‘Each of us was given grace’ was the theme of Dr Jenny Plane Te Paa’s keynote talk on the first day of the Drenched in Grace conference in Swanwick, England. Dr Te Paa, principal of a theological college in New Zealand, has been extremely active in the worldwide Anglican Communion, including convening the Steering Committee of the International Anglican Peace and Justice Network, and spoke movingly from her own experience rather than resorting to abstract theology to make a point.
She described the network of relationships which surround indigenous peoples such as her own community where all have a place and none are permanently excluded. The church more widely might have something to learn from such practices, she suggested. She also highlighted the needs of a world where terrible suffering was all too common, especially among women and children, and the risk of being distracted by power struggles among mainly male leaders from what was most important. Many people continue to serve the church in a loving, grace-filled manner in their own neighbourhoods, regardless of the political disputes taking place, and their witness should not be forgotten.
Some conference participants raised questions about the risks of avoiding confrontation and the responsibility to defend the vulnerable, and Dr Te Paa made it clear that in her view the political and pastoral were inextricable. My understanding is that she was trying to convey the importance of not being so absorbed by much-publicised controversies among senior figures that the workings of grace in Christians’ daily lives go unacknowledged.