“It is too short to tell” - closing address by Abp John Chew

“It is too short to tell” - closing address by Abp John Chew

Let me speak in two parts.

Firstly, a couple of closing words to end this Encounter. Let me give you some insights on the ‘behind the scenes” challenges in organizing this Conference.

The original intent was to host this Encounter in England. Even up to August last year, this was our intent. I still remember that when the group of evangelical bishops knew we were going there, there were very generous in offering all the resources and facilities. Everything was laid out on how this encounter can be held there and some very experienced conference planners were involved. Everything was geared then towards hosting this event there. With hindsight, we cannot even begin to imagine what would have happened if this event is held there.

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The very fact that we are able to be here and go through this event is indeed a reflection of the grace of God. This also shows us the greater responsibility we have. Our response should not just be thanksgiving, as thanksgiving is always expressed through obedience. We need a greater commitment in our lives. Now that we have gotten to know each other better, not just amongst those from Global South provinces, but also in our fellowship with our 'fellow partners' in the Gospel.

Some of you know of the challenges we faced in recent years. It was difficult to meet and plan due to our travel schedules and distance from each other. As far back as 2005, we were looking forward to this Encounter. Two years ago, we reaffirm our determination to organise it. But along the way , things changed and there was no assurance that this could take place. It was only last August, from a meeting where I was not present, a decision was made to switch the venue to Singapore.

And lo and behold, we are here.

But it took some time to find the will and desire to organise this. Some of the Global South leaders Primates were in a transition stage. It was only in early December of last year – and I share this not so much for you to criticise the Steering Committee for this last minute planning – but to share with you the journey so that you can appreciate one another more and be more responsible for the Body: To nurture it, to protect it, to strengthen it for the more challenging tasks ahead.

It was during December that the programme was fixed, and it was a near the Christmas season. We have to approach speakers and presenters. It was not an easy job. Furthermore, on the practical side, the funds needed to be raised in a period where the world has not pulled out of her economic crisis.  

How precious it is that we are able to gather together.

By the grace of God, now that we are here in this closing session, we need to close ranks and be united. There will always be different perspectives, different backgrounds and understanding of the issues. But it is important that we put everything down so that we can get the best out of everyone and to strengthen one another. And to do so in a collegial manner so that we can balance and strengthen one another so that we can move ahead. As has been said, we need the mind of Christ. Only in doing so can we lift up everything and see Christ in each other and stand together.

Global South has come a long way. The first gathering was in 1994 in Limuru. It was initiated in a painful way. As you know, it can be very embarrassing for a bishop to go to an International Conference where he cannot speak English well. And this was when one of our former bishops asked why can't global South churches come together. He was Chinese-educated. He was a senior bishop and he cannot speak English well. One of the archbishops did not bring his crochet for the Opening Service procession. So, I had to get one spare one from home. This crochet was special because it was a gift from this bishop.  I cherish that. He was my senior. He was Bishop Yong Ping Chung’s successor, Bishop Luke Choa. And so I told this archbishop that he is putting on a very special crochet.

So, we have come a long way since Limuru. And as we have gathered, we have seen the strengths, the variety and even the weakness in one another. And that is something we need to recognise and be humble. And the distinctiveness of where we have come from. We have used the words ‘comprehensiveness’, ‘gracious restraints’ without qualifications. ‘Gracious restraint’ is a tremendous word. But without principles, it can be a negative word. Likewise, ‘comprehensiveness’. We need to recognise that. Global South in these past years have shown a lot of ‘gracious restraint’. Not only Global South, but also the Communion as we have heard Archbishop Williams in his video address the other day. He is extremely concern over what will happen in the States in May. Even he is being tested.

It is not the Global South has been impatient. It has been painful. But graciousness is important. And we need to do it with integrity, gracious integrity. Consistency. We must commit ourselves to these. As we move forward, for Global South to be credible, integrity on all counts and gracious consistency on all sides, words and deeds are important. We are grateful for the compilation of Global South statements and papers. It is there to be scrutinised, that Global south stands in consistency. Can we do what we have said? Can we and will we deliver? It must be based on the polity we have inherited and not to respond to other cultural imperatives. We thanks His Grace, Bishop Suriel for urging us to stand and be faithful whatever the cost is.

And we also need to realised that in a globalised and inter-connected world, we must take the big picture. It is easy to be single issue on this or that problem. But we have no choice. We need to take the bigger picture. It is not easy because we have to do more adjustments, more listening. But that is also where the richness comes from. And also the means of grace where we can be shown our weakness in through others. This has to be done within the principles of love and truth.

And not only do we need a big picture, we need a ‘long’ picture. In today’s world, it is an ‘instant’ world. Yes, you be able to get something done now, but it may cause damages in the long run.  So we need have the big and long picture.

It is not going to be easy. When the first Prime Minister of China was asked about his evaluation of the French Revolution, which happened two hundred years ago. He was well-educated and serving in the very difficult cold war years of the 50’s and 60’s. And he said, gently and quietly, “It is too short to tell.” And many of those in the West and us are living under the shadow of 1789. The world has changed but it is “too soon to tell.” Taking the big and long perspective of things will help us to see things clearer. It may be slower but it will help us to see clearer and hopefully, in the end, do things in a more constructive way.  Yet it is not an excuse for procrastinating.

This “both-and” thing is always difficult. That is why I put on this bi-focal spectacles. You see near and you see far. Sometimes it is blur in the middle, but if you know how to adjust yourselves....and today, it is not a uni-polar world anymore. The powers-that-be have come to learn that they cannot call the shots any more, It is a multi-polar world.  But for us, the tremendous thing is we have a call that holds us united together in spite of our different cultural context. It is because of the pillar of the centrality of the cross of Jesus Christ, we have the same thing and yet can see our different context in the light of a common call.

This is very precious, something which the world does not have. They have either this or that. Now our challenges is how to strengthen ourselves, both within and without. We must be focus in the journey ahead. In 2003, I can still recall the number of meetings which the Global South and Primates Meeting had to call.  It has build up and intensified over the years. In one year alone, we had to meet for three or four times. You just marvel where those funds came from. Let me assure you, not a single cent was taken from others.    

But we must be focus now. The challenges are such that it can push us further from each other. The danger is to be distracted and to be attracted by important but may not be essential matters.

So we need to have the big and long-term picture and stay focus. And at the end of the day, what makes us credible is can we deliver what we say?

This is the challenges before us.

Unless we are united in our focus, and efforts, not that this is about uniformity. But in the world today, resources is power. And we must conserve ourselves. So that we are clear and focused, and not try to do what we can’t. As we were reminded as to where our strengths lie. Not in province or region. It is because we are united (as Abp Jeffrey has said). And this unity is based on truth (as Abp Peter Jensen has reminded) and missions.

While this is true, our structures are also important because they guide and harness us. His grace Bishop Suriel challenged us to wear our habit. While it is not about appearance but faith, how that Gospel is expressed is also important because it requires sacrifice and courage to be faithful in our different contexts. And we thank the Lord, if not for the polity we have inherited, we would not have our Primates, bishops, clergy and lay, arranging ourselves in a beautiful way for our fellowship and partnership for the whole Church.

Finally, it is about how can we strengthen and build up our inner lives. As the Primates have met on a few occasions this week, we have heard the voice of the Encounter. Not just to make this a decade of evangelism, but also Missions and networking. How we can be serious in strengthening our capacity and partnership.

In the communiqué, we have talked about the Covenant. Many have expressed their hope and desire for it. I am aware that there are challenges and concerns. But let us deal with it. Because it involves the wider body.  Some are serving in very difficult situations. Of late, I have received many emails from friends urging us to have a basis not based on personalities, trends, contemporary pressures points or events. Yes there are urgent issues which needs addressing which this Communiqué has tried to do.

We have worked out the Anglican Catechism. We pray that we will strengthen our faith formation process, including our youths down the road. We have been urged to do deeper theological reflection. I believe the time will and has to come. We need to build up our future generation.

We want to thank all of you for making the effort to come. If there are any mis-steps in our organization, we do ask for your forgiveness. The time we had to plan for this Encounter was too short.

So, finally, let me look at the text. In Hebrews 10, I just want to say that key thing – and always part of our Bible Studies, and all our exposition around Isaiah –  the word in Hebrews, “behold, I have come to do your will, O God.” May this be our commitment: individually, on a provincial level, on a regional level, and as a Global South, so that as we become a covenant, living in a covenantal relationship with our God, then only can we be of light to anyone – without which our light will not shine.

But it is something which is not easy. Because in Hebrews 10, it says, when Christ came into the world – and that is always the challenge, isn’t it: sacrifices and offerings you have not desired. And as historic churches, not just Anglicans, there is always the blessing, but also the danger of being very comfortable and saying, we know all about liturgy. We know all about worship. But if this not an expression and reinforcement of our faith ethics commitment, it can become very dangerous. A dead, lifeless liturgy or ritual has also been the problem of our church.

And yet here it says, sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me. The question before us, individually and together, is what are we using our body for? The Lord here says sacrifices and offerings He has not desired. It’s not that He has thrown it all away, in fact He deepened it. In fact He made sacrifices and offerings so real, so meaningful, but at a great cost. It’s not just any lamb, it’s the Lamb of God, and He paid with His life.

So what do you do with the body that the Lord has prepared? Burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no desire. And the Lord responds, saying, behold, I have come to do your will. With my body. With my life. With my whole existence.

But you know to do the will of God is far from easy. Even the closest of disciples who have been soaked in the Word of truth, in the water of life, being so close in proximity to the Lord during his time, also falter. So it is not easy. And unless and until we live in Christ, we would not know.

And why it is not easy? Because further down that chapter it takes up the concept of covenant again – in verse 16, “and this is the covenant that I will make with them – after those days, declares the Lord I will put their laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds.” Now this is not something to be proud of, in contrast or in comparison in others. It makes the responsibility greater because now it is there! And with the renewing power of the Spirit we have no reason to say we won’t live out the Covenant.

“I have come to do your will.” Are we really serious? Are you really prepared? Because if you are, it is only through God’s renewing power that the covenant now is within us, within our hearts, written on our minds, and with the enabling grace of the Spirit that we can live it out. “I have come to do your will.”

John 21 says, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” Now I don’t know if you want to make too much of it, but you could say there is some progression, isn’t it, moving from lamb to sheep? And in the process I have asked one of my colleagues, why do we want to feed the lamb for? Because if you take it in the context of the Gospel, John, right in the beginning of the Gospel says “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Could it well be that the ultimately task of tending and feeding is to bring them to a point where we can use the words of Paul in Romans 12, that they will come to the point of offering themselves as an acceptable sacrifice. That’s their worship! A sacrifice which knows the will of God, the mind of God, and not of the world, but to be transformed and made new. And our task to feed is to bring everyone to the point of discipleship, before the cross.

Unless we are prepared to do His will, so that others who are under our charge as shepherds, pastors, will also at some point in their lives say “we want to do the will of God.” And I think that this is the challenge before us. So may the Lord bless us as we depart, and that is our common task, our common goal, to move on for His glory.


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