to the Muslim community – which is 90% of their diocese. They asked us if we could help build them up in this way. We are going to begin developing relationships within the diocese face-to-face, to help give them some ministry tools to relate to their neighbors and to evangelize within their context.

"Sometimes people might go with their own plan, their own agenda, and do things kind of according to their own custom," added Rev. Pettit. "But the way that we understand ourselves as being sent by St. John the Divine, and invited by Bishop Gaula in Kondoa, is to come to help in whatever way we can. The missiology behind this partnership is that your friends tell you what they need, and you respond, rather than the other way around, where we have our sort of pre-packaged plan, and we go and impose that on someone. We understand ourselves as guests in someone else's home, but also the same home. They have prescribed, in a way, their need: 'This is what we need help thinking about.'

"When people ask, 'Why are you going over there? Why is St. John the Divine sending you over there?' I like to remind them that St. John the Divine and Rev. Leigh aren't sending Bishop Josiah and myself somewhere. We're being sent to us. We like to use the language of relationship, but it's what we mean when we affirm the church’s catholicity. We are part of one Church. It's not just St. John the Divine alone – we are part of a global fellowship. That is an abstraction for many places in the communion. In some ways, that relationship hasn't needed to be more concrete – It was just sort of understood that there was commonality. But as the bishop mentioned, it’s now being questioned that we have things in common.

"We're going to us and acting on a relationship that we have been called into by Christ, and in person through the relationships that we have – like through Bishop Josiah and the relationship that he has with Bishop Gaula of Kondoa. I think it helps people at St. John the Divine realize that they're part of something bigger than just their own church. And maybe, hopefully, that will inform their own understanding of their mission, what it means, in this place, to 'go'."

"This is St. John the Divine," says Bishop Josiah. "We care. This is part of what we can give. We are hoping Leigh will visit the Diocese of Kondoa and the Bishop Given Gaula of Kondoa will visit us as well. The rationale is that by doing this, by sharing everything we have, they will be able to see, ‘There are believers within TEC, evangelicals like we are.'"

Bishop Josiah envisions this initiative spreading far beyond the Diocese of Kondoa. “There are 18 provinces in Africa,” he continues. “There is Southeast Asia, where we haven’t been at all. There is the Indian subcontinent - Pakistan, India, Bangladesh. We have churches there and they’re all in the Global South. Our approach here, between SJD and Kondoa, is a blueprint.”

The Rt. Rev. Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, is excited about the potential for this initiative to change the trajectory of TEC’s relationships with the Global South. "He’s very keen to see that at least we respect one another as a communion, in spite of our differences," Bishop Fearon explained. "I know that Leigh is reaching out to other rectors to develop relationships with other communion partners. I would be happy for this to be a movement of rectors because they are the ones who connect with the people. Bishops may visit a parish once a year, but the rectors are really in touch with the people."

We are grateful to God for Bishop Josiah and Rev. Trent's successful trip to Tanzania!  See a photo gallery from their travels.

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