Bishop Tony Palmer | Minister of Reconciliation
Reflecting upon the legacy of Anglican Bishop and leader of the Ark Community, Tony Palmer.
On July 20th, Christians across the globe were devastated by news that, despite the best efforts of surgeons, Bishop Anthony Palmer had died from injuries sustained in a motorbike accident. His death has occurred at a critical time in church history for, in the Bishop’s own words, “right now, in our generation, we are witnessing something Jesus prayed for… and that is the unity of Christians.” Palmer himself provided the catalyst for this movement when he broadcast a video message, filmed on his Iphone, from Pope Francis to a conference of Evangelical leaders. This video was to have global impact, sparking a growing dialogue between ostracized Christian denominations, and paving the way for the reunification of the Body of Christ.
It would seem that this ministry of reconciliation was one for which Bishop Tony Palmer had been uniquely prepared. Before his ordination by the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (CEEC), he was trained at the Evangelical interdenominational seminary, Rhema Bible Training Centre. There, he was taught by Catholics, Methodists and Baptists alike, and this multifaceted teaching grew his appreciation for each of the many streams of Christianity, as he later explained, “I didn’t see any separation, I just saw diversity.”
"Diversity is divine, but it's our division that's diabolic."
After college, he accepted a position teaching at an Evangelical Bible college in Italy. Unknown to him, some of his students were charismatic Catholics and they reported back favorably to the Catholic church, praising Palmer’s teaching of the ‘full counsel of God.’ In his own words, “I would quote from Saint Augustine right through to Kenneth Copeland.”
This led to an invitation from the Catholic church to move to Italy, and then later to travel to Argentina, to work alongside the charismatic renewal. In 2006, Bishop Tony Palmer met with the then Bishop of Argentina, Father Mario Bergoglio, to ask for permission to minister in his diocese. Palmer described the meeting stating, “he [Father Mario] immediately struck up a relationship with me after hearing my testimony, and eventually became one of my mentors and later one of my spiritual fathers.”
"The word unity doesn't mean to be the same, it means to be together."
It was this seemingly inconsequential friendship between the two bishops, one a Roman Catholic, the other an Anglican, that was to spark reconciliation between Protestant and Catholic christians when, in 2013, Father Mario Bergoglio, became Pope Francis. Palmer explained, “Pope Francis and I made a covenant together to work together for the visible unity of Christians. He asked me and consecrated me to be a bridge for the promotion of Christian unity.”
To this end, Palmer boldly proclaimed his message, likening the division between Protestant and Catholic to the Apartheid in South Africa: “We may be living officially in a post protestant era, but most Christians today continue to suffer from spiritual racism. This is the sin against the cross. The cross unites, but spiritual racism divides. It aims to divide that which Christ in his own torn body united.” He also founded ‘The Ark Community,’ an Inter-denominational Christian community aiming to build relationships between different streams of Christianity.
"We are one in Christ and the world desperately needs to see this."
Despite his untimely death, Palmer’s work to promote unity amongst the Christian community will have continuing impact and significance for many years to come.