Anglican bishops from more than 400 dioceses in Africa have convened for the 2nd All Africa Bishops Conference and were encouraged Monday by the potential their church body has to impact the continent and the rest of the world.
"It has been said that this is going to be the African century of the Christian Church in terms of energy and growth and vision," remarked the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams.
"God raises up different countries and cultures in different seasons to bear witness to His purpose in a specially marked way, and it may be that this is indeed His will for Africa in the years ahead," the Anglican leader added, describing the conference in Entebbe, Uganda, as "deeply significant."
Egypt Bishop Dr. Mouneer Anis, meanwhile, noted how Africa has been predicted to become a continent of 673 million Christians by 2025.
As a consequence of this growth, the center of the Christian world is shifting and so is the global role of the church of Africa, he remarked.
"We can shape the Christian mind in the whole world," Anis proclaimed. "We can take the gospel not just to Africa, but to the rest of the world."
Over the past several decades, Africa has witnessed a tremendous growth of Christians coupled by a relative decline in adherence to traditional African religions. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were reportedly only nine million Christians in Africa. By the year 2000, there were an estimated 380 million Christians.
"Africa groans" under the weight of conflicts, epidemics and poverty, Anis noted during the opening service for this week's conference. But still, he said, the Africa church is growing in an extraordinary way.
And now, African bishops of the Anglican Communion say the continent and the African Church are at a turning point.
Archbishop Ian Earnest, the Anglican Primate of Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean and chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPAP), said Africa had "come of age."
He spoke passionately about how genuine engagement in the conference could help mobilize the church leadership of the Anglican Communion in Africa to tackle those things that "hinder our ministry as a church," such a poverty, disease and corruption.
He also stressed that the time had passed when Christian mission went from east to west, but that the Church was now in a time when mission could go from anywhere to anywhere.
"This conference has been designed to unlock the potential of the Anglican Communion in Africa," he said, according to the Anglican Communion News Service.
"If we are able to work together in faith, our Church has the capacity to bring to the continent transformative energy," he added.
For one whole week, the Anglican bishops of Africa will come together to discuss a slew of issues, including those pertaining to families, health care, environment and food security, theological education, discipleship, youth, and the protection of vulnerable peoples. Also to be discussed will be various leadership models, such as servant and accountable leadership, compassionate leadership, leadership in the global economy, and leadership in global campaigns and initiatives.
At the conclusion of the conference, the bishops will have crafted a joint statement for public release that will likely relate with the gathering's theme - "Securing the Future: Unlocking Our Potential," based on Hebrews 12:1-2.
Among the countries represented this week are Burundi, Central Africa, DR Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Seychelles, Mauritius, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Tanzania, Egypt and Uganda.
The Aug. 23-29 conference is being hosted by the Province of the Church of Uganda.