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Art after Terror: Meet the Egyptian Church that Welcomes Muslims

This article was first published at The Media Project.

Art after Terror Alexandria

Two weeks after the Palm Sunday suicide bombing in Alexandria, security at the St. Mark’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral was tight. Police cordon, metal detector, bags checked – even eyeglasses needed to be removed.

But inside, tucked away behind the expectant bustle, volunteer leaders circled with hands together and let out a shout, as if to the whole world.

“Believe me, the solution is love!” they cried, raising their hands to heaven.

Ninety percent were Muslim.

Widely known in Egypt as an Islamist stronghold, for decades many Muslim youth in Alexandria had proclaimed the Muslim Brotherhood slogan: Islam is the solution.

And similar to churches throughout the country, St. Mark’s is couched behind thick, high walls. Save for official visits on Christian holidays, few Muslims would need to enter.

But society needed it, decided Nader Wanis. In 2012 in cooperation with church leaders, he opened the Corners for Creativity cultural center in the 150-year-old cathedral, seizing on an opening in the Arab Spring.

Despite the positive signs of youth engagement and interfaith cooperation during the Egyptian revolution, at the time there were also marks of tension. A year earlier conservative Salafis burned a church in Cairo believing a Muslim woman was kidnapped inside. Before that the Two Saints Church in Alexandria was bombed by unknown assailants on New Year’s Eve.

“The church has been misunderstood by the Egyptian street,” said Wanis. “There are rumors we have weapons, fornication, and sorcery inside.

“As long as the church stays closed, Muslims can think whatever they want. But the cultural center is a means to let people in.”

Welcome

Since then they have come in droves, and the community has welcomed it. Over one thousand each year have graduated from diverse training programs in singing, drawing, photography, acting, writing, fine arts, and graphic design. All are run by volunteer leaders.

On this occasion dozens of artists gathered for the monthly art exhibition and handicraft market. Paintings and sculptures lined the walls of the church in absolute reversal of their original purpose. Hijabed women offered their homemade crafts behind foldaway tables set up in front of the massive church door.

The volunteers’ pep talk met behind the welcoming ribbon soon to be cut by two deans from Alexandria University and a local businessman. And afterwards everyone gathered to honor participants in the sanctuary, where Muslims and Christians sang together about religious harmony and community service. “Believe me, love is the solution,” was one of their most enthusiastic.

But it almost didn’t happen.

The church attack ensured it did.

Nader was worshiping at St. Mark’s when the walls shook from the explosion at the Orthodox cathedral five minutes away, killing 17. Earlier the center had considered postponing the exhibition due to the university exam schedule. But after finishing communion he immediately called his team to determine the necessary response.

The 40 volunteer leaders gathered daily in discussion and decided to hold the exhibition and announce it as Masr al-Samida, Egypt the Resistant. Difficult to translate into English, it connotes the suffix ‘-proof’, as in ‘water-,’ or fittingly, ‘bomb-.’

“We insist on creating peace,” said Wanis. “As a church we will not be scared, we will not close in on ourselves again because of one or two incidents, we will not build more walls.

“Now, Muslims and Christians are together. If they explode us again we will die together.”

Message

Mohamed Moussa is one of the longest serving volunteers at the center. A fourth-year journalism student at Alexandria University, he is responsible to organize the exhibition.

“The message is that we are one people, persevering,” he said. “Every time something happens it only brings us closer.”

Moussa knew nothing of the center four years ago, but stumbled into a media course. Touched by the ethos he remains, now in charge of a medium far from his chosen education.

“When you are here you feel there is no difference between a Muslim and a Christian,” he said. “If anything they treat us better than them.

“We are one family, and we are getting bigger.”

Part of the allure of the center goes beyond interfaith unity. Volunteers are given additional training by Wanis and others in administration, marketing, and leadership. But this last word is anathema.

Volunteers are called khadim, the traditional word in the church that means “servant.”

“We are in a church, so they use our language,” Wanis said. “We reject the common terminology and its logic, because we do not lead, we serve.”

And the contrast could not be clearer for the newest volunteer.

“There is no ‘I’ here, we are all together and work together,” said Bassant Fawzy, a 21-year-old art student at Alexandria University.

“People with knowledge and skills tend to keep them to themselves, but here we teach each other.”

Only one week a “servant”, she brought along her friend Ibrahim Mohamed, who was surprised and impressed to see Islamic-themed art in a church building. Without his knowing, Fawzy borrowed his traditional drum and decorated it with a phrase from the popular song The Nation’s Heart is Wounded, “It is not for us to be silent.”

“We need hope to overcome the crisis,” Mohamed said. “We want everyone to know we support our country in all it is going through. And with terrorism in the churches we must say it here, in the heart of a church.”

Response

When Wanis started Corners for Creativity he did not know how Muslims would respond. Four topics were expressly forbidden: Religion, politics, sex, and soccer – four topics that divide society. But still today nervousness abounds.

“Some Christians are afraid for me,” said Bassem Mounir, a fine arts student and four months a servant. “After the bombings they are worried about Muslims coming into a church.

“But this church opens its doors to everyone, as if we are all brothers.”

At the ceremony each participant received a certificate, honored by the university deans. On the screen above flashed a prayer: God, remember the terrorists who love you and will even give their lives for you, but who neither know you nor your love for all people.

“There is a virus spreading through society to divide it, working through religion,” said Mohamed Helal, dean of the faculty of fine arts. “Religion builds walls, but art transcends them – and this is what Nader is doing.”

The effect has been transformative for Christian and Muslim alike.

“It makes people in our church feel like they are part of the community,” said Bishop Samy Fawzy Shehata, head of the Anglican churches in Alexandria. “It is not healthy to have walls around you, it is a kind of sign that you are an exclusive group.”

Instead, he believes, the church must present an essential message, in light of extremism that pulls people apart.

“We’re trying to show the community that it is possible to live together in peace,” he said.

“It’s not that difficult, you just open the door.”

 

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Current Events Religion

Egypt’s Anglicans Face ‘Existential Threat’… from Fellow Protestants

Egypt Anglican Protestant
Image: KC McGinnis / Lightstock

This article was first published in the March print edition of Christianity Today. I provided additional reporting.

Egypt’s top Anglican leader is accusing its top evangelical leader of attempting a “hostile takeover” to prevent Egyptian Anglicans from achieving state recognition as an independent national church.

The dispute first surfaced in 2001, but this past summer Egypt’s High Administrative Court ruled against Anglican independence. This means the Anglican Diocese of Egypt must function as a full member of the Protestant Churches of Egypt (PCE).

Representing 18 denominations, the umbrella group coordinates the registration of marriages, deaths, property ownership, visas, and other legal—but not doctrinal—matters.

“The most important thing for me is the unity of the Protestant community,” said Andrea Zaki, president of the PCE and a Presbyterian pastor. “I don’t want it to be divided. This would weaken Protestants, and not develop the strengths we have.”

The Anglicans originally filed their case against the Egyptian government. The PCE says soon after, the court obliged them to join as defendants in the Anglican effort at independence.

After the June 2016 ruling, Anglican bishop Mouneer Anis filed a new suit in a lower court. Zaki followed up with key Egyptian agencies to apply the ruling, and the Ministry of Interior informed the Anglican diocese in September that it needed PCE approval for a visa application for an overseas worker.

At a December court hearing, Anglican attorneys addressed procedural faults in the June ruling. That court did not address their petition for the Egyptian president to recognize their denomination as independent, as they believe the law gives him the right to do.

“We were in Egypt before the Protestant church formed,” said Anis, one of the top leaders among conservative Anglicans in the Global South. When he took office in 2000, the Ministry of Interior ratified his documents; this continued until September 2016, after the PCE asked the ministry to stop.

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Religion

Archbishop Mouneer Consecrates First Arab Anglican Bishop for North Africa

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In a moving ceremony at All Saints Cathedral, Cairo on February 27, 2017, Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis consecrated his ‘dear brother’ Rev. Samy Fawzy as the first Arab area bishop for North Africa.

Bishop Fawzy succeeds Bishop Bill Musk, who presided over the diocese encompassing Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya since 2008. Bishop Musk was honored and thanked for his time of service, and participated in Fawzy’s consecration.

Joining also to lay hands on the new bishop was Bishop Grant LeMarquand of the Horn of Africa and Bishop Michael Lewis of Cyprus and the Gulf.

Also present were Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America, Archbishop Rennis Ponniah of Singapore, and other Anglican representatives from around the world.

Bishop Lewis conveyed the congratulations of Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, welcoming Bishop Fawzy into the fellowship of Anglican servant leadership.

Archbishop Welby also praised the Diocese of Egypt for its role as a bridge between Muslims and Christians as well as among the various Christian denominations.

He also issued a firm plea to the government of Egypt to continue recognizing the Anglican Church as an independent denomination, in light of ongoing legal disputes that jeopardize this status.

Archbishop Beach also welcomed Bishop Fawzy, greeting him in the name of GAFCON, and celebrating their partnership in the gospel while assuring of his continued prayers.

Archbishop Ponniah encouraged Bishop Fawzy that in the ‘boat’ of Christian service, it is the Lord Jesus who brings it safely to shore. He also welcomed him into the Global South effort that is catching many fish for the Kingdom of God, celebrating the recent accomplishments in Egypt of a new conference center and administrative buildings for the Alexandria School of Theology.

Congratulations were also offered by Fr. Bishoy Helmy, representing Pope Tawadros of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Rev. Rifat Fehmy, representing Rev. Andrea Zaki of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, and Bishop Kyrillos William of Asyut, representing Patriarch Ibrahim Ishak of the Coptic Catholic Church.

Fr. Helmy in particular praised the appointment of Bishop Fawzy, recognizing him as one with humility, an ecumenical spirit, and dependence upon the Word of God.

Bishop Fawzy graduated from the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University in 1985, but set aside his career to pursue Christian ministry. Later he obtained a Doctorate in Theology from the University of Wales, and upon returning to Egypt was ordained to serve the church in Alexandria, where he was appointed dean in 2013.

Archbishop Anis remarked Bishop Fawzy was distinguished in his pastoral care, especially “among the wounded, oppressed, and marginalized.” He shared a quote which was dear to him at his own consecration as bishop, written by St. Augustine of Hippo, also from North Africa.

“For you, I am a bishop. But with you, I am a Christian. The first is an office accepted; the second is a gift received. One is danger; the other is safety. If I am happier to be redeemed with you, than to be placed over you, then I shall as the Lord commanded, be more fully your servant.”

Archbishop Anis told Bishop Fawzy he reviews this quote each day, and encouraged him to do the same.

“Truly the church needs trustworthy shepherds who love the Lord with all their hearts, and who will exert every effort to guide the people of God to live out the message of Christ, the message of love,” said Archbishop Anis.

“I have seen this in Dean Samy.”

This article was first published at the Anglican diocese.

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Religion

Chris Wright and the Bible of Reformation

chris-wright
Photo: Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center

This article was first published at the Anglican Diocese of Egypt.

 

Visiting Egypt for the 500th anniversary of the European Reformation, Chris Wright aptly taught on Biblical preaching. And in his public lecture to nearly 300 people on January 26, he focused on the centrality of the Bible for all reformation.

Ecclesia semper reformanda,” Wright said. “The church must be continually under reformation, renewed by the Bible.”

Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis of Egypt invited Wright to All Saint’s Cathedral in Cairo to train Anglican clergy how to minister the Word of God in their churches. In a series of four presentations he emphasized godly preaching must be both Biblically faithful and culturally relevant.

Wright is the international ministries director of the Langham Partnership, dedicated to educating pastors toward theological maturity. The ministry began under John Stott, rector of All Souls Church at Langham Place. Wright has a PhD in Old Testament ethics from Cambridge University, and encouraged the clergy not to neglect this great treasure.

“The Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus,” he said. “And if we neglect it we deprive our congregations of a great deal of depth about who Jesus is.”

Wright is the author of more than 15 books, and his Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament is one of ten that have been translated into Arabic.

And in his translated public lecture, he expounded on how Ezra and Nehemiah set a reformation pattern later followed by Luther, Calvin, and other Protestant pioneers.

Expounding on Nehemiah 8-10, Wright outlined four essential movements. The first focuses on the ears, as the Word of God is read and listened to. As Ezra and Nehemiah brought together the whole people, so did Luther make the Bible accessible for the masses. And not just the masses, but political and spiritual leaders also come under its authority.

The second movement focuses on the mind, as the Word of God is translated and taught. As Ezra and Nehemiah helped now-Aramaic speaking Jews understand the original Hebrew, so also Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into the German vernacular. Both also ensured that those they instructed were equipped to teach others.

The third movement focuses on the heart, as the Word of God produces weeping and rejoicing. Ezra and Nehemiah led the people into an understanding first of their sinfulness before God, but also in realization he is their gracious redeemer. Similarly did Luther guide Germans in knowledge of judgment and grace, and provided also a wealth of hymns and liturgy for communal response in praise.

The fourth movement focuses on the hands, as the Word of God prompts finding and doing. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Luther were purposeful students of the scripture, engaging it far beyond the duty of ritual. And as Luther would rediscover that though salvation is through faith alone, he and the Old Testament reformers insisted it is a faith that never stays alone. True faith produces the fruit of transformation as God’s commands are put into practice.

These movements are an essential part of Biblical preaching, as Wright made clear in his seminar lectures as well. In addition to the Anglican Alexandria School of Theology, Bishop Mouneer Anis invited also the Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical seminaries to participate. Though expecting around 60 people, 135 attended, including the Archbishop of Sudan and three additional Sudanese bishops.

To all he gave the same message, as relevant in Europe 500 years ago as it is today.

“As heirs of the Reformation,” said Wright, “we must search the scriptures together and respond with all sincerity and joy.”

 

 

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Current Events Religion

Key Developments in the Anglican Global South

anglican-south-developments
Credit: Andrew Gross

With the release of their ‘Sixth Trumpet,’ Anglicans from the Global South announced their discontent with the state of the worldwide communion. Meeting in Cairo, Egypt from October 3-8, delegates from 16 provinces discussed issues of both unity and mission, addressing the Anglican Church worldwide. This question and answer format highlights the key developments, as well as a primer for essential Anglican terminology.

We know there is a divide in the Anglican Church over issues of homosexuality. What happened in Cairo that is worthy to note?

Among the 34 points of the official communique, three developments are most substantial.

  • A commitment to work together with GAFCON
  • A working group to address the need for an enhanced ecclesial responsibility in the Global South
  • A concern for the revisionist directions which the Church of England could be taking and the impact that could have on other provinces

Thank you, but for non-Anglicans much here needs explanation. What is GAFCON? And similarly, what is the Global South?

The Anglican Communion includes 38 provinces around the world, comprising 85 million people in over 165 nations. It is the third largest Christian denomination after the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

The Global South is a grouping of 24 of the 38 Anglican provinces which are largely non-Western in character, but includes also the breakaway Anglican Church in North America. It first met in 1994 and has 61.8 million members, constituting 72 percent of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is provincially-based and primate led, though clergy and laity have significant input in the general conferences.

By contrast, GAFCON is a reform movement in the Anglican Church as a whole, though also led by a council of primates. It stands for Global Anglican Future Conference, and began in 2008 in Jerusalem, boycotting the traditional worldwide gathering of Anglican bishops in England.

What is, or was, the core disagreement between the Global South and GAFCON?

Both the Global South and GAFCON emphasize the authority of the Bible as the word of God, and in application reject the validity of same-sex unions. They jointly find fault with the Anglican instruments of communion for failing to hold accountable member churches which deviate from this standard.

The 2008 decision to boycott the worldwide gathering, however, was a divisive issue. Though membership in both groups is overlapping, GAFCON includes Western voices. Cultural differences and strategic approaches both contributed to each group developing along its own path, rather than in unity.

In recognition, paragraph 22 of the Global South communique repents of failings in the Global South to hold this unity among themselves. Furthermore it affirms and cherishes the witness of GAFCON, including the statement it issued from Jerusalem in 2008. Paragraph 26, meanwhile, demonstrates this newfound unity in acceptance of a joint Global South-GAFCON statement on human sexuality.

Thank you, this is helpful, but you used Anglican terminology again. What are the instruments of communion?

The instruments of communion are the four internal mechanisms by which Anglicans in all their diversity maintain worldwide fellowship. They include the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual and symbolic leader of the church. To be in the Anglican Communion means to be in fellowship with Canterbury, though he has no authority to discipline or interfere in the administration of sister provinces.

The three other instruments of communion are represented in regularly held gatherings. Convened first in 1867, the Lambeth Conference brings together the Anglican bishops every ten years. The Anglican Consultative Council consists of clergy and laity from each province and meets every three years, first held in 1971. The Primates Meeting is an irregular gathering of province leaders for deep consultation and prayer, begun in 1979.

None of these instruments have legal force among member churches, and are primarily avenues for persuasion. Its official statements, however, represent the voice of the worldwide communion.

So how did the instruments of communion fail?

In 1998 the Lambeth Conference passed Resolution 1.10, upholding the scriptural teaching of marriage between a man and a woman, and declining to advise the blessing of same sex unions or the ordination of homosexual clergy.

Paragraph 25 of the communique notes the actions of some churches violate this resolution, as well as the subsequent 2004 Windsor Report, recommending a moratorium on the appointment of new homosexual clergy. Other statements from primate meetings have urged violating provinces to voluntarily withdraw from participation in the gatherings of communion.

Not only has such appointment continued, but paragraph 30 notes with sadness that the provinces of Scotland, Wales, and Canada have changed canon law to recognize same sex unions.

What does the Global South propose to do about this?

Paragraph 29 states clearly that the instruments of communion are unable to sustain the common life and unity of Anglican Churches worldwide. Paragraph 32 emphasizes the need for enhanced ecclesial responsibility.

The communique did not delineate a new governing structure nor a formal covenant. But in paragraph 33 it expressed the collective will of the Global South provinces to convene a task force for this purpose.

So it recommends a committee? This means the real news is still to come.

Yes, but not entirely. Paragraph 31 recognizes the unique role played by the Church of England in the life of the communion, but then proceeds to issue a stern warning.

Recognizing a potential movement to imitate the churches of Scotland, Wales, and Canada in affirming same sex unions, the Global South stated there would be “serious implications” if it were to occur.

That sounds like a threat for schism. Is it on the agenda?

The implications are unspecified, but it is understandable one might hear a warning shot toward the most foundational Anglican instrument of communion, embodied in the Archbishop of Canterbury. And among many in the Global South there is certainly frustration with the current officeholder.

Understood and appreciated as an evangelical, the archbishop’s recent statement admitting that he knowingly consecrated a celibate but homosexual bishop, amongst other developments, felt like a betrayal of the adopted resolutions and issued statements listed above. The Global South recognizes the great pressure he is under, but prays for him to uphold biblical leadership.

Paragraph 23, however, states clearly that the Anglican heritage is not merely of nostalgic interest to the Global South. Doctrinally and liturgically, it binds the churches together so as to communally discern the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Paragraph 24 then clarifies that modern clear departures from this heritage are causing offending provinces to “sever themselves” from their spiritual roots. It is not the Global South that seeks schism, but others are diverging from communion through unilateral actions.

The general framework of Global South understanding is that new ecclesial structures are needed. Whether this entails a new governing structure or covenant, the idea is for member provinces to adopt this together, and then invite all provinces to join.

It is not meant to create a parallel Anglican Communion. But representing a majority in provinces and population, including substantial support outside the Global South through GAFCON, it would be a clear demonstration of what the Anglican Church stands for. The question of schism would then be put to provinces which fail to uphold the Anglican heritage of biblical and apostolic fidelity.

Was the communique unanimously adopted by the Global South?

Yes, and please click here for a list of reflections by several of the participants.

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Current Events

Mothering Society to Hear the Deaf

deaf-unit-1

Speaking to house mothers at one of the more unique boarding schools in Egypt, Saleem Wassef challenged them to maintain hope with difficult children.

“Repeat yourself over and over again, because it is a long journey to raise a child,” said the administrative director. “Keep teaching them, even though they don’t listen.”

As every father, mother, and teacher knows, this is wise advice. What prompts the added italics is the setting. Technically speaking, the house mothers were not listening either.

Suzanne, Maryam, and Marina are deaf, graduates of the school in question. They live full time with 45 students at the Deaf Unit, a ministry of the Anglican Church of Egypt located in Old Cairo. One-third are from Upper Egypt, the rest from poor areas of Greater Cairo. Ten others commute from nearby.

Founded in 1982, the Deaf Unit provides essential education to a segment of the population that is often seen as a source of shame. “To have a disability or a disabled child is sometimes seen as punishment from God for the sins of the family,” states the school’s website. “But one of our key objectives is to change these cultural attitudes by working with families and communities to educate them and build relationships.”

According to a 2007 study by the World Health Organization, 16 percent of Egyptians suffer from some degree of hearing loss. The Deaf Unit estimates two million are hard of hearing. The government provides deaf schools, but Wassef, a former director-general in the Ministry of Education, says these are overcrowded and not up to a satisfactory standard.

Marina goes further. Twenty-years-old, she is currently completing her high school degree in the government system. The Deaf Unit offers classes only through elementary, defined in the deaf curriculum as kindergarten through 8th grade.

“Government schools do not work hard enough, with insufficient focus on education,” an annoyed Marina gestured with her hands. “Some of the teachers don’t even know sign language.” She skips classes altogether, learning material through a private tutor while Deaf Unit students are in sessions. The rest of the day she mothers them, finding the sixteen teenagers especially challenging.

At the end of each school year Marina takes her tests in the government system, which for the first time provided a high school equivalency exam for the deaf. Egypt is making progress in attending to the needs of this neglected population, and Cairo University is opening its doors to graduates.

Though the Deaf Unit is not permitted to administer examinations, the government greatly appreciates their service, said Wassef. There is now one Muslim student enrolled after authorities encouraged the diocese to open classes to all. Wassef is currently seeking state authorization to extend classes through the preparatory level, in deaf terms from 9th through 11th grade.

“We have to be a model in front of the children, because they will follow someone and right now the morals of many are low,” Wassef told the three house mothers. “And in the end you will be able to say, ‘We developed these leaders.’”

Serving the whole society is part of the ethos of the Anglican Church, Wassef explained, and special attention is given to employ their students. Suzanne, Maryam, and Marina are examples, but several others work outside of Cairo, where community-based rehabilitation groups operate in Luxor, Minya, and Menouf. An audiology clinic operates at the Deaf Unit, which in two years plans to employ four deaf to administer hearing tests and produce ear molds. In 6 October City the diocese runs a full-scale Vocational Training Center.

Setting their sights at a young age, the Deaf Unit takes a field trip to KFC in Dokki, where a socially-conscious hearing manager has employed several deaf behind the counter. Most customers can only confusedly point to their food selections, but by placing the deaf in the public eye the culture slowly changes.

The Deaf Unit does what it can to speed up the process. Sign language classes are offered once a week to parents, relatives, and the general public, said Ramez, the financial manager, with an intensive course each summer. A native of Old Cairo attending the historic Jesus, Light of the World Church, he was intrigued by the fifty-plus member deaf congregation that also meets at the facility. He studied sign language, and has watched others learn. “Before too long,” he said, “anyone can sign professionally.”

Thirty to fifty Egyptians are trained each year, with special instruction available for non-Arabic speaking foreigners. Courses are offered at minimal charge, but the Deaf Unit stands in need of donations. None of the 55 students pay more than 200 LE ($22 US) per year. Wassef says the per-student yearly cost is 17,000 LE ($2,000 US).

But beyond donations, the Deaf Unit appreciates even non-signing volunteers to help with physical education, computers, and vocational training. And for the truly dedicated, teachers and room mothers are welcome. Suzanne, who has 18 years of experience, recalls with a smile her school days when foreign mothers helped raise them.

None have been on staff since the 2011 revolution, but neither can any replace the authentic model. “Our children like foreigners because they look different and are fun,” she said. “It is like what they see on TV.

“But they prefer the house mothers to be deaf, because we are like them and can understand.”

More should try, Egyptian and foreigner alike. To learn more please visit www.deafunit.org or contact deafunit@gmail.com.

This article was published in the October edition of Maadi Messenger.

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Current Events

Anglican Bishops Defy British Embassy to Kick-Start Egyptian Tourism

anglican-global-south-at-pyramids
Photo: Andrew Gross

In a defiant gesture of faith from beneath the Pyramids, Anglican bishops sent a message to the world this week:  Egypt is safe.

And this on a weekend the UK embassy warned against visiting public places.

Representing twenty of the more conservative provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion, delegates to the Sixth Global South conference in Cairo visited the Giza pyramids and dined on the Nile in a show of solidarity.

‘I appeal to you as an Egyptian, please return and visit Egypt,’ Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, chairman of the Global South, told delegates.

‘Our economy depends on tourism, and when it is down, thousands of Egyptians cannot earn a living.’

The tourism sector employs roughly four million Egyptians, representing 12.6 percent of the work force. But according to the Central Bank of Egypt, tourism revenue declined by nearly a half – 48.9 percent – year-on-year to September 2016.

The 31 October, 2015 crash of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 over the Egyptian Sinai desert, claimed by the Islamic State, had a disastrous impact.

Russia, who represented 35 per cent of arrivals, has since barred all flights to Egypt, and the UK at 12 per cent have canceled flights to resort areas in the Sinai.

Ghostlike

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Photo: Darren Haley

In Cairo the pyramids stood empty. In Luxor there was just one family at their hotel, where staff threw a party for their one-year-old’s birthday, to show their appreciation.

American Darren Haley said:  ‘It was sad to see just how much Egypt has to offer and how few are willing to take the journey.  Egypt is history just waiting to be explored.’

Egypt is struggling to promote tourism with an ongoing Islamist insurgency.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted furiously to UK and other embassy warnings that they said could ‘harm the country’s economy.’

Without identifying the threat, the UK embassy issued a warning 7 October to avoid ‘large gatherings and public spaces,’ specifically mentioning museums.

‘Most terrorist attacks target the security forces,’ reports the embassy website,‘but it’s likely that foreigners, including tourists, will also be targeted.’

So the bishops’ stance is all the more remarkable.  ‘I wanted the Anglican delegates to see a different picture of Egypt than what they see in the media,’ Bishop Anis told Lapido.

‘It is unfair to call Egypt unsafe, as we have seen there is no place in the world safe from terrorism.’

Before the Russian airline crash tourism was showing signs of recovery. Revenues had increased 45.3 percent compared to a year earlier.

Rebound

Egypt hopes a second rebound is coming.

Officials are finalizing negotiations with the Russian authorities to restore flights. Egypt Air resumed London-Luxor travel on 3 October.

On 10 October Egypt completed restoration work at the shrine of King Tuthmosis III in Karnak Temple.

Last month the ransacked Mallawi Museum in Upper Egypt was reopened for the first time since pro-Morsi rioting in August 2013.

But even throughout this tumultuous period, tourists have come.

‘We have never had a bad experience, even during the uprisings of the last five years,’ Bishop Timothy Ranji of Kenya told Lapido. Every year since 2004 he has brought thirty clergy to Egypt for religious pilgrimage.

‘Egypt is secure, full of lovely people, and I invite everyone to come,’ said Archbishop Tito Zavala of Chile.

‘I am an ordinary person here. There is no need for bodyguards.’

anglican-global-south-bishops-at-pyramids
Photo: Andrew Gross

This article was published first at Lapido Media.

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Current Events

Reflections on the Sixth Trumpet of the Anglican Global South

global-south-anglican-conference
Credit: Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center

For the communique, please click here. For the Global South-GAFCON joint statement on human sexuality, please click here.

The following are statements collected from a selection of archbishops and bishops who participated in the conference.

Several months ago we were praying that the Lord would guide us during the conference, specifically that it would not be political, but spiritual, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We did experience His movement among us, and the communique reflects the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

It expressed very clearly where we stand, in a non-aggressive and non-divisive way. On the contrary, it shows how unity among the people of God brings blessing. (Psalm 133)

  • Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East

It expresses our collective frustration, hope, and counsel to the Anglican Communion leadership on the state of our communion. It shows our faith, determination, and effort to restore this communion to wholeness. And it shows we are getting ready for the possibility of further deterioration, that we should be able to speak and act decisively.

  • Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Province of Nigeria

With the confusing messages from the centers of Anglicanism regarding Biblical morality, it clearly communicates our message, allowing us to focus on our mission to lead people to Jesus Christ.

  • Archbishop Foley Beach, Anglican Church in North America

When we see conflicts and suffering in the world, this communique tells us we have to work faster and more corporately to help. But it also expresses our dissatisfaction and disappointment over the inability of the communion to address fundamental issues which are distracting us from the mission of the church. The truth of the gospel will only have power if it is not compromised.

  • Archbishop Ng Moon Hing, Province of Southeast Asia

Matthew 5 says that no one lights a lamp and then covers it with a basket. But the Anglican Communion has been covered by darkness due to Satanic power exercised through the decisions of men. This communique has the force to uncover it again so as to be the light of the world, to shine openly for both the Anglican Communion and the world.

  • Archbishop Stephen Oo, Province of Myanmar

We are united, we are of one mind, and the communique was approved unanimously. One more time we clarified where we are in terms of doctrine and mission. But it also pushes us to keep moving ahead, as our duty is to go and spread the kingdom of God.

  • Archbishop Tito Zavala, Province of Chile

It captures a revitalized spirit among the Global South churches, with openness and inclusion to those likeminded in the North. I believe this is the first time the Global South and GAFCON have issued a common statement, speaking in one voice. There is a strong sense that God is the prime mover, calling the church to rise up together, as we balance between mission in service of the world, and the battle for truth within the church.

  • Bishop Rennis Ponniah, Diocese of Singapore

The communique is very touching, as it appeals to all of us to come together. But it also warns of what is happening in the northern churches. If you warn your brother but he continues, there must be a reaction. We are together, but we cannot walk together in this journey. It is very African for brothers to part if they don’t agree, but by the grace of God we will come back together.

  • Bishop Timothy Ranji, Diocese of Mt. Kenya South, Kenya

The Global South – GAFCON joint statement is outstanding, the most pastorally sensitive statement on human sexuality that I have ever read. It emphasizes the importance of family and marriage, while expressing a genuine love and concern for those who find themselves with homosexual orientation.

I am so appreciative that the Global South has recognized those of us in the Episcopal Church who uphold Holy Scripture and the traditional understanding of marriage, desiring to remain in relationship with us.

  • Bishop William Love, Diocese of Albany

It represents a very substantive healing of relationships that had previously been strained, mostly because of differences in strategy. I credit Bishop Mouneer, who reached out to everyone and said we must be unified.

The enhanced ecclesial responsibility is critically important because of the failures of the instruments of unity. Those who agree can now pursue mission without having to battle theologically.

  • Bishop Bill Atwood, International Diocese of the Anglican Church in North America

The communique raises hope for those we lead in Southern Africa, over the authority and authenticity of scripture and the lordship of Christ. For them we pledge to stand and fight, and may the Holy Spirit grant us power and humility to do so. May the church of Christ grow from strength to strength; praise be to his name for the communique.

  • Bishop Bethlehem Nopece, Diocese of Port Elizabeth, Southern Africa

The Global South and the church must live and apply this communique, so as to make clear the situation in the Anglican Communion. Now we must carry it to society so that it is seen in love as we serve the people living in poverty and amid many other troubles in this world.

  • Assistant Bishop Hassan Othman James, Diocese of Kadogli, Sudan

If you have not yet read the statements but the above piques your interest, here are the links again.

For the communique, please click here. For the Global South-GAFCON joint statement on human sexuality, please click here.

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Current Events

Global South Anglicans Tour the Egyptian Treasures

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Credit: Andrew Gross

In cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism, the sixth Anglican Global South conference enjoyed a taste of Egyptian antiquities. Delegates toured the Giza pyramids, a papyrus gallery, and the Egyptian museum, closing the day with a dinner cruise on the Nile River.

“Egypt is safe,” said Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis of Egypt, chairman of the Global South Anglicans. “As an Egyptian I appeal to you, please come and visit.”

Anis emphasized to delegates that one-third of the Egyptian economy depends on tourism. Millions of lives are affected by the downturn, he said.

But both bishops and laity smiled as they interacted with local Egyptians, tasted local dishes, and took countless selfies.

Theirs was the absolute opposite attitude of Jonah, who ran from the place to which God called him. Johan was the subject of the morning’s Bible study led by Archbishop Tito Zavala of Chile, on the church and the challenge of world evangelization.

Zavala highlighted several applications from Jonah’s story. God is in control of everything, so no matter the hardship and rebellion, Christians should never give up in their missionary enterprise.

God’s unique character is full of compassion, so Christians also must love all the people of the world, even their enemies.

Some Christians suffer from Jonah Syndrome, getting angry at everything that conflicts with their biases. Zavala asked delegates if they view their cultures similarly. Do they have a missions mindset, or a maintenance mindset?

Instead of simply having the right theology of evangelism, churches must develop actual touchpoints with society. He highlighted the development of his own nation of Chile, where the Anglican work began in the 1820s with foreign expats only.

Today the Anglicans have 100 churches in the country, with 95 percent Chilean leadership funded by 95 percent local tithes. Zavala himself was the first Chilean to be appointed bishop, and now he is the first Latin American to become an Anglican primate.

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An African Anglican is an Anglican, Twice

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Credit: Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center

Many an African Anglican has been accused, and perhaps felt a pang of conscience, of belonging to the church of the colonizer. However much they are thankful for the Gospel, the church in popular understanding remains essentially English.

Little do they know the opposite is true. The Anglican Church is essentially African.

Delegates at the sixth Anglican Global South conference in Cairo heard new research from the foremost scholar of the formational Anglican, Thomas Cramner, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr. Ashley Null is an elected fellow of the Royal Historical Society and is currently compiling a five-volume study of Cramner’s private theological notebooks.

What these notebooks reveal is the reformer’s deep dependence on the writings of Augustine. Imagined today as a Latin scholarly giant, in his day Augustine was derided as the son of a Berber who spoke Latin with an African accent. Much like many see Africans today, he was considered an outsider with just enough education to exist on the margins of civilization.

Null encouraged the delegates that the scholarly comparisons continue today. The progressive wing of the Anglican Church believes that God will lead them into all truth, which the church today can perceive better for modern times than those from two thousand years ago.

Yet this was exactly the challenge Cramner faced in his day, taking on Medieval Catholicism. Equating tradition with scripture led the church into all sorts of error, which only a return to the Bible could correct. In many examples Null demonstrated how Cramner’s writings drew from Augustine, who himself distinguished between the holy texts and the illumined church fathers who applied them for their day.

Their interpretation, Cramner echoed Augustine, is to be done by scripture. Yet the flexibility of a changing medium for the gospel is built into the original 39 Articles. Article 34 declares it is not necessary for all ceremonies to be alike in all times, places, and manners, so long as they are not contrary to the word of God.

“An African Anglican is an Anglican, twice,” Null said. “It is not just a great line, it is the truth.” Africans need not replicate an English church. And why should they, when the Anglican Church was designed to be culturally adaptable from the beginning, patterned after the teachings of a Berber?

Null demonstrated this was not just a missiological principle, but the very DNA of Anglicanism. But in the day’s Bible study, an Asian walked delegates through the challenge of mission.

Bishop Rennis Ponniah of Singapore said this is mission wider than world evangelization. It is extending the Kingdom of God through the church to the whole created order, bringing it all under God’s rule of righteousness, justice, and compassion.

Ponniah focused on three primary dimensions of this mission. The first is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully. The second is to overcome the hostility of evil boldly. And the third is to shine the light of God’s rule winsomely. And all of these should be practically achieved through vibrant local parishes, for this is where the people are.

And on this day the Anglican Global South received the greetings of many parishes around the world. Bishop Paul Butler of Durham, Bishop Tim Dakin of Winchester, and Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney all expressed appreciation for support received from their fellow orthodox Anglicans. Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina and Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America expressed similar sentiment.

But Bishop Bill Love of Albany was unique. A conservative American who has chosen to stay within the Episcopal Church, he described the ‘companion partners’ of the Global South within his province. There are six diocese including his own, Central Florida, Dallas, North Dakota, Springfield, Illinois, and Tennessee. Fifteen bishops identify also, representing 10 percent of the whole, a remnant, Love said, which has not bent the knee. One reason he remains within the Episcopal Church is to remain faithful to them.

Much like Cramner was faithful to Augustine, and Augustine faithful to scripture. Even an American Anglican is African at heart.

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Global South Anglicans Learn How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind

global-south-anglican-african-christianity
Credit: Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center

Many in the world view Christianity as a Western religion. But even as its center of gravity shifts to the African continent, few are aware the degree to which Africa shaped the Christian mind.

Even in Africa this lesson can be missed, but the Anglican Global South made sure its delegates return home to their provinces with a proper perspective.

“Our stories shape us and how we see the world,” said Dr. Michael Glerup of Yale University and executive director of the Center for Early African Christianity. “The Global South is not new, it was the first reality of the early church.”

Glerup opened with the emphasis Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna has been trying to drive home to Europe: Christianity provides the legacy of civilization to a Western culture that has largely forgotten its roots. But Glerup demonstrated to delegates that these roots stretch back even further to Africa.

There were five early centers of African Christianity, he said, in Egypt, Carthage, Libya, Ethiopia, and Nubia. And in three particular principles, he demonstrated their sons were the first to teach Europe its eventual values.

Maurice of Luxor served in the Roman Theban Legion, fighting near Geneva. Martyred for refusing to sacrifice to the gods, he and his Christian unit also defied the command to kill innocent civilians. “Our oath to you will be of no value, if we deny our first oath to God,” Maurice told his commander, and with his words and example he taught Europe the principle of moral integrity. It was not until the 16th century that his popular portraits were changed from dark to white skin.

St. Pachomius, also from Luxor, was a pagan when visited in prison by local Christians who came to his aid. Upon his release he became a Christian, and eventually founded community-based monasticism providing compassionate service to all. Cyprian of Carthage would further cement the principle of a universal human family, teaching Christians suffering plague to tend even to the sick of their former persecutors.

The Berber Tertullian is well known among theologians as the first to coin the term ‘Trinity’ and was ahead of his time in teaching what would eventually become formulated as Orthodox Christianity. Less known was his teaching, “It is not part of religion, to compel religion; it is an act of free will.” He and fellow Berber Lactantius, the tutor of Constantine’s children, helped teach Europe the oft-neglected but esteemed principle of freedom of conscience.

Glerup’s lectures were sandwiched between two Bible studies led by senior leaders in the Global South. Archbishop Ng Moon Hing of Southeast Asia spoke on the church and the challenge of unity, while Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda spoke on the church and the challenge of false teaching.

Disunity has been a hallmark of both human and church history, Hing said, and neither theocracy nor democracy has a good track record in overcoming it. Paul’s ethic in Ephesians 2, however, establishes a new pattern in which a Christian is to be simultaneously a responsible citizen of God’s kingdom, and a faithful member of God’s household.

“Pray we can still be a family,” Hing said, “even if a diseased member must be quarantined for a time.”

The disease is connected to false teaching, said Ntagali, but like the corruption rampant in many parts of the Global South, this is a symptom rather than the disease itself.

It is secularism that has become the dominant philosophy of the world, he said, with God no longer at the center. This allows some to claim the Christian name while not following Christ, while others claim the grace of God as a license to do what they want.

Unfortunately, those who follow such false teachings disconnect themselves from the will of God in heaven. What is necessary is discernment in the patterns of the world, being transformed by the renewing of the mind. In this, Ntagali urged delegates, the Global South must be united.

If it is, if the early African heritage is recovered, perhaps again they can help shape the Christian mind, worldwide.

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Current Events

Global South Anglicans ‘Visit’ Carthage and the Valley of Dry Bones

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Credit: Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center

On the first full day of the sixth Anglican Global South conference, delegates met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and began private deliberations for the eventual “trumpet”, the concluding communique.

But in preparation they were led in a Bible Study by former Bishop of Singapore John Chew, and given a lecture by former Bishop of North Africa Bill Musk. Each applied the topic at hand to contemporary issues in the Anglican Global South.

Chew began by emotionally recalling his participation in the initial Global South gathering in Nigeria in 1994, then called the South-South Encounter. It helped us get to know each other, he said, and whether the way we did it was right or wrong, it clearly led to what followed.

That meeting was followed up by the 1997 conference in Malaysia, which galvanized the conservative primates of the Global South to achieve Resolution 110 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture.

Building on this history, he asked the delegates to reflect with him on Ezekiel 37’s valley of dry bones. “Can these bones live?” asked God to the prophet, to which Ezekiel wisely responded, “Lord, you know.”

Chew suggested that similarly, in light of the crises in the Anglican Communion, a proper response is to be silent and wait on God. When division is deep-seated, action cannot overcome action, but only God’s transformation of hearts.

But God did not leave Ezekiel to be silent, said Chew. God told him to “join the stick of Judah with the stick of Israel, and I will make them one stick.” Chew noted that perhaps many in Judah were pleased to see the compromising Israelites scattered in exile, but the heart of God, indeed the vindication of his holiness, is in bringing them back together.

Chew left the implication of this teaching to weigh on the delegates without direct application, but asked them if this was their orientation: To let God achieve it, rather than their own activism.

Afterwards, Musk led the delegates in exploration of the history of the church in Carthage, Tunisia, guiding them through the Donatist controversy and the religio-political shifts in the Latin-Berber, Vandal, and Byzantine eras.

The early church was divided along cultural lines, he said, between a foreign Latin elite that favored a compassionate response to Christians who denied their faith under persecution. The indigenous Berbers, however, held to a standard of purity that insisted upon faithfulness until death.

Various church fathers responded in different ways under different circumstances, Musk explained. But he esteemed the Council of Carthage which affirmed the right of a diocese to regulate its own affairs, rejecting the right of one to discipline leaders in another.

Similarly, Musk asked delegates if they could also create a mutually supportive Global South despite differences of viewpoint, while at the same time speaking the truth as they understand it on the important issues of the day.

Like the Christians of North Africa then, Christians of North Africa and elsewhere are persecuted now. Musk urged the lesson be learned of the dangers of a divided Christian community. The Arab invasions eventually overwhelmed the church, but the seeds of its demise were sown long before. Alongside apostolic gifts, a patient, long-suffering pastoral ministry is also of vital importance.

Anglican delegates closed the day by self-selecting themselves into four taskforce groups on the topics of theological education and leadership development, economic empowerment, evangelism, discipleship, and missions, and ecumenical and interfaith relations. Their practical recommendations were forwarded to the primates for further deliberation and planning.

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Current Events

President Sisi Welcomes the Anglican Global South to Cairo

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Credit: Egyptian Presidential Office

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt welcomed yesterday a delegation of 16 archbishops from the Anglican Global South, led by Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, chairman of the Global South Steering Committee.

In a discussion lasting 90 minutes, Sisi affirmed the important role religious leaders play in peacemaking, helping spread a culture of tolerance and accepting the ‘other’.

Unfortunately, he said, extremists in religion do not accept diversity, calling anyone who disagrees with them an ‘infidel’ worthy to be killed.

Sisi told the archbishops that Egypt is keen to guarantee freedom of belief and worship for all its citizens, stressing the need to reform religious discourse to confront such extremism.

The archbishops commended Sisi for visiting the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo for Coptic Christmas on January 7, to which Sisi replied it was his joy to be able to bring such joy to others.

Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo of Sudan and South Sudan thanked Sisi for looking after the refugees in Egypt, the majority of whom are Sudanese.

At the end of the meeting Anis thanked Sisi for their warm reception, and spoke of the efforts of the Egyptian diocese to build bridges between the different faith communities.

The meeting was also attended by the British ambassador to Egypt John Casson, joining Bishop Paul Butler of Durham in the UK, a member of the House of Lords.

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World Religious Leaders Laud the Anglican Global South Conference in Egypt

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Credit: Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center

Pope Francis, patriarch of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the leading religious institution in the Sunni Muslim world, welcomed delegates at the October 3 opening of the sixth Anglican Global South Conference, esteeming the importance of their gathering.

Pope Francis expressed his “deepest appreciation” for his invitation to this “momentous event”, in remarks read by the Apostolic Nuncio in Egypt, Archbishop Bruno Musaro. Musaro assured delegates of Francis’ prayers as they discuss themes of “high significance” for both the Anglican Communion and the entire Christian community.

“Nothing is lost when we effectively enter into dialogue,” Musaro quoted from Francis’ encouragement to all people of goodwill, “Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer.”

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb’s remarks quoted from the Quran in his welcome to the Anglican delegates, noting how God created different peoples in the world so that they would know each other and build society.

Tayeb’s message was delivered by Sheikh Saeed Amer, chairman of the fatwa committee in Al Azhar. He esteemed the importance of the conference, hoping it would contribute to building increasingly positive Egyptian participation in the Global South.

Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Coptic Orthdox Church also extended his welcome to the delegates of the Anglican Global South. Through Metropolitan Bishoy he expressed his delight in the Christological agreement signed between the Anglican and Oriental Orthodox Churches in 2014, as well as the 2015 agreement on the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father.

“[We] back you in your defense of the commandments of the Holy Scriptures,” said Tawadros to the Global South delegates, through Bishoy, while noting serious disagreements that exist between the Coptic Orthodox and the Anglican Church as a whole.

“Yet we carry on our dialogue with the Anglican Communion in order to encourage the Anglican conservatives to continue abiding to the true and genuine Biblical principles.”

Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, bishop of Egypt and chairman of the Global South steering committee, welcomed the ecumenical and interfaith dignitaries, and thanked them for their participation in the conference opening session.

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Global South Anglicans Open 6th Conference with a Nod to Athanasius

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Credit: Michael Adel

Anglicans of the Global South met today in All Saints Cathedral, Cairo, taking communion and opening their sixth conference. Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis of Egypt, chairman of the Global South Steering Committee, welcomed 12 primates and 90 delegates from 20 provinces of the Anglican Church.

In his opening address he gave a brief history lesson, recalling an earlier archbishop of Egypt, the 4th century Athanasius of Alexandria.

“He was known as ‘contra mundum’, ‘against the world’,” said Anis of the ancient champion against the heresy of Arianism. “He was opposed at that time even by the emperor, but eventually the false teaching disappeared, while orthodoxy flourished.”

Anis encouraged delegates to take two lessons from this history. First, drawing on the conference theme from I Corinthians 4:2, the church must be “found faithful” to the gospel received from the apostles. Second, the truth will prevail in the end.

Anis decried an “ideological slavery” in which some in the Western church use their money and influence to push their agenda on the Global South. They undermine the scripture and the traditions of the church in redefining the definition of marriage, he said, and their unilateral choices to ordain homosexual bishops is fraying the fabric of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

“I want to weep,” Anis said, “as Jesus did over Jerusalem.”

Anis also challenged delegates over the weaknesses of churches in the Global South. Corruption, tribalism, polygamy, poor treatment of women, and the prosperity gospel all show the need for greater theological education.

The church must also address the issues of poverty and economic migration, moving away from a dependency on Western aid into a more sustainable development. And as concerns terrorism and religious violence, Christians must again look to history, following the example of the martyrs, if necessary.

During the communion service, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria preached on the peace of Christ that is able to prevail in a crisis situation. The world has not achieved peace, citing examples in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and his own homeland.

Christians, however, are called to be peacemakers focused on justice, fairness, and the love of God. This is also a call for world evangelization, he said, that the knowledge of the Lord may fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, quoting the prophecy of Isaiah 11.

Bishop Rennis Ponniah of Singapore prayed for the delegates, that God would melt their pride, free them from biases, and strip away all rivalries. He urged humility and submission to follow Jesus, that God would reveal what this means for them in the Global South.

“Let us weep over what breaks your heart,” Ponniah prayed. “May our faithfulness be the means by which you restore your church.”

Ecumenical and interfaith guests included representatives of Al Azhar, the Vatican, the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic Churches, and the Armenian Catholics. Political and diplomatic guests included representatives from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the embassies of the United States and Singapore.

The Anglican Church has 85 million members in 164 countries, the world’s third largest Christian denomination behind Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Anglicans in the 24 provinces of the Global South number 61.8 million, constituting 72 percent of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Participants included archbishops from the provinces of Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Southern Africa, Western Africa, Indian Ocean, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and South East Asia. Joining them from outside the Global South were archbishops from North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Archbishop Anis urged them to adopt a joint statement of faith.

“Our unity in the Global South is very important,” said Anis as he closed the opening session. “We must face our many challenges together.”

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Global South Anglicans to Hold Sixth Conference in Cairo

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From October 3-8, All Saints Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt will host the sixth conference of the Anglican Global South. Over 100 delegates from 20 provinces will discuss the challenges facing the church in the world today.

Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis of Egypt is also chairman of the Global South steering committee. He stated the most critical of these challenges include poverty, illegal immigration, religious violence, and the false teachings about homosexual marriage prevalent in the West.

Delegates will also discuss the importance of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. Invited guests to the opening session include the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

The Anglican Church has 85 million members in 164 countries, the world’s third largest Christian denomination behind Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Anglicans in the 24 provinces of the Global South number 61.8 million, constituting 72 percent of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Expected participants include archbishops from the provinces of Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Southern Africa, Western Africa, Indian Ocean, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and South East Asia. Joining them from outside the Global South will be archbishops from North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

The first plenary session will be led by recently retired Bishop Bill Musk of North Africa, on the historic church of Carthage in present day Tunisia. He will be followed by Dr. Michael Glerup of Yale University and executive director of the Center for Early African Christianity, speaking on how Africa shaped the Christian mind. The final seminar will feature Dr. Ashley Null, renowned scholar of Thomas Cramner, on how Africa shaped the Anglican faith.

The sixth Global South conference was originally scheduled for Tunis in 2015, cancelled on the advice of the Tunisian authorities due to terrorist threats. But this year delegates will spend half a day touring the Egyptian Museum and Giza Pyramids, and enjoy a dinner cruise on the Nile River.

Begun in 1994 in Kenya, each of the five previous Global South gatherings issued a “trumpet,” a declaration of principles and call to stand firm on the faith received from the Apostles. It is expected that many delegates will wish to challenge the current innovations happening within the traditional centers of Anglicanism in the United Kingdom and North America.

“This is a critical moment in the life of the Anglican Church,” said Bishop Mouneer. “We pray that as we strive for both truth and unity, our efforts will be ‘found faithful’ by God Almighty.”


Note: I will be assisting the diocese with its media coverage of the event, and will provide updates as possible.

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Planting a Tree for Peace Means More than ‘Hugs and Kisses’

(from Michel George)
(from Michel George)

If the Islamic State is uprooting civilization, one response is to plant a tree.

At Palmyra in Syria, religious fanatics took an axe to the witness of generations past.

At Ismailia in Egypt, religious leaders take a shovel to secure a witness for generations future.

And by the banks of the Suez Canal, Egypt’s recently expanded national project, imams and priests both learn and demonstrate a lesson that transcends religion.

‘We want to open their eyes to see how great their country is,’ said Saleem Wassef, ‘not in terms of their Muslim or Christian heritage, but for all of us as citizens.’

Wassef is the coordinator of the ‘Imam-Priest Exchange’, a three year project run by the Egyptian Family House. Each year 35 pairs of Muslim and Christian leaders are brought together in friendship, trained to cooperate in practical expressions of national unity.

The ‘Exchange’ is supported strongly by Bishop Mouneer of the Anglican Church. Supervised by the head of the Islamic Research Council, Sheikh Muhi al-Din al-Afifi, and a leading figure in the Orthodox Church, Fr. Butros Bastorous, it urges participants to dialogue.

The Family House was created in partnership by the Azhar and Egypt’s Christian denominations shortly after the 2011 revolution, in an effort to preserve good religious relations.

Despite much trauma locally, as the whole region exploded in religious violence, Egypt stayed relatively stable.

Last month, to great celebration, Egypt opened a new waterway in the Suez Canal to permit two-way traffic, decreasing travel time and potentially doubling revenue. Funded entirely by the local investments of businessmen and farmers, Muslims and Christians, it was a moment of pride after four trying years.

(from Michel George)
(from Michel George)

 Consecrate

On 1 September the Imam-Priest Exchange followed behind to consecrate the effort.

At the oldest church in Ismailia the imams planted three olive trees. Then at the Young Men’s Muslim Association, priests did the same.

‘It is necessary to bring our people together,’ said Wassef. ‘Planting a tree means love and prosperity, and is sign for the future that you are working for the coming generations.’

In a previous generation under then-President Mubarak, Egypt would often make a great show of national unity. Religious leaders would come together at major events and exchange what became locally known as ‘hugs and kisses’.

But many felt they were only patching over religious tensions. ‘Hugs and kisses’ would often follow an episode of violence.

So the Family House mandate is to diffuse tension and preempt violence in practical projects of great symbolism. Branches have been created in Alexandria, Asyut, and other major cities throughout the country. One of the most active is in Ismailia.

Sheikh Abdel Rahman (R) and Fr. Suriyal
Sheikh Abdel Rahman (R) and Fr. Suriyal

‘The Grand Imam of al-Azhar [Ahmed al-Tayyib] wants us to move from closed meetings out to the streets and the people, walking among them,’ said Sheikh Abdel Rahman Mahmoud, a leading figure in the local branch.

‘When they see so many imams and priests walking together they are amazed; they have not seen this in Egypt or elsewhere.’

Rehabilitation

Hundreds attended their public lecture. Dozens came up to them on the street, took pictures, and asked how they could participate.

Mahmoud and Fr. Surial Aziz coordinate with other imams and priests to visit up to four local schools a week, demonstrating religious unity. They are even working to open sub-branches in two of Ismailia’s larger neighborhoods.

Ismailia is a success story of the Family House vision, but for Wassef in the Imam-Priest Exchange, the visit is only one step of the process. The next day he took them to a drug rehabilitation center.

A patient gives his testimony of recovery. The director lectured on the spiritual role in healing. Wassef wants each participant to return home, find his religious opposite, and together meet the needs of their shared community.

And the Suez Canal is a reminder.

‘If imams and priests visit our national projects it will inspire their role in society as religious leaders in promoting citizenship,’ Wassef said.

‘They go back to their cities and villages and tell the story of pride in their country. Egypt is serving not only its own people, but the whole world.’

If religious unity holds in Egypt as Iraq and Syria burn, they just might.

This article was first published at Lapido Media.

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Alexandria School of Theology Confers First MA Degrees

AST Graduation

Ten years after its founding, the Anglican Alexandria School of Theology (AST) celebrated its first graduating class to receive the degree of Masters of Arts in Theology. The four students joined the July 18th commencement exercises with 27 others who received a Bachelors in Theology, plus one who completed a two-year diploma program.

Rev. Samy Fawzy, principal of AST, congratulated the graduates for their efforts over the past four years, despite the difficulties Egypt has experienced. Rev. Atif Mehany, dean of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, urged them further in his commencement address to overcome the challenges following the Arab Spring and fulfill their responsibilities to serve both church and society.

Rev. Fawzy conferred the degrees with Bishop Grant LeMarqand, vice-chairman of the board of AST, and Rev. Mouneer Hanna Anis, chairman of the board of AST, bishop of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, and president bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East. They were joined by Bishop Peter Tasker, representing the archbishop of Sydney and AST partner institution Moore College in Australia.

Class representative Philip Bishay offered thanks to the staff and professors of AST on behalf of a diverse body of many denominations, who through dialogue and unity completed each other, he said. He encouraged all in attendance to let the light of God fill their hearts, which will then shine no matter the darkness around them.

AST MA Graduates

This article was first published at the Anglican Diocese webpage.

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Religion

Honor and Humility in the Anglican Communion

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From Bishop Mouneer in his diocesan newsletter, on the recent visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby:

In the Middle East, Africa, and much of the non-Western world, extending honour is among the chief virtues. Our Anglican Communion is blessed to have a leader who embodies not only this cultural value, but also its Biblical roots.

“Without doubt, the lesser person is blessed by the greater,” writes the author of Hebrews. “Honour one another above yourselves,” writes Paul in Romans. On April 20, our diocese of Egypt was blessed by the visit of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He came to offer condolences over the martyrdom of 21 Christians killed by ISIS in Libya. But in humility, as a man of the West visiting the East, he proved the reality of these verses in his life and leadership.

In attendance were Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos and Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonius Aziz, themselves men of humble service there to honour his visit. Aware the representatives of these churches could not share in an Anglican Eucharist, the archbishop desired to demonstrate his appreciation for their churches in a land whose children produced such a testimony of faith.

Archbishop Welby left the communion table, knelt before the two bishops, and asked them to pray a blessing for him. Immediately moved in spirit, they knelt as well, and asked the same of him. He then returned and offered body and blood to God’s holy church. Both privately expressed how they were touched by his gesture.

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,” said Jesus to his disciples. “Those who honour me,” said God in I Samuel, “I will honour.” Following communion, Archbishop Welby joined me in demonstrating this call and promise of God.

For the past seven years, Rev. Drew Schmotzer has worked tirelessly not only as my personal assistant, but also in assuming vacant pastoral positions in Maadi, Menouf, and at All Saints Cathedral. He is now leaving the diocese to return to the United States. Archbishop Welby’s visit was Rev. Drew’s last day in Egypt. During the service, we were able to honour Rev. Drew’s humble service to the Diocese of Egypt. I presented him with the shield of the diocese in gratitude for his ministry.

“God is not unjust,” it is written in Hebrews, “he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people.” The virtue of honour is one the Eastern Church can share with the Western. Our Anglican Communion is blessed to have so many from all cultures who, in humility, exhibit it already.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury in Cairo: Offering Condolence, Bearing Witness

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

Archbishop of Canterbury Rev. Justin Welby visited the Anglican All Saints Cathedral in Cairo and opened his sermon with a surprising comparison. Earlier he visited Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyeb, and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

“It has been an interesting and useful day,” the archbishop told the packed cathedral of his high profile itinerary, “but worshipping with you is the most important part.

“Here we meet with Jesus Christ and become his witnesses.”

Welby’s visit was to offer condolences for Egypt’s most recent witnesses, the twenty Coptic Christians and one Ghanaian martyred in Libya in February. The word ‘martyr’ is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘witness.’

Symbolically, Welby delivered to Pope Tawadros twenty-one letters written by grieving British families. One is believed to have been related to David Haines, the aid worker captured in Syria and beheaded last year.

“Why have the martyrs of Libya spoken so powerfully to the world?” Welby asked. “The way these brothers lived and died communicated that their testimony is trustworthy.”

The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, archbishop of the Anglican diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, hosted Welby and welcomed him warmly.

But an unfortunate symbolism coincided his visit with the release of another video from the Islamic State in Libya, this time of Ethiopian Christians. Two groups totaling twenty-eight people were martyred, one beheaded and the other shot in the head.

Welby paid tribute to them, along with others killed for their faith in Kenya and Nigeria.

He noted the certainty of their resurrection, but stated, “We must grieve for them, support their families, and seek to change the circumstances that lead to their deaths.”

Welby’s sermon did not go into specifics, but he has earlier defended military strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, while urging local governments to exercise their mandated use of force to restore order.

And concerning the flood of refugees to the region, “Europe as a whole must stand up and do what is right,” he told the BBC, and share the burden of accepting them.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, over 125,000 Syrians have fled to Egypt. Refuge Egypt, a social service arm of the Anglican Church in Egypt, extends food and medical care to those the UNHCR designates as of particular concern.

Welby praised the Christians of the Middle East for their trustworthy witness. But in order to be communicated, it must be acted out.

“If the church hears the world’s cries for help, but turns its back,” he said, “they will not believe in the love of Christ.”

Visiting with President Sisi, the archbishop heard him emphasize that Egyptian Christians are not a minority, but enjoy their full rights as all other Egyptian citizens.

Visiting with Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyib, he heard that love and mercy are the two elements that must characterize both international and human relations, and that the true picture of Islam and Christianity must be presented to the world.

“When a community is full of light,” Welby said in his sermon, “people will see through it and perceive God, and know they are loved by Christ.”

During communion, he sought to demonstrate this. Aware the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic bishops present could not share in full fellowship, Welby went to them and knelt down, asking for a blessing. In response, the two reciprocated and each prayed for the other in turn.

So many are having hard times in this region, Welby said, he wanted to come and offer condolences. Finishing his sermon, hepromised the audience that he was praying for them in the Middle East, but closed with a request of his own, for the West.

“Please pray for us, that in our comfort we do not forget to be faithful witnesses.”

This article was first published at the Anglican Diocese of Egypt website.