GlobalView from Bishop Bill Atwood
2 Tim 2:2 …the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Having been around the Anglican Communion for decades, I’ve seen lots of Bishops and Archbishops. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with (and spend varying amounts of time with) all the Archbishops of Canterbury since Michael Ramsey. Over the last two decades I’ve known and worked with many Archbishops. In most cases, I’ve had the privilege of knowing many Archbishops from the time that they were Priests. I’ve celebrated with them as they became Bishops and then again as they became Archbishops and Primates. Often there is something about them even as Priests where they have a certain Je ne sais quoi, a “something” that shows their heart and potential. Very hard to describe, but something that is often discernible long before they receive ecclesiastical approbation. (OK. I confess. I just wanted to find a way to say “ecclesiastical approbation.”)
I have had close ties with the Anglican Church of Kenya for a very long time. Twenty years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Archbishop David Gitari and then his successor, Benjamin Nzimbib. Both men were godly leaders or their province. When Archbishop Nzimbi first asked me about being consecrated in Kenya as a Suffragan Bishop, I asked if we could wait and think and pray about it. We didn’t speak of it again for ten months. At that point he said, “I have prayed and I have decided. I shall proceed, unless you rebel.” Then, in 2007, I was consecrated as a Suffragan Bishop in All Saints Cathedral Diocese. I have had many wonderful opportunities to be with the Kenyan Bishops and to get to know them and see the way that they have grappled with tremendous challenges. After one tumultuous election, the “Post-election violence” in Kenya shocked everyone. Watching the Bishops deal with the terrible violence was a great source of encouragement in the midst of a terrible time. Over the years, there have been wonderful retreats and times of great healing. The Bishops have been very inspiring to me as they have worked to overcome the inertia of tribalism.They are fine Christian men and leaders.
As Archbishop Eliud Wabukala’s tenure has been nearing its end, it has been refreshing to watch the Bishops (and other leaders) in their prayerful deliberations for a successor for Archbishop Eliud. Last week, the Bishop of Kericho, Bishop Jackson Ole Sapit was elected to succeed Archbishop Eliud. What is lovely about that is that Archbishop-elect Jackson is from a tribe that is very much a minority in Kenya. He has also spent a great deal of his ministry energy dealing with the poor. His people are keepers of cattle. They live honorable, simple lives. His background is evident, because he lives very much the same way. Honorably and simply. He has a great heart for the poor.
Over the last few years, realizing that Archbishop Eliud would retire, I would watch the Kenyan House of Bishops. In particular, I watched to see how they handled disagreement and pursued peace. At one meeting after another, I kept noticing one relatively young Bishop. Any time he would report on his activities with the poor, it would be truly inspirational. The best part, however, would be in the midst of disagreements. Bishop Jackson would not say much as he listened to arguments. When he finally did speak to an issue I noticed two things. First, his comments were always measured and wise beyond his years. He never denigrated anyone, but always found ways to frame things so that others were interested in coming together. The second thing I noticed was that what he recommended was always what we wound up doing. Not from the standpoint of “Jackson says do this so we will…” but from the standpoint that he always seemed to identify a position that the group eventually decided to pursue. He is an extraordinary leader who leads with great humility but also great clarity about care for people (especially the poor), while never wavering from Biblical truth.
I believe that the selection of Jackson Ole Sapit as Archbishop of Kenya will prove to be a great move. I have loved Archbishops David Gitari, Benjamin Nzimbi, and Eliud Wabukala. Now I am thrilled to see the process work so wonderfully well in the selection of Jackson Ole Sapit.
Over the years I have watched transition after transition in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and other Provinces. What is wonderful to see is the way that God has preserved the Gospel again and again. Even better, what we discover is that “the ceiling of one Archbishop becomes the floor of his successor.” The Anglican Communion is in a bureaucratic and institutional mess. The Gospel is not in a mess at all. It is being well preserved, nurtured, and advanced. The only question is who will be part of the Gospel work that God is doing. I certainly want to.
Bishop Bill Atwood is Bishop of the ACNA’s International Diocese. This article first appeared in the May 24, 2016 edition of the American Anglican Council’s International Email Update. Sign up for this free, weekly email.