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The Road to EmmausHallo again to all.

Between Easter and the Ascension—celebrated in suitable pomp by all good Anglicans this past Thursday—there is a wonderfully mysterious period in the life of the nascent church. Some have called it the Great Forty Days, contrasting a season of unblemished joy with the solemn forty days of Lent that have just taken place. We know that the risen Jesus appeared to his closest friends at this time, and that he continued to teach them, but we do not know in great detail what else happened during this remarkable season of our Lord's life. One of the events that has come down to us is the famous story of Christ's self-revelation to two members of the dominical band en route to Emmaus. The two unnamed disciples do not recognize Jesus until he breaks bread with them. Only then were their eyes opened with clear understanding. It is this post-resurrection meal, held 'toward evening, when the day was far spent' to which our minds and hearts often turn at the Holy Communion, quite as regularly as they go back to the Last Supper. If the latter was the first celebration of the blessed sacrament, then surely the supper on the road to Emmaus was the second.

A noteworthy aspect of this wonderful event is that the two followers of Jesus become his companions as they walk to Emmaus—not because they have walked with him, but because they have shared with him the bread he gave them. They are companions because they have had bread (panis) with (cum) him. Such is the gospel picture of companionship: sharing in sustenance spiritual and physical, not metaphorically, but actually, and meeting Jesus Christ directly as a result. These companions are the prototype of what we can become as Christians, and how we can most fruitfully relate to other Christians.

This idea of companionship inspired the idea of 'companion dioceses' in the Anglican Communion several decades ago.* It created a series of specific relationships—all within the already existing relationship of reciprocal sacramental communion—among Christians from different parts of the globe. The fruit of these relationships has been manifold. In some companion diocese relationships, like the wonderful one between Kajo Keji and Bethlehem, there is a deliberate policy of reciprocal enrichment and benefit that really does lead to more informed Christian belief and more effective Christian living. In other cases, there is an earnest exchange of intercessory prayer, or occasional clergy exchanges, sponsorship of specific ministry projects, youth visits and the like. As the Anglican Communion has fractured in curious ways along provincial and sometimes diocesan lines, we have not become aware of any instance of a companion diocesan relationship having been in any way severed or diminished. Companion diocesan connections remain intact, perhaps precisely because they are rooted in bread-with-ness (think once again cum panis). The sharing of bread with friends gives Christians from various parts of the world the chance to see God's marvellous work in one another. And when such a vision has really occured, it is very hard indeed to sever the companionate connection it creates.

The AscensionWe wonder this week whether it may be time for companion relationships to manifest themselves online. How might that look? There are various ways in which companion relationships might be highlighted through websites through reciprocal links or news items, but the most effective and lasting we can imagine would be through assistance by online dioceses of now-offline dioceses. Just over 55% of the dioceses of our communion have an online presence; and though this number increases year by year, of late we have noticed a slowing of that process. It seems natural that one way for tech-savvy Anglicans to benefit other Anglicans who are not yet tech-savvy could be through teaching them how to use technology to share their Christian hope with the wider communion—and by providing them with the hardware to continue to do that directly from where they live.

The Diocese of Renk, for example, in the Sudan, has companion relationships with three northern-hemisphere dioceses: Salisbury, Southwestern Virginia and Chicago; yet it does not have a website through which to share information about itself with the online world. Likewise, the relatively new South African Diocese of Umzimvubu has no online presence, but its web-savvy companions in Perth, Montana and Truro are natural places for it to turn for assistance and supplies when it decides to have one. The examples could be multiplied over and over: the needs and life of the people of the Diocese of Namibia could be made better known through the help of their friends in the Diocese of Manchester. The same is true for Ugandan Anglicans in Kinkizi Diocese and their companions from Winchester, Dallas and Eastern Michigan. There are undoubtedly cases in which it could have more immediate impact for a wealthy companion diocese to share food or funding or an automobile with a poorer diocese. But if the financially wealthier diocese in such a situation provides a way for Christians around the world to know about the needs of what is perhaps a spiritually richer diocese, surely that will have a longterm benefit of its own. How better, indeed, can one meet such needs than by providing a way for someone on-site to articulate them to the wider world? The chances for such an articulation are much rarer than they should be, though we're delighted when they can take place, as does one this week in this essay.

We happen to be well acquainted with one organization that provides free webhosting for Anglican dioceses, and whose directors will be happy to assist any offline diocese with the process of moving online. We're certain that the 44% of offline Anglicans have quite a lot to share with the 56% of Anglican Christians who do have an online presence. It will surely result in greater strength of existing companion relationships if they can provide a way for Anglicans who now share bread on the road to Emmaus to also share information about their life on the ground. This work may teach us all more about the Lord we love, who loves us, who feeds us, and who is born, dies, rises and ascends for us all.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 4 May 2008

* The Anglican Communion Office provides a handy list of dioceses and their companion relationships, organised by province and country.

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