"God showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand… and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: 'What can this be?' And it was generally answered thus: 'It is all that was made.' It was so small I thought it might disappear, but I was answered... everything has being through the love of God." --Julian of Norwich

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Dinner with an Archbishop

On Saturday night, I had the amazing opportunity to sit next to an Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican church, Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania, for dinner. Our church hosted him while he is on a trip to encourage the American church and our minister invited the church staff. I have to say that it was breathtaking to hear this man explain the ministries that he leads and pioneers in his country. Clint and I knew embarassingly little about the country of Tanzania, within minutes of meeting the Abp an atlas came out of our host's bookshelf for a geography lesson. He explained to us humbly what the terrain of his country was, a huge country. I felt embarassed that I had not thought to do some more homework.

I did come with a few questions for "his grace," as I later learned I'm "supposed" to call him, chiefly questions regarding the recent tumult in the Anglican church. I learned so much from the time. More than anything else I learned just by listening to and watching a man who is clearly serving God and feeding God's sheep with his whole heart. His heart lies in ministries that bring the gospel into the everyday physical and spiritual lives of his people. So he has a passion for Christian education, for making sure that students at Anglican schools have a meal everyday, that students orphaned by AIDS can pay their school fees. He himself grew up in a small villiage and had to run 5 miles each way to school, without breakfast. He later moved into town to live with his uncle, but had to work weekends and evenings to pay for his school fees. He said he now looks back on that as a rough childhood, but at the time it was what everyone did. So now, so many years later, he rebuilds the Christian schools that the socialist government took away in the 60's and 70's to build up the public school system.

He also tells a story about how one day he was reading Psalm 113, which talks about how God is "exalted over all the nations" yet he "raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap and seats them with princes." He said that after reading that he walked by people looking for food in the trash heap and wondered how God could use him to bring them up. So he found a woman who was selling bananas and talked with her about her situation. She said that every day she went to the market and the seller would give her bananas. Then at the end of the day she brought back her profits and had to share with the seller her profits. So he offered to give her $20 to use to buy the bananas so she wouldn't have to share the profits. He wanted to see if he could trust her. At first she was skeptical, he was a man she didn't know, but after a while, she took the money, and in a little more than a week she offered to pay back the $20. He told her to keep it and gave her $20 more dollars. She used it wisely to pay her children's school fees and move out of her sister's into her own place. The third time he offered the money as a loan, the principal she needed to keep buying bananas. He opened up a bank account for her to begin storing her profits, so she lives on half her income. Then he asked her to bring 5 friends who could be trustworthy to do the same thing. He has now registered this microfinance system with the government, naming it after the first woman, and it has 500 clients. He said his major concern was women with children and that the church teaches and equips these clients to use their money wisely, mostly with the principles from the gospels, the parable of the talents and so forth. But as opposed to microfinance organizations that are in it for the money, taking as much a 90% interest on loans, this one is only in it for the witness of the gospel.

I was so moved by this example. This is exactly the kind of thing that the church ought to be doing in the downcast neighborhoods of our City. Our culture is vastly different in some ways, it is chewed up with a materialism that destroys those who live in poverty, but more than anything else what struck me was this man's simple and powerful faith in the gospel to transform lives. Do you know that his church planting scheme is for every current church to plant 5 others this year!? That in the past three years his diocese planted 53 new churches!? Ask him what the gospel is and he doesn't go into theologial speculation, it is Jesus Christ.

And this doesn't even touch on the Anglican turmoil. Except to perhaps underline the fact that this man is doing something very right that ought to speak volumes to our situation.


  1. Laura,

    Your story is interesting and inspiring, but what I really want to know is why your church was hosting the Primate in the first place: is it presently under his authority or considering leaving the Episcopal Church?


  2. I'm planning to write a bit about the thorny Anglican question soon.

    But to answer your question as briefly as possible, the Primate was visiting in order to "encourage the American church" in general. I attend an independent Anglican church that describes itself as evangelical and specifically separate from the Episcopal Church. Right now we have a visiting bishop who is from the conservative Episcopal diocese of the Rio Grande, if the situation changes I believe we are seeking to place ourselves under an American bishop, NOT an african or south american one (no offence to them or their obviously successful churches). Our church is concerned with the Gospel, Jesus Christ's power to change lives. Our minister does not focus on the fissures happening in the Church, however he is actively concerned with helping to organize a unified conservative church in the US.

  3. Laura,

    These may be the exact questions you are going to answer in the future, so feel free to not respond exhaustively now, but in what sense is your church Anglican and independent now? To whom does it look for ecclesial authority? And when you write "we are seeking to place ourselves under an American bishop" do you mean "my husband and I are seeking..." or "my church body is seeking...?" Why the preference for being under Archbishop Schori rather than, say, Archbishops Mtetemela or Akinola?


  4. i just attended morning prayers at the anglican (well, anglo-catholic episcopal) church up the street from our apartment. afterward i stayed and talked with the priest, and we briefly touched on a lot of the complex issues facing anglicanism. more we talked about the parish's work with refugees in the neighbourhood and how this keeps the church conservative.

    i wonder if more should be made of the link between poverty and orthodoxy (interpret that how you will). it sounds as if your dinner with the abp offered some great insight into how the church works in difficult economic times. what a cool experience.

  5. Justin,

    It is wonderful to hear your questions, for some reasons I had assumed that my audience would be more familiar with my churches situation. You can check out the website at christchurchnyc.com if you are interested, but as that will probably not answer all your questions...

    We are an independent church in that we were planted less than 10 years ago specifically seperate from the structure of the Episcopal Church USA here in NY because of theological differences (I know what your next question is, but I believe that you can probably answer it yourself and you just want to hear me say it). In our church charter under the state, we are independent and unaffiliated. The church is under the ecclesial authority of a conservative American bishop, because we have respect for the authority of the Episcopal church over the country; but following the precedent of the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge to decide to be under a non-geographical bishop, our church has opted to go with a bishop who agrees with our mission and beliefs. However, as that bishop will probably "retire" soon, we will be seeking an orthodox bishop who will hopefully preside over other churches who have either left the episcopal church or been founded independently in an alternative structure recognized by the Anglican Church worldwide, as recommended in what was called the Dar es Salaam communique. As Bishop Mtetemela put it, he doesn't know the culture and the needs of the American people like he knows his own people, so he doesn't feel like he is in a place to provide oversight to us.

    Satisfied? You'll definitely be hearing more, as Clint is most likely about to begin the process of ordination in the Anglican church while we are in seminary (yes me too, but not for ordination) at Regent College this fall and beyond.

    BTW, I love talking about this!

    And Josh, I think you are very right. Could it speak to the situation in Cedarville as well?

  6. Laura,

    And I am glad to read what you have to write. I will continue to do so as long as you have something to express.

    At the risk of sounding pedantic, I do think it is unfortunate that you feel the need to say what you have to say couched in some kind of vague terminology. If you're afraid of offending me, you need not worry.

    I hope you understand that I respect you deeply and while we are not close, I consider you a friend and a person with whom I have had only positive experiences. Also, I do not want to put you on the spot and if you do feel uncomfortable writing something in a public forum, you can contact me privately. If you do not want to contact me privately, I will respect your wishes to keep some information to yourself. Just understand that you do not need to censor yourself for my benefit.

    Congratulations on furthering your mutual commitments to holiness through seminary education. I would like to know more, but blog comments only allow for so much.


  7. Justin, no hard feelings, I just seem to remember a certain beligerent 18 year old who must have intimidated me with his persistent questions from time to time. :) You seem fairly knowledgable about the Episcopal/Anglican church, do you have a specific connection to it?


  8. Dearest Laura,

    Let me take this opportunity in all earnestness to apologize for my attitude in high school - I am not as confrontational as I was back then and I sincerely hope that you don't harbor any bad feelings from then (I find it doubtful that you spend much time thinking about me at all, but nonetheless...) I enjoyed your company while I had the pleasure to have it and I respect you, even if I did not display that attitude at the time.

    Moving on, no, I was not born blessed enough to be Anglican. Is that what your family's background is? If not, how did you come to Anglicanism?