*By Claus Grue
Last week, the chairperson of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Water Network (WCC-EWN), bishop Arnold Temple from The Methodist Church Sierra Leone, came to Stockholm to participate in the World Water Week, which is the world’s leading annual water event where experts and decision-makers from all over the world gather to strengthen the systems and processes that govern access to – and protection of – fresh water.
Bishop Temple’s conclusion after three very intense days in the Swedish capital is that the spiritual dimension of water issues has been affirmed: “The EWN-showcase made a clear impact and the networking at the event gave plenty of opportunities to explain why faith-based organizations must be involved and how we can contribute to achieve the UN sustainability goals”.
After two years as the EWN chairperson, water has become a vital part of his work and he will now “float” the outcomes of the Stockholm event back home through the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone and Water for Life, a national network born out of the World Water Week.
“I’d love to see what we have discussed here reach the grassroots back home” he says.
Access to safe water is also high on his agenda as the newly elected president of the All Africa Council of Churches (AACC), which is the regional umbrella organization for Christian Churches: “Our main priority is to engage churches in their own ministries in the many pertinent issues facing the continent. For them, it is good to have global and national voices echoing their concerns. We must listen, so that we can walk and work together in solidarity. That is a critical part of the pilgrimage of justice and peace”, Temple explains.
At 67, his energy and commitment have by no means eluded him and he continues to advocate at all levels, including the WCC Central Committee where he is a member, for what he believes is right.
“Integrating faith and action, so that the faith we confess is in true harmony with our actions, is our most important challenge – and the key to mitigate the risk of corruption. Another serious challenge facing Africa is ethnical discrimination where you put your own tribe at the centre of everything. This is reflected in churches as well, and we must create the awareness that this is against the Gospel. Ethnicity is a value given by God, but misused it is a sin named tribalism”, Temple points out.
He heeded God’s call to become a priest at the age of 24, after a few years in his chosen profession as a photographer and journalist for daily newspapers in his hometown Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Long before that, as a child, he started singing in the choir of the local Methodist Church.
“I started as a soprano and now I am a bass. I also play the African drums, Tumba. Music is important because it communicates the Gospel”, he says.
His ecumenical journey continues and has shaped his philosophy of life: “I want to do my best – I don’t want to be the best. Don’t strive to be successful, strive to be faithful. Success is measured by human standards, while faithfulness is measured by God”. This is derived from an advice given him by a 90-year-old mentor in 1976.
This month his tenure as bishop of the Sierra Leone Methodist Church ends but he will continue being active in his congregation, help coordinate the Ecumenical Desk of the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone and, teach eco-theology and ecumenism at Freetown's College of Theology and Management. And finally to devote more time to advocacy and his responsibilities as chairperson of the EWN and president of the AACC.
Faith and Water: Translating words into action (WCC press release of 30 August 2018)
*Claus Grue is communication consultant for the World Council of Churches