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Churches must work together: leader of African council seeks an ecumenical effort.

Africa's greatest challenge is not the widespread poverty keeping the continent from moving forward, the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is decimating its population, of the civil wars that funnel resources away from real solutions. It is, says Bishop Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Council of Churches, inspiring Africa's churches and their Western partners to work together to eradicate these problems.

"Let us share the task of advocacy more and more," Dandala told the Record. "Not just speaking to the people of Africa but to the people of the world, strengthening our relationship together. Churches are agents of transformation and service but unless there is a collective commitment to deal with the issues of the world, our witness will continue to fall short."

Dandala was in Canada in the fall to thank his Canadian church partners for "walking with Africa" through its challenges. He said now that Africa has entered a new era in its history--one where liberation from colonial empires is complete--the council and churches must "rethink their mission, and the ecumenical movement has to think about how it will accompany churches."

Dandala, who is in his third of a five-year term at the council, said strengthening the ecumenical movement is critical in effectively responding to the problems in Africa. "The splintering of the church is a great concern. It undermines the work of the church and is disempowering," he said. "Ecumenism is not about stopping people from being the denominational church families they are now, but about working together and toward common goals and strengthening one another along the way."

Despite disagreements between and within denominations, the church must learn how to speak with the same voice--although Dandala said it is not the intention of the council to get churches to see things in the same way. Instead, he said the council's task is to make the churches work together while disagreeing and encourage church leaders to keep the priorities for the continent in place.

Such priorities focus on social, economic and political endeavours (poverty, HIV/AIDS, installing and supporting good governance): "the things that are needed to transform Africa.

It is unfortunate, he said, that African churches often get sidetracked from what is really needed; allowing partners in the West to influence what they work towards. The same-sex marriage and gay ordination debate is just one example. The Anglican Church especially has suffered from heated debate and divisions over same-sex issues, particularly in Nigeria, where the church's senior archbishop recently announced threatened to separate from the Church of England if its clergy are permitted to bless same-sex relationships. Although Dandala said he understands the concerns of the church regarding such issues, focusing all energy on them only hurts efforts to aid Africa in its struggles. He said the main priorities of Africa "far outweigh the issue of same-sex."

On average, churches provide 40 to 50 per cent of all healthcare structures in Africa. In some countries, said Dandala, if the churches stopped providing such services, the health-care system would collapse. However, many of these groups don't know what their partners are doing. "There has to be more of a cooperative rather than competitive spirit that has characterized the life of the church in Africa," he said.

Dandala said Western churches have a good track record of relief work, but more focus should be put on helping to change things in the long-term. "Our challenge is to think more and more about the ways that are going to empower the people of Africa to take their future into their own hands and to be more proactive in seeking to defeat poverty and illiteracy.

As long as there are ecumenists, let's bring them together and let's keep trying."--AM
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Title Annotation:news; Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Council of Churches
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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