a vibrant and affirmative congregation and ministry
New Bedford, Massachusetts


Indaba: an invitation to listen and understand

[Report by Diana Ukleja]

At the Diocesan Congregational Resource Day held in Hopkinton on October 1st, the Reverend Canon Bill Parnell, our new Canon to the Ordinary, led a session on Indaba.

First, an aside: at lunch, the bishops spoke briefly, and Bishop Gayle took the opportunity to introduce Bill Parnell to the group as the new Canon to the Ordinary. Someone asked (thank goodness!) “What does that mean?” Bishop Gayle pointed to Bishop Alan, saying, “The Ordinary”; Bishop Alan explained at somewhat greater length that the diocesan bishop is also called the ordinary of the diocese. The Canon to the Ordinary is his administrative assistant. The Reverend Mr. Parnell then briefly took the floor to describe himself as canon to the extra-ordinary.

Indaba is a Zulu word meaning “business” or “matter”, used to describe an important conference of the elders of the group. It has come to be used more widely, first in southern Africa, and then in scouting worldwide, for any gathering. In 2008, Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, used the term to describe “middle sized groups for discussion of larger issues … where everyone has a voice and where there is an attempt to find a common mind or a common story”. He proposed that these be used in place of plenary sessions at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

The Rev. William C. Parnell, Canon to the Ordinary

The Rev. William C. Parnell, Canon to the Ordinary

In our session, Mr. Parnell provided additional context … the 1998 Lambeth Conference was the first after our Bishop Barbara was ordained, and the 2008 conference was the first after Bishop Gene Robinson was ordained in New Hampshire. Neither of these ordinations was accepted quietly by the world wide communion, as we know. As archdeacon for mission in the Diocese of New York, Bill participated in an Indaba linking that diocese with the Diocese of Derby in England and the Diocese of Mumbai in India, part of a larger effort within the Anglican Communion. Teams of eight (four clergy, four lay) met for two weeks in each diocese, staying with local families. The takeaway for the New York team, he said, was that they had as much or more to learn about others in their own diocese as they did about those from afar. The Diocese of New York then decided to apply this lesson locally. They selected teams of four from three parishes … one urban, one suburban and one rural … to spend three weekends together, one in each place. This process was repeated a few times, and over half of the congregations in the diocese participated.

The proposed update to the mission for our diocese emphasizes initiating new relationships across the diocese and supports stronger collaborations among congregations to work together more.  It specifically mentions the Indaba process.

In between discussing Indaba, Bill invited us to form small groups with others we did not know well; I was in his group. The first assignment he put to us was to share something meaningful that had happened to us within the last three months … but it could not be about church. He described being asked to celebrate the Eucharist at the Epiphany School in Dorchester for St. Francis Day (translated early), where he heard “the best St. Francis sermon ever” delivered by an eighth grader there.

View from Fort Taber, New Bedford

View from Fort Taber, New Bedford

Our second assignment was to describe something we loved about where we lived … again, not about church. I talked about Fort Taber … New Bedford’s version of the Cliff Walk, only shorter and a bit lower down. Bill previously lived in Manhattan, so he is reveling in a wider sense of living space. Third and lastly, we were asked to share an occasion when our congregation’s had been church to us or to others. When I mentioned Laundry Love, both the other members of my group exclaimed with recognition.

I look forward to the diocesan experience with Indaba, and I hope we can apply it within our own congregation, as well.