Fran Mate, International Programmes Manager for Africa with the Anglican mission agency USPG, reports on a recent gathering to develop a strategic plan for the newly-founded Internal
In terms of the Anglican Communion, something remarkable is happening in West Africa: the churches here are pulling together to plan and embed a new province.
Founding a province is something that happens rarely – and what is all the more unusual in this case is that there are five countries involved: Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – quite an under-taking! I was in Sierra Leone recently for a gathering of bishops and diocesan representatives from the five countries.
Our goal was to further develop a strategy that the new province will coordinate and implement. USPG is accompanying the province on this journey as a supportive friend and mediator to help facilitate the process. For all of us, the gathering was highly inspirational.
These churches have faced many challenges in recent years – not least limited finances, conflict, and the horror of Ebola – yet for all this they are determined to work together to present Christ to their congregations and in their countries.
A new province
How did the new province come about? The motivation arose out of a desire to more fully meet the needs of the churches and countries. In 1979, the Province of West Africa divided to form the Province of Nigeria and the Province of West Africa.
Then, in 2012, the Province of West Africa was further divided to create the Internal Province of Ghana and the Internal Province of West Africa (IPWA). This made sense. Ghana is quite a distance from the other five countries, with a different economic context, being a midlevel country in terms of wealth and facing a different set of challenges. So with these five countries we’re witnessing a coming together of churches to pool resources and share learning so they can reach out to communities in a way that is tailored to their contexts.
The level of effort and coordination required – not to mention bureaucracy – is huge, which means developing this new province is not a simple undertaking. Yet the dioceses involved have accepted this task with determination and enthusiasm, despite limited resources – and it is humbling to observe. So, what did we do at the recent gathering? We met for four days in September in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
In attendance were the bishops and diocesan representatives from each of the five countries Simply bringing everyone together was a significant logistical achievement. Six dioceses were involved (four of the five countries consist of a single diocese; Sierra Leone is comprised of two dioceses). Bishops are extremely busy people so finding a time when they could co-ordinate their diaries was itself a sign of their commitment to the process.
Also in attendance were myself and the Revd Lionel Whatley from the Diocese of Chichester, which has a companion link with West Africa. Our goal was to develop the new province’s strategic/coordination plan, which involves balancing an ideal vision for the province with numerous practical challenges, not least limited resources.
The Anglican Churches in these five countries are relatively small, yet they play a significant role in their localities – as demonstrated by their concerted efforts to tackle the Ebola crisis, with Anglicans at the forefront of efforts to raise awareness for how to combat the disease, which claimed over 11,000 lives in the region between 2014 and 2015.
To support communities still suffering from the impact of Ebola remains a priority in the province. In summary, our discussion in Sierra Leone confirmed that the new province’s strategic/coordination plan would focus on four key areas, namely investment/resource mobilisation, governance, communication/equipment, and social development. In terms of investment, there is a desire to develop and maximise use of Anglican infrastructure, including buildings and land. This will involve initiatives for incomegeneration and the creation of jobs for young people in a region where employment is scarce.
Also discussed was the issue of food security. The gathering felt the church could make a real impact on communities by running programmes to boost agriculture, which is particularly needed in communities where people of working age lost their lives to Ebola.
To achieve some of these practical aspects of ministry, it was recognised that there is a need to develop the church’s leadership in a region where there are few clergy, many of whom have not received formal training. To this end, the province spoke of a need to ‘water the seed’ to help grow the church. And it was noted that the province’s links with the global Anglican Communion would continue to be a key asset in resourcing the province, whether financially or through the provision of trainers and facilitators – with the input of USPG and the Diocese of Chichester being warmly acknowledged.
At this gathering, I detected real optimism to make progress, build up capacity and serve the people. We all gained a sense that there is huge potential waiting to be unlocked. For example, in a region where Christians are in a minority – accounting for around ten per cent of the population in a predominantly Muslim area – there are opportunities for the church to facilitate mediation and reconciliation when religious tensions run high. Anglicanism in this region has an important role to play – and can build upon the respect the church has earned through its engagement with Ebola and other tragedies, such as relief work following mudslides in Sierra Leone last year.
In its conduct, the province is setting an example for other under-resourced provinces and for provinces that may come into being in low-income regions in the future. It is an honour to be a part of this story – to be involved and to be inspired by their faith.
I pray that God will continue to give the province patience, commitment and hope so it can achieve its vision, in Christ’s name.
Find out more about the mission of USPG to serve the world church at www.uspg.org.uk