A liturgy practicum

I have good memories of the liturgical practice we seminarians at Virginia Theological Seminary underwent many years ago now. I try to remember why those good memories, for I am preparing to lead a practicum with our ordinands at the St. Augustine Theological School.

A few weeks ago they baptize a doll, again and again, at a makeshift font in our classroom. This time we go to the Lady Chapel at Holy Cross Cathedral. It is getting dark, but light still shines from the round stained-glass window high above the altar, a window showing the seals of the four dioceses in relationship with one another: Botswana, North Carolina, Newcastle, and West Missouri.

A small group is just finishing Evening Prayer as I arrive, and I busy myself getting things from the sacristy before belatedly joining them.

The ordinands ask earlier if we will vest for the Eucharistic practicum, and I say yes, thinking they mean the celebrant. But they mean all of them, all the time, so as the Evening Prayer folk leave and our ordinands prepare, I go back to the vesting room, find a white cassock short enough to keep me from tripping over it, and I join them, eight of us surrounding the altar looking nicely priestly and reverent.

I have set the practicum up so that they do differing Eucharistic prayers for differing seasons of the year. That keeps them on their toes, sorting out the proper prefaces and staying attuned to the epiclesis and whatnot – all things a new priest (an old one too, for that matter) needs to be attentive to, even though congregations may give them little thought.

The celebrant puts on her stole and begins, and then another, and another. After each I ask the celebrant to comment on what they have done, then I critique it and others add their comments. At the end, I also consecrate the bread and wine, and we share in communion together.

I never am able to answer why I have such good memories of my own practicum at Virginia, maybe it is just that we were discovering what it is actually like to carry out the liturgical ministry to which we feel we have been called. Maybe that is what happens here in Gaborone tonight too. But what is clear is that our ordinands are taking this all very seriously, critical of themselves – ‘it is so different, when you are the one,’ they say apologetically – yet encouraging to others. I think they do well.

‘We need to do it again,’ one tells me the next day. And God willing, they will.

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Getting out of the way

Fr. James Amanze is working hard to convince me that I should return to teach in 2016. ‘You need to persuade Bishop Michael,’ he is saying, ‘that it is crucial for you to be here in our new students’ second year.’ He does not argue about how long I should stay. We both know he wants it to be longer than 90 days – the automatic visa we Americans can secure. I am non-committal.

There are some good personal and family reasons not to return for another term. But as I listen to Fr. James, my mind wanders to the long-standing struggle I have had during my years in Africa and in African studies: When is it time for an expatriate to get out of the way? And a corollary to that question adds to my reflections: What constitutes my role while I am still here?

Anitepam

My greatest failure in ‘getting out of the way’ has to do with Anitepam, the possessor of one of the longest organizational names I have ever known: The African Network of Institutions of Theological Education preparing Anglicans for Ministry. Thankfully, the acronym is pronounceable.

Anitepam has its beginnings when I am asked by the Seminary Consultation on Mission (short title but disgusting-sounding acronym) of the North American Episcopal seminaries to organize a gathering of American and African theological educators. I do so, with Chad Gandiya, now the Bishop of Harare, in Harare in 1991.

When I end up living in Kenya in 1992, the African theological educators who attended the Harare consultation ask if I will administer a new network they wish to create… what becomes Anitepam. And I do.

That’s fine, as long as I am living in Kenya, working at an Anglican theological college, and serving under African leadership, which I do for five years. And then I return to the United States. A good moment to, well, get out of the way. But I don’t. These are years when international financial transactions in Africa can be difficult, and Anitepam’s council asks me to continue to manage their hard currency funds, and I say yes. My successor as administrator has trouble laying out our publication, the Anitepam Bulletin, and they ask me to do that too. Again I say yes. And the years pass.

Eventually Anitepam finds itself in crisis: administrative, financial, and vision. By then I am raising, every year, the question of my ‘getting out of the way.’ Every year I am asked to continue. ‘Just until we get things stable again.’ Stressful to continue, but feels good to be wanted.

We get attached to ministries and opportunities to which we grant importance. And once we feel invested, we don’t let go very easily. Especially when the timing of ‘letting go’ might mean the collapse of something we value. Most of the time organizations will survive or fall on their own, regardless of what we do. And maybe the value African friends and colleagues attach to Anitepam will ultimately determine which constitutes its future. Not me.

In 2012 we negotiate a transition from an independent Anitepam council to the ‘theological education arm’ of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA). During the negotiations in Nairobi I watch as the general secretary of CAPA gets up, walks around to where Bishop Chad Gandiya and I are seated, puts a paper in front of me rather than +Chad, and leans over to ask a question. I point him to +Chad instead, but that one moment makes it clear that it is past time, well past, for me to withdraw. It’s not to my credit that I stay so long.

Companion links

What about our role (‘our’ meaning those of us expatriates who spend time in Africa in relationship with the Church) while we are here? Consider the Anglican companion diocese program.

The Anglican system by which dioceses around the world establish ‘companion links’ with one another is, overall, a good one. It’s been around for a while. I serve on the Alabama-Namibia link back in the 1980s, then am engaged when the Diocese of Washington ambitiously moves toward a link with the entire Anglican Church of Southern Africa (no single diocesan relationship for us!) in the 1990s. Now I am involved with North Carolina’s companion relationship with Botswana.

The idea is that we learn more of the life of the church universal, we build relationships, and we do a few things together. The idea comes out of the challenges in relationship between the long-established Anglican churches in England, North America, and Australia on the one hand, and what are once called the ‘younger churches’ of newly-independent countries, shed of colonialism, especially in Africa. What is our relationship to be? Especially when the long-established churches still have the money. And the new ‘partners’ are ‘needy.’

The Anglican Congress in Toronto in 1962 tries to sort this out, and they come up with a wonderful phrase, ‘Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence.’ A phrase filled with meaning. But still, words.

Companion links are a part of all that. They offer a fine vision from a mission standpoint, and often do just what they are supposed to do. But frequently, even now, decades later, they get caught up in the classic pitfalls of relationships across cultures and material disparities. In particular, they have a hard time sorting out the related but competing issues of projects and relationships.

Projects and relationship

I am pretty big on the relationship end of things at the outset, back in my Alabama days. I recall writing a piece that my Bishop, Furman Stough, sends all around the Episcopal Church. My argument is that we Americans, in these companion links, are drawn to projects. We visit, say, our African diocesan link, make quick decisions as to what they need, then set out to organize our resources to carry it all out. We don’t take the time to listen, and we have little inclination to be needy ourselves, certainly not to turn to our partners and ask them to help us.

We’re good at projects.

And projects, no matter who first envisions them, have a way of moving us, those from the West, into leadership roles, if not ‘in charge.’ Just where we don’t need to be.

My thinking finally begins to shift as I hear repeated again and again in North Carolina that our link with Botswana is ‘all about relationship.’ Well, yes it is. But….

               At work during Crossroads 1964 in the Gambia

I recall my Crossroads Africa experience a half-century ago in the Gambia. Crossroads follows the historic work camp model. We – American and Canadians – come to an African country and live with African counterparts and do something, build something, plant trees, whatever. There is a project. But in the process of doing things together, we build relationships.

The ‘it’s all about relationship’ mantra can create a barrier to shared activities, to projects, and we end up with neither relationship nor accomplishment.

Companion links have often, still, not quite worked this out.

Ten Principles of Partnership in the Anglican Communion

So what do we do? If we want to be partners, we’ve got to be around. ‘Getting out of the way’ isn’t a solution to relationship. At one time it seems necessary. At least some African church leaders think so. Back in 1971 John Gatu, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, calls for a ‘moratorium’ on foreign missionaries, and the All Africa Conference of Churches echoes his call three years later. ‘How could they not want us?’ is the outraged response of many Westerners. Well, there are reasons.

Be that as it may, the relationships, such as they are, continue over the years, and those in the West learn to listen a bit better, and we all begin to struggle with what helps define our bonds. One result, in the 1990s, is the Ten Principles of Partnership in the Anglican Communion. I consider that document to be one of the most important to come out of any Anglican commission or initiative. It’s also probably the least read.

The principles proclaim about stewardship and inter-dependence, about where the initiative for any actions belong (‘primarily to the church in that place’), about how we ‘learn from one another,’ and about transparency and solidarity. It’s a kind of check list of all the things we get wrong.

Here’s the answer, to my mind, to the relationship vs. project false dichotomy. It doesn’t urge us to get out of the way, but it sure does lay down some critical ‘rules’ about how we behave when we are together.

A theology of partnership

I begin to ruminate about a ‘theology of partnership’ while I am Dean of the Diocese of North Carolina’s School of Ministry. I go so far as to produce a DVD in 2008, with interviews with folks from Botswana, Costa Rica, and North Carolina. What is our biblical foundation for these cross-cultural relationships? What are the challenges?

A good effort, perhaps, but I still haven’t reached any clear conclusions. All I know is that for as long as we stay partners, companions, we need to be conscious of the pitfalls. We Westerners need to sit back and be quiet sometimes, a lot of the time, and listen. We need to ask again and again whether this is our idea or theirs. We don’t need to rush in with the cash. We need to master the ministry of presence. And yes, we need to find something to do together.

Sustainability

So when, if ever, do we get out of the way?

I have a friend, Bill Yon in the Diocese of Alabama, who helps to establish a theological training program in Namibia back in the 1980s, during their liberation struggle. From all I can tell, he does a fine job. He leaves and the program comes to an end. He’s very philosophical about it. Just because a program exists does not mean it needs to continue to exist, he says. It serves a purpose for awhile, and then we move on. That’s fine.

                      At the Anitepam negotiations in Nairobi, 2012

The sustainability issue is one of the reasons we choose not to get out of the way. That is behind my failure with Anitepam. Let’s stay around just a little longer, until the project – whatever it is – has firm footing. Maybe in the process we do help… or maybe we delay African ownership of what should be an African initiative. And maybe we delay an end that should come.

Companion links have a way out. They are established for a specified time – usually five years – and can be renewed. True, they sometimes get renewed again and again. The relationships are there, and folks don’t want to lose those bonds. ‘Getting out of the way’ can become an issue here too.

Fr. James is still making his case for my return. It’s hard for me not to want St. Augustine Theological School to gain a firm footing, to secure the support it needs from its own Diocese, augmented for a while by North Carolina and others. Maybe my presence here off and on over the last few years helps. I like to think so.

But maybe this time I will know when to leave.

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Listening to laity

We gather again in the ‘Upper Room’ at the Cathedral. There are about 60 of us: Lay leaders, leaders of the Mothers Union, the Anglican Women’s Fellowship, the Anglican Men’s Fellowship, and the Guilds.

I ask someone about the Guilds. ‘What are they?’ I want to know. Uncertainty constitutes the reply. As best as I can figure, they are folk beyond the extended dates used to define youth, and not yet of the Mothers Union variety. Maybe adults in their 30s and 40s, I’m guessing.

Fr. Amanze organizes them all into groups to discuss particular questions we have posed. Things like: What do you consider that you and other lay leaders in the Diocese need most to increase your effectiveness? On what subjects do you as lay leaders especially need further training? What training do you who are church group leaders need to increase your effectiveness? What form should this training take?

Having small groups report back is usually a nightmare for me. There seems always to be someone who talks far beyond her allotted time, or someone who yields to the temptation to say what he thinks rather than what the group said. And the rest of us often seem bored except when our group is reporting.

And so I am pleasantly surprised at the efficiency with which Batswana report. One, two, three; here are our key points. They hand me well-organized sheets of newsprint to post. ‘Does anyone in our group have anything to add?’ their presenter asks. ‘Are there additions anyone wishes to make?’

Done.

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Listening to clergy

We host our first workshop, Fr. Amanze and I, listening to clergy about their hopes and needs for theological education and ministerial formation in the Diocese of Botswana.

We are located in the ‘Upper Room,’ upstairs in the Cathedral, seated around tables, fifteen or so of us. I begin with a meditation on 2 Timothy 2:15, the passage that led to my great Sword Drill victory at Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh in 1955. ‘Study to show thyself,’ the passage used to read.

I draw out a chart as clergy introduce themselves, hoping to learn names as they speak. If only they don’t sit at different places after lunch.

For lunch we walk down the street to the YWCA, which operates a lunch room for whoever appears. Today they have seswaa, boiled beef that is then pounded to a stringy consistency, served next to a pile of rice with a nice dab of gravy. A bit on the fatty side, but I’m taking my cholesterol meds.

Happily, the priests return to their same seats.

Fr. Amanze asks what they do to continue to grow in the faith. What do they study, do they read? There is an awkward silence. As with us – clergy and lay – some have more substantive answers than others.

Fr. Amanze asks what they do to continue to grow in the faith. What do they study, do they read? There is an awkward silence. As with us – clergy and lay – some have more substantive answers than others.

I draw out a chart as clergy introduce themselves, hoping to learn names as they speak. If only they don’t sit at different places after lunch.

For lunch we walk down the street to the YWCA, which operates a lunch room for whoever appears. Today they have seswaa, boiled beef that is then pounded to a stringy consistency, served next to a pile of rice with a nice dab of gravy. A bit on the fatty side, but I’m taking my cholesterol meds.

Happily, the priests return to their same seats.

Fr. Amanze asks what they do to continue to grow in the faith. What do they study, do they read? There is an awkward silence. As with us – clergy and lay – some have more substantive answers than others.

We want something to come from this, several remark at the end. It should not stop here, they say.

We’ll see. We meet with lay leaders next week.

 

 

 

 

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Beginnings

Fr. James Amanze, who heads the Diocese of Botswana’s companion link committee, has given some good thought to my coming, and to my work while here. I arrive on Friday, and Saturday morning finds the two of us already sitting down, note pads at the ready, to sketch out what my schedule might look like.

I am here because folk here have a vision for an Anglican House of Studies, one that might train ordinands, help prepare lay ministers, and offer continuing education for clergy. At least I think that’s what they want. The plan is to meet with clergy and lay leaders to hear from them what they think this thing might look like, and a House of Studies may be quite a different animal before we finish. Anyway, they have asked me to help them think through their hopes for theological education.

It doesn’t take long before Fr. James and I are anticipating three workshops; even the dates are set. We are to have one with clergy, another with lay leaders in the south, around Gaborone, and another in the north, around Francistown. Sounding vaguely familiar to me from School of Ministry days in the Diocese of North Carolina, I am even to attend two wardens’ retreats, one north, one south, as well. Energizing plans.

 

Meanwhile, I have a place to stay, and a kitchen, and I am provided a car, so as soon as possible I make my trip to the grocery, carefully driving on the left. Food ‘independence’ is a reassuring sign of becoming settled, removing reliance upon restaurants and the generosity of others.

Grocery stores in other countries provide a glimpse of their cultures. I browse around. In the ‘butchery’ section there are nicely-packaged slices of ‘cow hoof,’ and some kind of entrails that I don’t want to even think about. Many of the staples are from South Africa, and I’m drawn to their juices made from exotic fruits. I find some Coke Light, though unlike multi-can packaging of Coke and other sodas on the shelves, they are only sold individually, and the prices seem higher. The very fine African beers – Windhoek lager, from Namibia, comes to mind – barely cost more.

As I leave a woman sidles up to me in the parking lot, as if she has something illicit to offer. ‘I have some potatoes to sell,’ she tells me.

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