On Meeting of Bishop Suheil Dawani, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem,

Archbishop Dr Peter F. Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney
Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria

by Janina Zang
Acting PA to the bishop

12 January 2008 and 15 January 2008


To discuss Bishop Suheil’s concerns about the Global Anglican Future Conference in Holy Land (GAFCON), following his press release dated 2 January 2008.

Bishop Suheil has not been consulted about this planned conference. He first learned of it through a press release. He is deeply troubled that this meeting, of which we had no prior knowledge, will import inter-Anglican conflict into his diocese — the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which seeks to be a place of welcome for all Anglicans.

Bishop Suheil: “It could also have serious consequences for our ongoing ministry of reconciliation in this divided land. Indeed, it could further inflame tensions here. We who minister here know only too well what happens when two sides cease talking to each other. We do not want to see any further dividing walls!”

The Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, is also concerned about this event. His advice to the organizers that this was not the right time or place for such a meeting was ignored.


Minutes of Meeting with Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter F. Jensen, on 12 January 2008:

The Rt Rev’d Suheil Dawani, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem
Archbishop Dr Peter F. Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney
The Rev’d Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Executive Secretary

After mutual words of welcome and thanks, Archbishop Jensen informed Bishop Suheil that the idea of holding such a conference was only developed in December 2007, which was probably the reason for the problems that have arisen. He invited Bishop Suheil to share his concerns about the conference and he apologized for having rushed into organizing this conference without Bishop Suheil’s approval.

Bishop Suheil was then inquiring about the general idea of the conference. Archbishop Jensen responded that some bishops have come to the conclusion that they cannot attend Lambeth Conference. He said that he respected those who have different opinions, but he was concerned about what the future was going to be like. He said that he felt a deep sadness about the terrible situation the Anglican Communion finds itself in and found it important to gather at this conference to discuss how the future will unfold. He said that there have been a number of possible venues, but when someone suggested the Biblical Land, he immediately felt that this was the right venue.

Bishop Suheil then began to share his concerns, saying that we are the body of Christ and thus have to listen and pray for each other. He emphasized that as the heart of the Anglican Communion, Jerusalem was a place of welcome for all.

He continued that Christians in the Holy Land are diminishing and that there was a real need to sustain dialogue and unity among the traditional churches. Bishop Suheil said that he was concerned about any issues that may appear to threaten unity and dialogue. The language that was used in the GAFCON press release was very concerning to him and to all the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. The Orthodox churches did not welcome this language.

Bishop Suheil then went on to say that Christians in the Holy Land, including the Diocese of Jerusalem, were struggling with their own issues and that issues of peace and dialogue between the different faith communities of the Holy Land were far more important at this time than issues of homosexuality. Bishop Suheil said that as traditional churches they were deeply rooted in the bible and that he agreed that these issues needed to be discussed, but he felt that the venue was not right at this sensitive time.

Bishop Suheil said that he was happy to welcome the bishops as pilgrims. However, he repeated that at this critical time, political and other leaders would exploit such a conference. It would be misunderstood by many, and would threaten ecumenism and interfaith dialogue. Bishop Suheil felt that this conference would be disastrous for his ministry in the Holy Land.

Bishop Suheil explained that the international world has largely ignored the local Christians of the Holy Land in the past, and has continued to do so to some extent until today (holding the conference in the Holy Land would be one example). Bishop Suheil said that the Anglican Christians in the Holy Land are trying to be simple and humble and that their contribution is reconciliation. Anglicans are very much respected in the Holy Land, but their reputation would suffer as a divided Church if such a conference was to be held in the Holy Land.

Bishop Suheil concluded by saying that he would prefer that all Anglicans came together at Lambeth Conference to discuss their concerns there together.

Archbishop Jensen responded by saying that he would do his best to present Bishop Suheil’s point of view to the leadership, but that he could not promise that this matter would change. Admitting that it would be wrong to come to the Holy Land without acknowledging the local Christians, Archbishop Jensen said that his hope was that Bishop Suheil would be able to contribute something to the conference.


Minutes of Meeting with Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Jasper Akinola, on 15 January 2008:

The Rt Rev’d Suheil Dawani, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem
Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria
The Rev’d Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Executive Secretary
The Very Rev’d Michael Sellors, Coordinator to the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
The Rev’d Canon Hosam Naoum, Acting Dean, St. George’s Cathedral

After a few words of welcome by Bishop Suheil, Archbishop Akinola thanked Bishop Suheil for receiving him in Jerusalem. He acknowledged receiving the minutes for the above meeting.

Archbishop Akinola explained that in the beginning of the matter he had called for a consultation in Nairobi, which led to the idea of holding the conference in Jerusalem. He explained that he had led many pilgrimages but had been in Jerusalem and at St. George’s Cathedral only once. He said that this pilgrimage would be different from previous ones, since it included primates, bishops, clergy, and laity from 20 countries around the world. The conference would have a great impact on all taking part and their communities.

Archbishop Akinola apologized for sending his letter to Bishop Suheil at a very inconvenient time (at Christmas) and at such short notice, but he said that he could not see how this conference could become a “political problem”. He stressed that liberty was important for Africa and that he could not allow anyone to tell his community what to do and to say. He repeated that his interests were not political, and that his major concern was about how to grow and how to be strengthened and exchange experiences.

Responding to the question of unity within the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Akinola said that in 2003 there had already been a huge eruption leading to the divide within the Anglican Communion.

He went on to say that coming together in the Holy Land would help them to find the road map. He also stressed that there would be more conferences of this kind in the future all around the world.

Bishop Suheil responded by saying that he wished he had been consulted beforehand. In his eyes, the conference would raise many issues, politically, ecumenically, and in the area of interfaith dialogue. He said that Jerusalem is a place of reconciliation and that on an ecumenical level and in his efforts to maintain his diocese that covers five countries with different cultures and traditions, it was very important to keep the balance.

Bishop Suheil also emphasized that the issues to be raised at the conference should be discussed internally, because they are internal matters. Outsiders should not be involved in the problems of the Anglican Communion. He stressed that it was very important for Archbishop Akinola to understand that Christian leaders of the Holy Land are working very hard to maintain indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land.

Bishop Suheil underlined that for all Anglicans Lambeth is the place and the time to have such a conference.

The Rev’d Canon Hosam referred to his studies in Africa, saying that he got a good idea of what Africa and Africans have gone through in the past. Yet, he wished to stress that the indigenous Christians of the Holy Land also did not want to see themselves being told what to do and what to say. They did not want to be forced to deal with issues that are not on their agenda yet and that could create serious disputes on the level of the local churches in general and the Diocese of Jerusalem in particular, as well as ecumenically, theologically, and socially. He stressed that Christians in the Holy Land still had their own problems to deal with.

The Rev’d Canon Dr Chris Sugden then posed the question in what way the conference was imposing on the diocese?

The Rev’d Canon Hosam answered that the conference was imposing the issue of homosexuality on the diocese.

The Rev’d Canon Dr Chris Sugden responded by saying that this conference was not about homosexuality.

The Rev’d Canon Hosam replied by reminding Archbishop Akinola that he had referred to the split of the Anglican Communion in 2003.

Archbishop Akinola refrained from answering. Instead, he said that he could not understand how this conference would have all these impacts on the diocese.

The Very Rev’d Michael Sellors highlighted that this could not be fully understood unless you lived in the Holy Land and experienced the sensitivity. He stressed that the Holy Land was a fishy ground for the media and for those who wanted to destroy or distract the peace process and the role that the Christian Church in general and the Anglican Church in particular plays in it.

Archbishop Akinola then said, that this was a pilgrimage and wondered what the difference was to other pilgrimages.

The Rev’d Canon Hosam responded by saying that this was not only a pilgrimage, since the Archbishop himself was talking about a conference with an agenda.

Archbishop Akinola replied that he would be happy to change the terminology and refrain from calling it a conference, in which case he would call it a pilgrimage.

Bishop Suheil closed the discussion by saying that for the sake of making progress in this discussion he would like to suggest that Archbishop Akinola either reconsiders the venue and time for the conference, or divides his program into two parts: to have the conference in Cyprus, and to have a pure pilgrimage in the Holy Land.

Should Archbishop Akinola be ready to accept this suggestion, Bishop Suheil would warmly welcome him and his pilgrims.

16 January 2008