You are on page 1of 10

12Clarke 11/15/06 13:13 Page 59

Kitty’s TS • 199162 • Anglican Theological Review • 89.1

ATR/89:1

Claiming Elijah’s Mantle: Young Adults and the Life of the Church
Michael A. Clarke*

Elijah’s challenge to the young Elisha was real and lifechanging, requiring an immediate decision. The transfer of spiritual authority from one generation to another ensures the continuity of the faith community. At the same time, the nature and quality of what is transferred affect the quality of the faith experience of those who follow. Religious experience must be powerful and life-changing; otherwise it is worthless. Young adults need to be exposed to a faith that challenges them and engages them in a way that produces growth and maturity. In a rapidly changing environment, the church must provide young adults with the effective tools needed to develop a wider perspective of faith. This will entail revisiting the past to see how it engages the present and the future.

I would like to begin with the image of the journey, and I would like to invite all persons to recount their journey—the short version, that is—to this place, this week. I say the short version, because there are several extensive ones, and there is always that one that would include the invention of the aircraft, for example! All of this would be relevant, but it is not that type of detail that I require today. It would be sufficient for us to know that this, and much more, has been a part of our journey. We may recall the preparations needed for this trip, the plans that needed to be put in place in our absence, the clearing of the schedule, and the separation that needed to be experienced. Then there is the physical journeying, which began long after the emotional and spiritual one. The physical is always the shortest. The emotional and spiritual begins long before, and finishes long after. Today we sit comfortably, but much has occurred for us to be here sitting comfortably, and much is occurring within us as we sit here comfortably.

* The Rev. Dr. Michael A. Clarke is Rector of St. Mary the Virgin, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

59

His act of separation was grounded. Only time will bear witness to the degree to which I have been able to achieve that which I set out to accomplish. If we are serious about claiming this title as we attempt to invite the young adults to claim the mantle of Elijah. There was an initial hesitation. but I can see it as clearly now as I did then. and hence was prepared to be with him and to join in his journey for the time. I guess at the time. and it continues to this day. One man had wrapped his covering around the shoulders of the other. I have sought to be prophetic. For many. what does this term “Afro-Anglican” mean? What does it mean to be claiming African and Anglican heritage? Is this simply another one of those fads that has no greater depth than the name? Today. It was a powerful image. in a different time. Elisha’s time had come. my childlike eyes only picked up the muscles of Elisha. Elisha had confidence in Elijah. I recall seeing a photograph in my youth of two men journeying. and he needed to move from where he was.1 60 Anglican Theological Review Within. of if there was. In the Elijah/Elisha encounter. to tell forth. muscles were more important to me (being highly visible) than faith (invisible in the context of the picture). In my writing. We . the young adults have joined us. but this was followed immediately by a radical act of separation. and they may very well be hoping that they may mean something significant. at the time of writing. in his knowledge of the one who was calling him to a new place.12Clarke 11/15/06 13:13 Page 60 Kitty’s TS • 199162 • Anglican Theological Review • 89. As Afro-Anglicans we must ask ourselves first of all. and continuing long after they are gone. The picture has always stood out in my mind for reasons I do not know. This was an artist’s impression of Elisha’s call. this may be the first occasion that they are hearing these terms together. In the picture I saw as a child. what would be real now in this moment. Elijah wrapped his mantle around the shoulders of Elisha and the act seemed warm and friendly. then we must be sure that we ourselves understand what we are saying to our young adults as they continue on their journey. There was either not a great presence to the figure of Elijah. My journey with this topic. The artist showed Elisha with powerful thighs and arms. and I am trusting that what I have written in a difference space. you are searching for a connection with me at this moment. can provide a connection to this time. began long before I knew who these persons were. Elisha was challenged in the moment to take a particular step in the journey. suggesting he was a very strong man. then. more than likely. Seldom do we think of the journey of persons as beginning long before their existence.

and responding to. and I must warn you that I am still on that quest to ascertain exactly what the term does mean in its fullness. and seek to move forward without the recognition of the invitation to wait.1 Claiming Elijah’s Mantle 61 must know for ourselves. This ability came as a result of their willingness to be open and receptive to what was happening in and around them and the way in which they fitted into this great expanse of a universe. the story of which I am a part. we see the encounter with nature. This is the stuff that our spirituality is built of and on. The challenge is that one has to examine what criteria one uses in researching this particular topic. what is “African spirituality”? This started me on a quest. In my advanced-study degree. To this day you may hear elders in the Caribbean say. but to that point was unexplored. without confusion.” Such a statement is often used to the young. is an uprootedness. It is in our sayings that we hear the remembrance of a world view that unlocked the world for generations to come. Music that had and has its . is evident in the Caribbean story as we journey year by year through the hurricane seasons. These truths came through their seeking not to control or dominate their environment. This solitude is now opposed by the need for noise. What are the components of spirituality for the African community? One of the challenges that Afrocentric youth face in the Anglican tradition. here in the diaspora. It is this spirit that led the Anthonys of this world into the desert to discover the secrets of solitude. One of the things I picked up early in my search for this African spirituality was the importance of the story. In the story of Africa. but to understand it and to wait on it to reveal its myriad of secrets. “Be careful how you fly in God’s face. The question must be asked. constant noise. Through the African heritage the world has been able to develop theories based on age-old truths discovered by our African ancestors centuries before. Noise is the insulation of the self from the life around. what “Afro-Anglican” means.12Clarke 11/15/06 13:13 Page 61 Kitty’s TS • 199162 • Anglican Theological Review • 89. This suggests that I am not here by chance but am the result of many before me and have a responsibility to the many after me. in its traditional religions. who in their zeal force the issue. This is what makes us African. When we yield to it. We in times past could look to the sky and know what was about to occur. Our sailors for centuries used the stars long before the industrial revolution to chart their way across oceans. I adopted the term “African spirituality” as a means to explore something that I knew was real. This waiting on. it speaks to us. I was asked by the professors here at the Toronto School of Theology.

as our children grow out from under our branches. and we carry that bubble with us wherever we go. to experience the overwhelming power of God. Hence. it can determine the depth of that color. While they cannot determine the actual color. In the second. and the graft is the Anglican story. to seek it as it unfolds. The question may be asked as we seek to pass on the mantle. the tree is the Anglican story. But there has been and is a struggle for us in the Caribbean. we offer a story that has the depth of knowledge of this people through their journey. and are reading and questioning certain origins and practices in an effort to better understand who they are in this rich mosaic of life. it is still the tree whose roots provide anchoring and the nutrients to support whatever is grafted. We have accepted the Scripture that “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. slave nor free” (Gal. Quiet is not embraced in our time.1 62 Anglican Theological Review place in our spiritual journey is now used to hinder that journey. and will not. in Anglicanism. Our youth must know what they are receiving in this present time. As much as the graft may bring a new. simply accept something because we are ready to pass it on. and accept this new world view. Yet. and in that allowing.” We have bought into the propaganda that we are better .12Clarke 11/15/06 13:13 Page 62 Kitty’s TS • 199162 • Anglican Theological Review • 89. There has been at times an assumption that culture has very little to do with one’s faith journey. We live in a bubble. what kind of grafted tree do we pass on in this age? Or still. “What are our roots as Afro-Anglicans?” There are two images that I have wrestled with over the past few years. Both images are grafted trees. It is vital that in passing on the mantle. but it hinders our engagement with what is around us. more vibrant dimension. It makes us feel safe. Our people are now looking behind that mantle to see what is informing that experience. what do we tell them about their rootedness? Do we remind them that the branch is connected to a tree? This is important. and the graft is the African. we have tended to accept the invitation to put away all that our forbears have wrestled with and shared with the rest of the world. even in the midst of that effort. they do their job well. Neither is nature. the tree is the African story. 3:28) to enable ourselves to become what others felt we should be. It invites us to allow. We have a fear of offending. Hence. If the roots are healthy and well-watered. we still find a richness in Afro-Anglicanism that is not present elsewhere. We have feared returning to what we perceive as “primitive. I believe that the roots color the richness of the flower. They cannot. Our African spirituality teaches us to embrace life. and to journey with it. In the first image.

So Anglicans. not primarily in material things. their story was repeated. We are African folks. he demonstrated to the Israelites who they were. rather than being a synthesis of all that is. We have written some of the oldest principles for life. Hence. but more so in things from above. We focused more on the outer challenges around us—acceptance. We can only make informed choices for ourselves when we know who we are. Can we truly pass on the mantle of Elijah? This is a question that has resonated in my mind over the past months. This has resulted in persons moving even further away in an effort to disassociate themselves from this cultural activism. Whenever the people of Israel were challenged to come back to God. seemed to have great soul. his life prior to Mecca seemed like noise. If the term “Afro-Anglicanism” is to mean anything more than just a title for a conference. and throughout history we have taken a path. when he stood on Mount Carmel. The roots of our being—for me something spiritual—must be taken more seriously if we are going to have anything to pass on to the young adults that they shall be willing to receive.12Clarke 11/15/06 13:13 Page 63 Kitty’s TS • 199162 • Anglican Theological Review • 89. and this has left the way open for the cultural activist to seize the stage. and their understanding of themselves in relation to the divine. the God of the Israelites? In Elijah was embodied the history of the people of Israel. a path that led us to richness. It is the manifestation of what is at the heart of a people. and they have been taken and modified in the several religions and cultures of the world. But culture is the result of the soul enfleshed. This is clearly vital now as the world begins to shrink. short as it was.1 Claiming Elijah’s Mantle 63 off if we leave it behind and forget it. . He represented all of what Israel was. Are we that Elijah who was recognized as the prophet of Yahweh. the church has not embraced the soul of Africa in its understanding of itself. It is the people’s story. Maybe I am the victim of Hollywood. then much effort needs to be placed in defining and embracing what the term means. and are willing not to be ashamed of who we are. sought to get as far away from the “primitive” as possible. at times and for the most part. The church and the world are both becoming very liberal places. Such understanding is rooted in the journey of a people. and the so-called common identity and methodology of life. it must be balanced by understanding. and so on. When you take the soul out. and while there is worth in this. His life after. but in the picture Malcolm X. promotion. all that is left is noise. Hence. becomes nothing more than the age-old whitewashing of nations.

it is very likely that they were driven by fellow Africans. to sculpt the face of the Caribbean person. we see a part of our story. There is the issue of forgiveness. has sought. and they sought to work against both slavery and the colonial machinery. but today we need for the sake of our youth—if not for ourselves—to understand what they saw. I speak of the forgiveness between brothers. either in the cauldron of colonialism or at the branding iron of slavery. and who we are. It is being pointed out that many were sold into slavery by other Africans. begins. has sought to go beyond what was on the surface. where Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. Many followed their lead. Can the mantle be passed on without a real understanding of the road that we have trod? Without taking the time to embrace all that has carved this people we call the Afro-Anglicans? But there are other issues to be dealt with in our effort to prepare the mantle for its new owners. What was the vision that caused them to become so focused on one life goal? Dr. It is here that the story of this particular people. not realizing that a good part of Anglicanism was the culture in which it was born. In slavery we latched on to the Moses epic and saw ourselves as a people yet to be delivered.12Clarke 11/15/06 13:13 Page 64 Kitty’s TS • 199162 • Anglican Theological Review • 89. for the most part. In the later days of colonialism. More and more. If there were any long lines. In the story of Joseph and his brothers that we know so well. The experience of slavery and colonialism has sought to render us. we sought to be more Anglican than the Anglicans. These are faith stories. the reality of this is coming to the fore as we look into the story of our African heritage. not the African community that we also represent. and hence. causing them to be resolute in their call for a dismantling of evil structures. would not have been able to do this on a large scale. It occurs even to this day in its new forms. to stand against what was evil. there were those who saw through the façade. along with others. as people of faith. Yet. along with others. I emphasize that this is the beginning of the Afro-Anglican community. without a story of our own worthy of telling. in his many efforts. Kortright Davis. . Archbishop Desmond Tutu. and to see the fourth person walking among the three young men in his fiery furnace ordeal. The images of the European going into the interior and driving long lines back to the ports is being replaced by the knowledge that they did not have that kind of access to the country. They realized that there was more in the mortar than just the pestle.1 64 Anglican Theological Review The Afro-Anglican Church had its origins. even in the midst of this.

who in many places are now seeking nationhood in the new world order. alongside the developed world. for the most part. If young adults and their descendants are to carry the mantle of Elijah. Joseph responded by saying that what they his brothers intended for evil. The Caribbean has found a way to care for its people and develop when unhindered. like Joseph. On the other hand. Even after the death of Jacob. our brothers and sisters on the continent have held the memory of our ancestors and their ways safe in the recesses of their minds. except perhaps 1 Peter Paris. Those of us who. The Spirituality of African Peoples: The Search for a Common Moral Discourse (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers. God intended for good. We could offer them identity. at least to begin the process of truly claiming the mantle.1 At this time. often out of the belief that it is not appropriate and might only foster hate and anger. God can use every circumstance to prepare the way for a people. Hence. We have not as yet seriously addressed the issue of slavery among us in the African community. Therefore we have left it alone. have embraced new ideas and new world views that enable us to survive. Perhaps. We have done little by way of theologizing on our journey. They have fought to preserve their knowledge of the world. and to some extent the diaspora. and direction. It is a known fact that the success of Christianity in Africa.1 Claiming Elijah’s Mantle 65 In the Joseph story. we have never had the opportunity to offer and accept that forgiveness which would truly begin the journey home and bridge the ocean that has kept us isolated from each other. was due to the similarities that were found between ancestral beliefs and Christianity. and went to be sure of this act of forgiveness. We can share this with our brothers and sisters. have gone into another land. so that we may be able to benefit from each other? Can we be intentional in this? Those who stayed behind have a wealth of truths that we who were sold know nothing of.12Clarke 11/15/06 13:13 Page 65 Kitty’s TS • 199162 • Anglican Theological Review • 89. if the two were to unite. 1994). They have embraced Christianity as a filling out of their own cosmology. Can we explore the idea of forgiveness between brothers. we could offer the youth of our time what they are searching for. meaning. there is much that needs to be done in this time. the brothers were still somewhat fearful. the reuniting of Joseph with his brothers occurs in a spirit of forgiveness. even if they have been covered over with the brush of colonialism. our faith story has not spoken of slavery and colonialism in the context of our knowing ourselves as children of God. .

He was promised that if he saw Elijah being taken up. not a received faith tradition. To see requires one to take in an image. but the community has not always been ready to hear the story. . it would be so. Desmond Tutu. but the journey of a people in faith. It is only with an awareness of these efforts that we can seek to pass on the mantle. The images are powerful. We need to strengthen the values that we have inherited. There is much that needs to be accomplished by the African community on the continent and in the diaspora. He had to see. As he looked on. and it is in our youth that a new African community will be raised up. It is the journey of a people exploring and experiencing God at the many stages of their existence. Like Ephraim and Manasseh. under the guidance of persons like Kortright Davis. Caribbean Conference of Churches. and it is my belief that the two groups can together be a strong presence in the world.1 66 Anglican Theological Review within the circles of academia. and the seeing occurs within. In the last thirty or so years.12Clarke 11/15/06 13:13 Page 66 Kitty’s TS • 199162 • Anglican Theological Review • 89. Elisha 2 Christian Action for Development in the Caribbean. Judaism has strengthened its identity as God’s people through the constant retelling of its story. Those telling the stories will have cause to remember. Youth on both sides of the Atlantic need to know the full story if we are to maintain the model of the Scriptures. 1971-1994. our theologians have been seeking to make the story known. These stories will strengthen all of us. knowing God in the everyday things of life. It is the naming of this people and the honoring of their ancestors who wrestle with the world to find truth and to receive its blessing. Elisha requested a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. to the realization of the promise. If there is a mantle to be passed on. we in the diaspora have grown up in the land of our captors and we need to hear the stories of our forbears. it is a mantle not of a faith journey but of a journey in faith. The eyes let the light in. The mantle of Elijah is but a symbol of a greater power. We need to engage in allowing some of those values to evolve into greater guidelines for life. In the Caribbean the early contributors to the Caribbean Contact2 and other regional efforts seemed to be before their time in their approach. We need each other. Peter Paris. we have only just begun to theologize on our journey to this place. from call and promise. and those who listen will know for the first time. and others. In recent times.

need to have the double portion of Elijah’s spirit. that inner power. as they embrace the full story of our people. but at a level that can have the greatest effect for change in the world. The Akans of Ghana have a saying that a people without knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots. . The global image of Afro-Anglicanism is changing. even in the midst of their imminent departure. What is becoming more and more important for us as a faith community is the need to focus on establishing the Elijahs of AfroAnglicanism. depending on the persons with whom they have been walking. that the youth will find a way forward. The youth that are gathered here this week in our midst are perhaps at difference places of their journey. Our youth. It is in the Elijahs. the grounding of the story. They will strike the waters of servitude and call into being a new order. They will use their gift of God’s grace to deliver our people from those who would keep us from sharing in the gifts that God has provided for all of humanity.1 Claiming Elijah’s Mantle 67 took within himself the image of the glory of God. Where are the prophets of our church? Where are the holy men and women? Where are those who are able to say.12Clarke 11/15/06 13:13 Page 67 Kitty’s TS • 199162 • Anglican Theological Review • 89. These are the ones from whom they will rightfully claim the mantles. It is when one is armed with all that contributes to one’s existence that one can really make a lasting impression on the world. what we really desire is that our young adults may see the glory of God within. then. Marcus Garvey is said to have adopted this and stated that a people without a knowledge of their history and culture is like a tree without roots. the mantles that will part the waters that have divided us as a people. “Thus says the Lord”? In other words. they can wield the mantle of our faith and call on the God of our forbears. where are those who will search and yearn for greater awareness of the divine? These are the ones who will call young adults to join them on their journey and walk the walk of faith. These are the ones that the young adults will desire to remain with. Even as we speak of the mantle of Elijah. and in doing so he experienced the transforming power of God. They need to be provided with the depth of religious experience that will enable them to make a change and further contribute in the path of the ancestors to the bringing about the kingdom of God. What we really desire is that they recognize the power of God’s grace in that story. With that inner awareness. The young adults of our faith community are strategically placed at this time. and there is an opportunity for them to stand firmly on the stage not only of the local communities.

1 68 Anglican Theological Review Elijah’s mantle was the symbol that caused others to recognize that the God of Elijah was with Elisha. then it will become a priority for our children to meet the elders in the several places and glean some measure of spirit. we need to speak also of creating opportunities for the children to meet these prophets from all the places where our people can be found. and we commit to journeying together for generations to come. Economics has caused us to be apart and economics keeps us apart. In effect. The mantle our young adults will take must cause all persons to see the power of God working through the African spirit in this world. but to opportunity. it is my belief that if our family can embrace the value of reunification. I offer these thoughts as a means of calling us forward to a new place where we take our words to deeds. However. they need to draw on the collective mantle of Elijah that they may be able to step out when their time comes and call on the God of the ancestors and have confidence in that call. some understanding of themselves. As we speak of prophets. in the sense of giving value to our several experiences. There need to be new crossings of the water not to the unknown and death.12Clarke 11/15/06 13:13 Page 68 Kitty’s TS • 199162 • Anglican Theological Review • 89. .