We give gifts for all sorts of reasons. We give gifts to family and others whom we love, well, just because. We give some gifts simply because we ought to, hospitality to hosts and so on. And then, we give gifts expecting something in return. For better or worse, we recognize there are meaningful returns for our generosity.
There is a bit of history of this latter purpose between companion links of Anglican dioceses. Years ago I remember one African bishop even telling me of how wonderfully his diocese hosted some companions, then added, ‘and we got a library for our seminary out of it!’
But that's certainly not always the case in our companion links. Our Diocese of North Carolina recently gives some gifts to our companions in the Diocese of Botswana. We do it for the best of reasons: No one asks us to, we do it because we want to, we do it because we care.
First it is the historically black churches in the Diocese of North Carolina. They give Bibles to all of the ordinands from the St. Augustine Theological School at their December ordinations.
Second it is the deacons in the Diocese of North Carolina. They give clergy shirts to the new priests.
Bishop Metlha, Fr. James Amanze and I try over the last several months to find an occasion to gather the new priests together and present the shirts and affix book plates to their Bibles, indicating the gift. Unfortunately, we never find the occasion. Most of us gather for the funeral of Fr. Jacob Modisenyane in Matsiloje, but that is not the best occasion.
The plan now is for the new priests to receive shirts and book plates for their Bibles when all clergy gather on Maundy Thursday. I will no longer be here, so we arrange for a photo of the presentations with Bishop Metlhayotlhe Beleme, Fr. James Amanze, and me in advance.
These are wonderful gifts, much appreciated here.
This business of gift-giving can be relationship-building or relationship-diminishing. What is just happening with the deacons and the historic black churches is, I think, relationship-building. But when gifts are given by one companion link in a manner that suggests our abundance and their neediness, we undermine the relationship.
Fr. James and I are talking just the other day. We’ve been wrapping up the technology project, in which we hope to enable face-to-face conversations across the ocean, across our boundaries, using Skype and the like. We in North Carolina have just spent a bundle: a laptop, flat screens, camera and speakers and microphones, software, and internet upgrades. All of us – Botswana and North Carolina – have agreed on the plan, and the grant.
I mention to Fr. James that if the St. Augustine Theological School needs some wiring work to get an outlet near the new flat screen, our grant can cover it. Fr. James laughs. ‘When someone brings the main course for dinner,’ he says, ‘we don’t ask him to pay for the salt.’
This is refreshing. Bishop Metlha says much the same when Fr. James and I meet with him. Botswana’s companion link committee has outlined some of Botswana’s church building needs. But: ‘We need to work this out for ourselves,’ the good Bishop says. ‘We need to be able to build our own churches.’
It has not always been this way. We have been through a long history, we Western and African Anglicans. For well over a century Western Anglicans define what the African churches need, then pay for it. Then, for a fairly brief period, African Anglicans define what the African churches need, and Western churches pay for it – penance, perhaps for the long history of paternalism. At long last, we are reaching a point when African churches are defining their own needs, and Western Anglicans consider what it means to be partners, not just check-writers. Maybe we are actually treating the ‘Ten Principles of Partnership in the Anglican Communion’ seriously. (The 'Ten Principles' are on pp. 16-18 of Toward Dynamic Mission: Final Report of the Mission Issues and Strategy Advisory Group II  but appear on pp. 27-29 on the bar at the bottom of the linked document.)
I love the generosity of our historically black churches and our deacons – true gifts. I also love the fact that we are beginning to cope with the challenge of divergent resources in ways that reflect God’s gift to us, and our gift to one another.