Our Anglican links remind us we are the Body of Christ

[Primates 2016 Blog] The partnership between Derby diocese and the Church of North India has been a powerful reminder of ‘our interdependence as the Body of Christ’, writes the Rev. Anita Matthews.

Derby Diocese has had links with the Church of North India for many years. A new development has been a link between Derby and Kolkata, beginning with a link between the Cathedrals as the ‘Mother Church’ in each place.

As our friendship has grown, our focus has sharpened. We have an explicit commitment to engage together in mission in new and creative ways, and reflecting on and learning together from our experiences of mission and discipleship.

How has our friendship developed? Senior staff from the two Dioceses, particularly the Bishops and Deans have built relationships over a number of years through mutual visits and ongoing support. Out of those roots, more focused areas of connectivity have recently emerged.

In 2010 a missional project, ‘Christmas Lunch on Jesus’, started in Derby, providing boxes containing everything needed for Christmas lunch for families struggling to make ends meet. Three years later the project developed into a partnership with Kolkata. Instead of turkey, the traditional Bengali celebratory fare – Chicken Biryani – was on the menu, but with the same desire to reach out to those in need with the message of God’s generosity and love.

In the first year, the project in both locations was paid for by individuals and churches in Derby; in the second year, Christians in Kolkata contributed approximately one third of the cost of the project there. By 2015 the cost was being shared equally.

Last year we welcomed new friends into the partnership, working with Christians from Howick in the Diocese of Auckland, New Zealand, who provided over a hundred of the neediest families in Auckland with boxes of barbecue food to celebrate Christmas!

When members of a city-centre church in Derby visited Kolkata in October 2014 – followed by a seven-week placement in our Diocese in 2015 by the vicar of Kolkata Cathedral with his young family – more-on-the-ground relationships were built, along with space to reflect together on our link and where it might develop.

The two dioceses identified education as a key priority. The Derby Diocesan Board of Education secured a British Council grant for seven head teachers from Kolkata to visit link schools in Derby diocese in September 2015. Then a group of teachers and head teachers from Derbyshire spent two weeks in India the next month.

Both visits offered not only opportunities to share good educational practice and to reflect together on what it means to be a church school and a distinctively Christian community – but also simply to eat together, ‘do life’ together, and be immersed in our different lives and cultures.

The experience changed every person involved. As one head teacher from Derbyshire puts it: “The experience has had a huge impact on our whole school already, not just on the teacher who went.”

This month another visit another visit by the Derby team is planned, with a particular focus on offering professional development for teachers in the slum schools of Kolkata. Many of these schools have extraordinary passion for transforming the lives of the poorest children, but few resources and little training.

So what have we learned? So many things, but most importantly that truly significant links have to be based on genuine relationships and love for one another. We have relished the opportunities to engage in hands-on mission together, acknowledging our own strengths and weaknesses and rejoicing in what we can learn from one another. And we have been powerfully reminded of our interdependence as the Body of Christ.

Towards the end of last year we received £20 from a member of the congregation in Kolkata Cathedral, sent to support our Christmas project here in Derby. It came with a message: ‘This is just a small beginning. We look forward to a day when we in Kolkata will be able to support you in Derby and provide for you as you have provided for us.’ That is real partnership!

— The Rev. Anita Matthews is associate priest of St. Peter’s in the City, Derby, England. 

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