Symbolizing that God uses the community of the Church to fulfil God’s mission to the wider community of all creation, the vested procession of choir members, acolytes, lay readers, diocesan and visiting priests and deacons, coped diocesan canons and the visiting and Provincial college of bishops marched from Dundee City Hall across a large public square over to the Cathedral. Onlookers who were spending their customary Saturday afternoon shopping or simply enjoying the downtown, were left to enjoy the pageantry. A bagpiper led the group and then stood on the steps of the Cathedral piping until the opening hymn took up the refrain of praise.
It was Anglican worship at its finest. There are seven dioceses that make up the Province of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Bishop Mark Strange is very clear that as Primus, he represents the Province among his peers as a Primate of the Anglican Communion, and among his colleague bishops he is only an appointed first among equals for the sake of Church order. The Provincial College of Bishops can work as one, liturgically, for an occasion like this. For awhile their numbers were down to four, with Brechin, Aberdeen and St Andrew’s in the search process. You could sense the excitement of having a potentially full College with the recent consecration of Anne Dyer of Aberdeen and the Orkneys, (the first woman bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church) and the elections of Bishops for Brechin and St Andrew’s, Dunkeld and Dunblane. In October it will be St Andrew’s turn to celebrate the consecration of their bishop-elect, Ian Paton. The Bishops formed a semi-circle around the bishop-elect of Brechin throughout the service, being joined by the rest of the visiting and retired bishops for the actual act of consecrating prayer.
As companion bishops, Bishop Ellinah Wamokoya and I were treated with special graciousness and welcome. The tri-companionship between Brechin, Swaziland and Iowa predates official relationship links or companionships encouraged across the Anglican Communion. It is the product of friendships created at Lambeth (1978 between Bishop Righter of Iowa and Bishop Luscombe of Brechin; followed up in 1988 with a mutual invitation to Bishop Bernard Mkhabela of Swaziland). It has endured several changes of bishops, and has increasingly become part of the mission Iowa, Brechin and Swaziland bishops inherit with the episcopal call. Fortunately, our friendships have taken hold and run deep. It would sometime be helpful to receive testimony from those who, over the years, have participated in the mutual mission of the companionship as to how God has transformed their lives in the process. We are blessed in Iowa also to have companionship with the Diocese of Nzara, again through personal relationships with their first bishop, Samuel Peni, who studied in Dubuque and became friends with so many as his ministry called him into the episcopate.
Bishop Andrew indicated his eagerness to be part of the ongoing development of our companionship, arranging for Bishop Ellinah and me to have lunch with his family on Sunday after his colleagues had returned to their Sunday episcopal duties. The next day we met for semi-formal conversation about the companionship—with updates on where we are from Bishop Ellinah and myself, as well as what the people of the dioceses are committed to right now and into the immediate future. We look forward to his visit to Iowa for this October’s Convention and would hope to have him meet with our Companions of Brechin ministry team which is chaired by Jim Conger of New Song Coralville. All three bishops plan to be together at the Swaziland Synod a year later.
The gift of our companionships lies in the exposure to God at work in very differing circumstances across the globe. Our particular triad arrangement works because we can each see one another in various stages of ministry development. We are a potential encouragement to each other to face our local challenges because we see others in their own context tackling their mission. We are all seeking to be mindful of the good news of Jesus who transforms in love through sacrifice and service with a population who has largely forgotten the One who made them in divine image. And if we become too internally focused and wrapped up with institutional survival, our companions remind us of our own calling to be about God’s others in creation. I find a lot of inspiration from Swaziland’s focus on being a community gathered to serve the orphans and widows; to call for gender equality; to be an environmentally conscious “Green Church,” and to grow their economic capacity for self-sustenance using what business and profit-making opportunities might arise. Currently, we have assisted through obtaining UTO grants for a tree-foresting project, and a “piggery” project – how more Iowan can you get. Trinity Wall Street is investing in a hostel for agricultural students attending the University of Swaziland Agricultural Department which is across the road from Usuthu mission, a diocesan congregation.
These are ideas that can shape our thinking as companions as we move forward. Similarly, from Brechin, there is the understanding that mission of all congregations is about their neighbors, and not just themselves. Gathering as a congregation is a means to the end of serving the community around them. I like that very much. We are the only institution called to give ourselves away as Jesus as God did for us all. The Brechin challenge as an ageing church is more severe than ours, and so it is helpful to see how creativity develops as they seek to connect with the younger generations, and break out of the traditional frameworks that are seen as barriers to hospitality. I will let you decide what the diocese of Iowa provides into the equation. We can see ourselves in each of these mission situations. And we are blessed with an economic healthiness that gives us an opportunity to be generous among our companions “for the sake of Christ’s love,” as the Prayer Book says in so many places.
It was a blessing to be invited to Bishop Andrew’s consecration, and to be reminded face to face that we have people who care for us across the globe. The most important aspect of our companionship is, of course, the release of grace provided through the daily and monthly cycle of prayer we offer. If you do not possess a copy of our monthly companion prayer booklet, please ask your congregational leader, or send a request to the Diocesan office. One day Bishop Mabuza was on a bus in an African diocese, where a group of bishops were learning about micro-economics. He was sitting next to a young bishop whom he did not know. As they introduced themselves, Bishop Mabuza and Bishop Peni realized that they had been praying for each other though they had never met up to that moment. They laughed and then spent the rest of that journey working out the phonetics of their clergy and congregational names! We can never underestimate the power of prayer. And if our companions simply remind us that this following of Jesus is not really about us, then that alone is worth the effort of the relationship.
As you have heard me pray before: ”O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (BCP, p 125).
In the peace and love of Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa