Building links: Southwell and Natal
Almost every diocese in the Church of England has at least one Companion Link relationship with a diocese or province overseas. Southwell Diocese does not. That was a deliberate policy during the time of Bishop Patrick, because it was his feeling that to focus on one part of the world would risk limiting the wider involvement of the diocese at every level in supporting the existing work of CMS, USPG, SAMS and other mission agencies. So St Peter’s has in the past had an interesting and useful link with the Gambia; because of the personal links of members of the congregation with Sierra Leone, we have supported projects there; and of course our prayer support, and some limited financial support continues for Simon and Sharon Challand in Uganda.
A Companion Link relationship is not, however, primarily about looking at ways of supporting a ‘poor’ church in the developing world. It is true that some relationships have become that, partly because of the severe situations under which many churches are existing in Africa and elsewhere. But a well-founded relationship develops as one of mutual benefit and mutual enrichment. It is hard for us in Britain, the place from which so much missionary endeavour has emanated over the past two hundred years, to realise that churches around the world now have much in their lives which are an inspiration to us in our faith and mission. We talk a lot about being ‘One World’, but breaking free from our historic role as the ‘Mother Church’ of the Anglican Communion is more of a challenge than we realise. But all of us who have lived and worked with overseas churches know well that there is much for us to learn from them.
It is for that reason that, with Bishop George’s encouragement, the Partnership for World Mission group in the diocese has recommended that Southwell now seeks to build such a relationship. After much debate and careful thought, it decided to explore the possibility of a relationship with the Diocese of Natal, in South Africa. This is a diocese which includes South Africa’s third city, Durban, and also takes in much of Zululand, a large tract of rural land going up towards the Mozambique border. It faced enormous problems during the era of apartheid, and along with the rest of the country is still working hard to build the ‘new South Africa’. It has the largest Indian population outside India itself, and continues to be an area which demonstrates both the huge economic potential and the awful degradation of absolute poverty in the townships around the edge of Durban which are the curse and the blessing of today’s South Africa. The Anglican Church, alongside other churches plays a full and lively part in the life of the region. Like Southwell, its diocesan headquarters is outside its main centre of population, in Pietermaritzburg, the place where (as historians will remember) Mahatma Ghandi began his protests, and where Bishop Colenso, some years earlier, created havoc within Anglicanism with suggestions that not everything in Scripture might be historical fact. (What goes around comes around, as they say!)
Diocesan Synod enthusiastically supported the proposal, and Bishop George is leading a delegation to Natal, of which I am a member, in the middle of April to familiarise ourselves a little with the diocese and its people, and generally to discuss the nature of such a link. Our PCC heard a little about this proposal at its January meeting, and decided to offer some financial support as a sort of start-up grant, and we hope others will also come up with funding in due course.
This link does not in any way replace our commitment to other people and projects, but it offers the diocese a common focus, and an opportunity to explore together, and with our sisters and brothers from Natal, a renewed vision of our mission and ministry. It is a wonderful opportunity for us all. Watch this space - there might even be photographs of us with an elephant, or sunning ourselves on Durban’s magnificent seashore. (Only joking!)