This article was formerly published in EN, March 2023.

Many British Evangelicals basically want a Bishop who will basically agree with them and then keep out of their way. As Anglican lifeboats are made seaworthy ahead of the Titanic of the Church of England steaming into a iceberg, this post comments on a different experience of Bishops and Archbishops, in South Sudan. Those considering aligning with the Global South bishops like the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans would be subscribing to a much more demanding version of a bishop specifically and Anglicanism generally. Have we got the stomach for it? 

In South Sudan in January 2023 I spent some more time with Archbishop Justin Badi, our International Chair of SOMA and Chair of the GSFA as well. I watched (and learned) as he taught a series of SEAN facilitators a course on Anglican identity in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan. It struck me that for him Anglican is a vibrant identity. A badge you can unite around. A glorious consistent biblical vision. In the UK at best we laud the ‘breadth’ of the Church of England – but that has reached its elastic limit as its multiple religious systems pull it too far – or we say ‘its the best boat to fish from’ – but that establishment compromise is also nearing its natural ‘no-one can serve two masters’ conclusion. 

For Badi Arama Anglicanism is prayer book Anglicanism fuelled by the spirituality of the East African Revival. He explains with a passion how the prayer book, plus daily lectionary readings anchors us in the Bible in a seasonal pattern that feeds our very souls. He believes in all the rubrics of the prayer book – holy orders, vestments. He expects parishioners to engage in private silent prayer, daily office at church and the Eucharist weekly. And he wants the whole enterprise to be on fire with the Spirit of Holiness that marked the East African Revival to the point that an adulterer who was convicted and repented would come out and burn their mattress publicly in community. 

This is an inspiring vision as I listen but a million miles from ‘agree with me and keep out of my way.’ This Archbishop has appointed 9 Internal Archbishops and over 60 Bishops (1 woman so far) so that they can really have an area by area oversight of what is going on. The local clergy are often unpaid volunteers. Power is not in the parishes. It is in the hierarchical system pointing back to a prayerbook Christianity inherited from CMS missionaries. 

Younger evangelicals I meet have grown up in a school system that constantly appraises them (usually positively) and when they enter the church workplace they want access to their overseers too. (Hence so many intergenerational clashes on church staff teams). They often quite like clear parameters of what they should do and reach. I told one older Millenial about this and he said:  

“I love the idea of clearer, cohesive, coherent vision and a recapture of the disciplines of prayer (Private, family, public), or cross carrying (going to start advocating that I think!), Bible reading (with a verse of the day in your pocket for conversation – so it could lead to personal witness to others during the day), a fresh call to integrity and Holy living (not getting rid of the prohibitions of Issues, etc)”

But the question for the Anglican Evangelicals is do we want Bishops at all, or are we in a place where we just want to do whatever is good in our own eyes? If it is the later you’d better avoid the oversight of someone who has actually read the book of Judges and seen it as a warning. 

First published in Evangelicals Now