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TONY BEST: Diversity in the church


TONY BEST: Diversity in the church

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AS A PRIMATE IN the global Anglican Communion, West Indies Archbishop, Reverend Dr John Holder is doing more than just preparing Bajans and other West Indians for a place in paradise.

The Archbishop, who is also Bishop of Barbados, is a bridge building prince of the church and is seeking to boost links between Anglicans and Episcopalians in the Americas. And to underscore that role, he spent more than a week in Panama meeting with representatives of the Anglican clergy and laity from Barbados, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Honduras to Costa Rica and other parts of Central America and the Caribbean searching for ways to bring the church into even closer fellowship.

“It was a conversation about how we can relate to each other,” the Archbishop explained in Panama. 

“Of course, the big barrier is language, Spanish and English, but as Anglicans, we have a lot in common. We can share ideas and eventually resources.”

A key part of that sharing could take the form of “clergy exchange,” said the cleric.

In line with that strengthening of bridges, Holder left Panama City and headed for Orlando, Florida the home away from home for thousands of Bajans and other Caribbean immigrants. He was due to deliver a strong message to Bajans celebrating the 50th anniversary of their birthplace’s independence from Britain.

“My message to the Barbadians in Florida is going to be that we have a lot to be thankful for on our golden jubilee,” Holder said. “We have travelled a long, long way. We are going through some rough spots here and there but God has given us the resilience, commonsense and levelheadedness as Barbadians that would allow us to deal with what we are experiencing at this time. My main message is that we have come this far and we can go farther. We have the resources and the Barbadian spirit to survive.”

As for ties between branches of the church, a challenge is the contentious issue of same sex-marriage and diversity that can threaten or undermine unity within the ranks of the communion. That’s why when the Anglican primates, Holder included, met in London in January they addressed the problem of meeting the religious needs of gay and straight men and women in the pulpit and the pew.

“What we have done is we have said that as we journey together there are some issues arising out of the Episcopal Church which some members of the Anglican Communion cannot align themselves with,” said Holder. “Clearly, we have some differences. The Episcopal Church has recognised those differences. We didn’t kick them (Episcopalians) out of anything but the understanding is that we need some more time to come to grips with what the position is (in the US) As we travel, we have to try to understand our different positions. This is nothing new.”

But where does the Archbishop stand?

“My position is that it takes a long, long time to sort out complex emotional issues and the issue of same-sex marriage which we are grappling with is unlikely to be sorted out, not even in my lifetime,” he asserted.

The matter of diversity comes down, in the main, to how to handle openly gay priests. Should they be ordained? How about requests from gay couples to marry? While the Episcopal Church blesses same-sex unions and allows openly gay priests to function, other members of the worldwide Communion, Barbados included, don’t.

“My position is regardless of colour, race, creed, class or nationality people are children of God and we must treat them as such,” said the Archbishop. “If there is an issue in their lives and we think we have some problems in understandingor accepting, that is nothing new. But in the process of trying to understand, we shouldn’t enter into a kind of position in which we reject them or even throw them over the bridge.”

the West Indies Province bars ordination of openly gay priests and it doesn’t endorse same-sex marriages.

But, says Holder, he must hold the region’s dioceses together, “respecting differences” while keeping them in loving care and fellowship. One thing is clear when it comes to the ordination of openly gay priests in the West Indies: “We are not there yet. I don’t think I am there yet myself. I am travelling like everyone else and I am still working through the issues relating to that.”

Tony Best is THE NATION’s North American Correspondent. Email: [email protected]