[Episcopal News Service – Canterbury, England] The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a light on well-entrenched global inequality and inequity, a fact that will likely re-shape and challenge the way churches engage in 21st-century partnerships.
That reality came into focus for Bishop Pradeep Samantaroy, of the Diocese of Amritsar in the Church of North India, during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the world went into lockdown. As he began to get to know his own neighbors in his immediate community, he was reminded that “God entrusts us to love our neighbors.”
Extending the “love thy neighbor” sentiment into partnership relationships can lead to “discovering your neighbor in unexpected places,” Samantaroy said.
He was one of three Anglican and Episcopal bishops to talk about partnerships during a July 30 seminar at the Lambeth Conference on “Models of Partnership,” which explored the promise of mutual, interdependent church and diocesan partnerships across the globe. The other bishops were Texas Bishop Andy Doyle and Southwark Bishop Christopher Chessun, of the Church of England.
The Lambeth seminars focus on building relationships across the Anglican Communion, highlighting a variety of voices and offering an opportunity to learn about ministry in context while discussing issues impacting church life and the world today. The seminars will take place on designated days throughout the conference. In addition to “Models of Partnership,” topics discussed on July 30 included, “Thy Kingdom Come: Life-changing Prayer for Evangelism,” “Leading with Integrity with Those of Other Faiths” and “Missional Formation with Young People.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the poor have become poorer and the most vulnerable and desperate have suffered disproportionately, said the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care. Spellers co-chaired and moderated the “Models of Partnership” seminar alongside Archbishop Nick Drayson, primate of the Anglican Church of South America and bishop of Northern Argentina.
“We’ve known these inequities and inequalities were part of our common life, but COVID-19 has shed light on the pain all around. Lives on the line, for all to see,” Spellers said. Now more than ever, she added, it’s important to ask, “How do we walk together, partner together, pursue the will and kingdom of God together?”
It was an important topic before, she said, and “one that feels more urgent now that we are here together. [There is] much that separates us: geography, economics, theology, ideology. Those differences can keep us apart, keep us from making common cause in the gospel. Pray they do not.”
One way to approach partnership across differences is through the heart, as Samantaroy explained.
“Partnership is a matter of heart. We are human beings and have minds and sometimes we are swayed away by our thinking and forget that in heart we feel something different. The language of heart is huge,” he said.
If you approach partnership through the heart, “partnership has no boundaries.”
In England, the approach has always been to care for those in your immediate parish community, said Chessun, who has been the bishop of Southwark since 2011. But when he arrived in the community, it was pretty “siloed.”
He recommended speaking well of one another and modeling that behavior in all structures and relationships. “Embracing diversity isn’t always easy. Good disagreement is a result of understanding [and] presuming the good faith of the other person even when they don’t presume yours.”
Doyle looks at partnership as an invitation to be holy and as a form of “living out the mission that is given to us as a form of God’s love into the world. And by no means is that going to be we are aspiring to holiness,” he said. “And given all this, this life I believe is lived out in kinship.”
That “kinship” comes partly through the idea of welcoming the stranger.
“I don’t make the kinship … Kinship is given as a gift of God who is Trinity,” he said. “And God’s perfect love in the spirit is pouring out to all people in creation and that this kind of heavy theology, gives us an understanding that there are no limits to the vision of Jesus in the world.”