South America is an ‘incredibly diverse’ province that ‘loves to be Anglican,’ says Gregory Venables.
Photo: Sue Careless
By Gavin Drake and Sue Careless
IN EARLY November the Most Rev. Gregory Venables, Bishop of Argentina, was re-elected unanimously as presiding bishop of the Anglican Church in South America.
The Province includes six nations and seven dioceses. The countries of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay each form their own distinct dioceses while Argentina is divided into two dioceses.
Bishop Venables previously served in this role of Obispo Presidente from 2001 to 2010.
He succeeds Bishop Tito Muñoz Zavala of Chile, the first presiding bishop of the province who was born in South America. Zavala had served the maximum of two three-year terms. Zavala will continue as Bishop of Chile and will also serve as vice-presiding bishop and a member of the provincial council.
The British-born Venables first came to Latin America in 1978 with the South America Missionary Society. He had planned to stay only three years, but has remained ever since and his three grown children all have locally born spouses. He and his wife are fluent in Spanish and have seven Latin American grandchildren.
Venables served first as a headmaster and chaplain in Paraguay, then as Bishop of Peru and Bolivia before moving to Argentina in 2000.
Bishop Venables described South America as an “incredibly diverse” province that “loves to be Anglican.” He told ACNS: “It isn’t imposed from the outside. It is an Anglicanism that came and has developed within the local cultures. Today, most of the Anglicans in the province are indigenous Christians.”
Within the region, Roman Catholics are the largest Church and Pentecostal denominations are also strong. The Anglican Church, which is much smaller, maintains strong ecumenical links with both Catholic and Protestant churches. Bishop Venables said he had a strong working relationship with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who is now Pope Francis, when both clerics served in Argentina.
Many South Americans from a Catholic background find Anglicanism with its liturgy a good fit, especially if it also stresses youth work and evangelism. Poverty is still a real issue that all churches in the Province need to address.
The Province is “working hard” to explore “how we can be faithful to biblical truth and yet be coherent and adapting to the local culture,” the presiding bishop said. “‘New Times, New Challenges’ was the title of this Synod we have just had and the idea is . . . how can we relate to that realistically, how can we tell the truth and dream dreams without becoming slaves either to the dreams or the harsh truth. How can we work through those things together.”
Venables is also keen to see the Province move towards financial independence.
From the 16th to the 18th century the Roman Catholic Church controlled most of South America and would not allow Anglicans to hold open services. Embassies could bring in their own chaplains to conduct private services for British expatriates.
In 1844 a British naval officer, Captain Allen Gardiner, founded the Patagonian Missionary Society, which focused on reaching indigenous populations in rural regions of the continent. After his death in 1864 it was renamed South America Missionary Society.
In 1958 the Lambeth Conference stated clearly that South America was far from being a Christian domain, describing it as the “neglected continent.” Even the Roman Catholic hierarchy itself acknowledged Latin America to be “sacramentalized but not evangelized.”
So in the 1960s an outreach to Spanish-speaking towns and cities began. The Episcopal Church of the United States (now TEC) evangelized Central America, Brazil and the continent’s more northerly Spanish-speaking countries such as Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador, while the Church of England focused on the six nations of the Southern Cone. Peru and Uruguay were evangelized by British Anglo-Catholics while Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay were reached by British evangelicals.
In 1974, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave over his metropolitical authority for the six dioceses and, in 1981, the Province of the Southern Cone was formed. The Province changed its name to ‘The Anglican Church of South America’ in September of 2014. Today it has over 470 parishes.
In 2003 the Province of the Southern Cone under Presiding Bishop Venables offered temporary episcopal oversight to theologically conservative Anglicans who had left the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Anglican Church of Canada but who wanted to realign with another province in order to remain within the Anglican Communion. These conservatives eventually formed the Anglican Network in Canada (2007) and the Anglican Church in North America (2008). TAP