Anglican Communion leaders share thoughts about their first General Convention

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jun 28, 2024

International visitors and Episcopal Church staff pause during a tour of General Convention. From left: the Rev. Canon C.K. “Chuck” Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church; the Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, archbishop of Cape Town; the Rev. Daniel Karanja, Africa partnership officer for The Episcopal Church; the Rt. Rev. Anthony Poggo, secretary general of the Anglican Communion; the Rt. Rev. Farai Mutamiri, bishop of Harare, Zimbabwe; and the Rev. David Copley, director of Global Partnerships and Mission Personnel Beyond the Episcopal Church. Photo: Janet Kawamoto

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] For 23 leaders from across the Anglican Communion, including nine primates, the 81st General Convention here was an opportunity to see how The Episcopal Church makes decisions about its governance, ministry and life.

“The attendance and participation of our Anglican Communion guests is a wonderful reminder that we are not alone in our important work, but rather a vital part of an interconnected fellowship of persons committed to sharing God’s Way of Love to which Jesus calls us,” the Rev. C.K. “Chuck” Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church, told Episcopal News Service

Robertson added that leaders of other faith communities with which The Episcopal Church has relationships also have been at the convention, and along with fellow Anglicans. “We have been blessed by their insights and experiences.”

ENS sat down with three of the leaders – Anglican Communion Secretary General Anthony Poggo, Scottish Episcopal Church Primus Mark Strange and Archbishop Hosam Naoum of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

It was the first time any of the three had attended a General Convention.

The Rt. Rev. Anthony Poggo, secretary general of the Anglican Communion. Photo: Melodie Woerman/Episcopal News Service

For Poggo, his time in Louisville marked his 19th visit to one of the communion’s 42 provinces. The shared responsibility in General Convention’s House of Bishops and House of Deputies stood out to him. “It’s a check and balance,” he said, noting that concurrence of both houses is needed for an action to take effect.

General Convention’s structure also is different from some of the other provincial governing bodies, he said, which have three houses in their synod, or convention, with laity, clergy and bishops deliberating separately. General Convention has two houses – clergy and laity together in one house and bishops in another.

Poggo quickly added that differences of this kind are part of the beauty of the Anglican Communion. “We are one family, but we each have our own ways of governing based on our contexts.”

Primus Mark Strange of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Photo: Melodie Woerman/Episcopal News Service

Strange told ENS that one thing he noted right away was General Convention’s size. His church’s governing structure is much smaller and has just seven dioceses, including the one where he also is diocesan bishop, Moray, Ross and Caithness, based in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.

His church’s General Synod numbers about 100 members and everyone sits together at round tables in one room. “It’s quite intimate,” Strange said, and it also means “that if you are having differences of opinion, you’re having differences of opinion with people you know well.”

The connection between the two churches that began in 1784 when the first Episcopal bishop, Samuel Seabury of Connecticut, was consecrated by Scottish bishops in Aberdeen, remain strong, he said. A painting depicting Seabury’s service hangs in Inverness Cathedral, as does an American flag. That cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, each has an honorary canon from the other’s diocese.

When Strange talks to American visitors, he shares the history that connects his church to Seabury. He added that what is now the Anglican Communion as an entity began with those early ties between The Episcopal Church and the Scottish Church.

Strange may be familiar to Americans because of his participation in the coronation service of King Charles III on May 6, 2023 – the first time a primus, or presiding bishop, of the Scottish Episcopal Church had been acknowledged at an English monarch’s coronation.

Archbishop Hosam Naoum of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. Photo: Melodie Woerman/Episcopal News Service

While it was Naoum’s first visit to General Convention, he said he saw so many people he already knew that it felt like a homecoming. He was surprised, however, by the all the ministries the convention incorporates, including global partnerships, ecumenical and interfaith work, and the church’s many programs.

When asked about the situation in Gaza, which is part of his province, Naoum said the number of proposed resolutions at this convention shows how much The Episcopal Church cares about the Holy Land. That care long has been expressed through prayer, advocacy and financial assistance, but he has seen it especially since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israelis and the war that has followed.

But what is needed most right now, he said, is listening to the voices of Palestinian Christians and especially the Anglican Church. “Listen to our stories, listen to our needs and our aspirations,” he said, “not only on the humanitarian and the ecclesial level of our ministry, but also on political issues.”

Gaza certainly is suffering, as is the West Bank, where the Anglican church has five congregations. People are facing unemployment, restriction of movement and high inflation. Even the church’s institutions inside Israel are greatly impacted, he said, including those in Nazareth and Haifa.

Turning to the political future of the region, Naoum said he hoped Americans generally, and Episcopalians in particular, would advocate for a just and lasting peace in Israel and Palestine and for a two-state solution. While he recognizes that what happens after the war ends is a divisive issue, he said, “We can all agree that two states living side by side securely, vitally and people with self-determination – no one will disagree with that.”

“I don’t claim to know or to have the magical solution,” he said; but, he added, he hopes his church can begin to help both Israelis and Palestinians take some small steps toward a solution. He and his people will begin on the ground, he said, looking for how they can transform the hearts of people, so through God’s grace all sides can see “the image of God in every human person.”

— Melodie Woerman is an Episcopal News Service freelance reporter based in Kansas.