Archbishop Howard Gregory says he is still searching and growing as a disciple after 20 years as a bishop.
The Most Revd Howard Gregory, is the Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, and Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies. He talked to the Lambeth Conference team about how he believes discipleship is key to reaching the next generation.
Having lost both his parents by the time he was 15, Archbishop Howard said it was the church community that had nurtured him and helped him grow in faith.
“I would say the early part of my growth as a disciple was in the family context, but the church as family became the strongest influence in terms of what discipleship means to me.”
“Archbishop Rowan Williams, influenced some of my own thinking, because he speaks about discipleship as ‘a state of being’. And for me, this is important because it speaks about a centeredness, not of external factors, but something deep within the person, which determines who I am, how I respond to life, to people, and to the world. I also see it as an ongoing and unfinished process.”
“I believe it is a challenge for many of us as ordained ministers that we need to remember that we have to grow as disciples and not just help others to grow. And I believe I am still searching and growing as a disciple.”
For Archbishop Howard discipleship must involve community. “One has to have a commitment, but one also has to be connected with a community of faith where we are challenged, where we hear the Word, we are nurtured and where we support each other. But discipleship also involves discipling others, it’s not enough to be a pro disciple. One has to participate in discipling others.”
“I think we need to be focused on the fact that the church is the community within which the gospel is proclaimed and faith is nurtured… One certainly needs to hear that Word in the context of the community faithfully exercising the gospel, evangelising and hopefully helping people to grow.”
“In my own ministry, part of what I attempt to do in terms of assisting in the process of discipling within the community of faith is to encourage things like the Alpha programme, and we have a retreat centre as an opportunity for nurturing disciples and their growth in the faith. But there’s one other side to discipleship which involves participation in what is the fourth mark of mission, the outreach, service dimension of the faith.”
Archbishop Howard says the Anglican Communion focus on discipleship has been important because it has helped raise awareness about discipleship in the diocese. “In our context it has awakened some to the importance of discipleship, the importance of their growth, the importance of their relationship with God, of having a testimony; because as I say to congregations, if you don’t have a testimony, then you don’t have something to share. So, it allows people to focus and then to be able to reach out to disciple others to be able to share the gospel, but also to be able to engage in the mission of the church. And that mission can be anything from helping children with their school fees or helping the elderly.”
What about the changes facing the church in the future?
He said discipleship within today’s changing culture and context presents a range of challenges, both in the West Indies and also in other parts of the Communion.
“The COVID experience is one which speaks to transition, because we’re talking about the new normal. We’re talking about where we are going – we’re not sure. COVID has made us aware of the fact that some of the old ways of doing things will no longer work. As we move, for example, from face to face, it has curbed us as a community, we are also seeing a change in our understanding of what really is church. Because where the congregations couldn’t come together and they’re online, some people are saying that they’re not sure whether they want to come back to face to face. For me, this is part of the transition that we have to deal with. And I don’t believe we can ignore that the online ministries are here to stay.”
“I believe that the future of the church is going to see less emphasis on the institutional life of the church. There is obviously our youth population that is not as attached to traditional institutions. It doesn’t mean they are not spiritual, or they’re not interested. So, we will have to see how we are going to deal with that reality.”
“I also believe that we are in a world right now, where there’s so much confusion on what constitutes truth, and what constitutes fact or what is false. That’s the world in which we will have to function… If you take even the COVID response, one would imagine that something like the vaccine is something that anybody would want to support for people. But you have some parts of the church being part of the conspiracy theories, which prevent people from taking their vaccination, and we are suffering from that in my context, at this point in time.”
“We are facing a time of transition on various fronts, we cannot escape it, church, institutional church, will not look the same, although there will still be a place for it. But perhaps the church will be grounded more in small groups and in communities, and we’ll have to engage people in a different way.”
“I think one of the challenges we face as Anglicans is that we have assumed that our church, certainly for my part of the communion, will continue to grow because mom and dad will have some children. These children will come through Sunday school, through confirmation, get married, and the children are just naturally going to continue as Anglicans, and we will just have a church that is going on like that. That reality is not so any longer. So, we have to learn that we have to move beyond our sense of centredness and begin to reach out. And that’s where discipleship becomes very important to be able to reach to teach. Because without that, we are going to be in serious trouble. And I see that, in our area, with new housing developments. If you have young couples with young children by the thousands, moving into a community, and the Anglican Church is not a part of that, you’re missing a generation.”