Some joy and some history from UPS
Image via Wikipedia
Today the brown UPS truck stopped in front of the house. The driver brought a little something I had been waiting for — an original 1874 Vanity Fair print of Bishop John William Colenso.
I sometimes give talks on Anglican polity, and I like to use a slide showing this man. I put up the slide and then ask if anyone knows who he is. Of course they don’t, so I add, helpfully, “this man’s actions helped to shape the modern Anglican Communion.” Again, blank stares.
Then I go on. This man is Bishop John William Colenso, late Bishop of Natal. He taught many controversial things, including the idea that the church — in its zeal to teach monogamous marriage — must not force African men to divorce their several wives when they convert to Christianity. Otherwise, women were left in abject poverty. Better to allow them to join the church as a family, but to take no more new wives. Morality is sometimes more complex that we might like it to be.
Anyway, Bishop Colenso was eventually tried in a local court and removed from office. He then appealed to the Queen’s Privy Council, who reinstated him. This unleashed a furore. What were the limits of orthodoxy in the Anglican churches throughout the world? Who had control? How were bishops to respect one another and their local teaching authority?
This led to the first Lambeth Conference in 1867. Bishops (a bare majority, by the way) gathered from around the globe for consultation and prayer. Mostly they focused on what united them, spending comparatively little time on mechanisms for adjudicating perceived heretics. Out of this fellowship grew stronger connections across nations and continents. Global Anglican identity began to shape up.
I think there are many lessons for us in these times, filled with much bitter rhetoric from those who would divide the church. So I’m delight to have Bishop Colenso’s likeness, which will soon grace my office, as a regular reminder of a time when the church moved through controvery and emerged stronger and more clear about its witness.