30 July 2008
“There are serious issues we are not talking about, that matter far more than homosexuality.” So said a spouse during the Bible Study organised for us all by the Spouses Conference and for which the spouse received sustained applause. The Bible Study drew on the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-22) to guide us into addressing the reality of violence towards women and children. We were reminded that, outside of war, women and children are the main victims of violence in the world and much of that violence occurs in the home.
The story of Tamar and her rape by Amnon is seldom read in church and is not in the Sunday lectionary – indeed only about a 20 of the 1100 present had ever heard it read aloud on a Sunday. It is a powerful story and we benefited from a model of study which asked us to place the narrative alongside our own experiences. The small group in which I found myself drew many parallels between the story and our experience in ministry – it really felt a very modern story. I see people scouring the Bible to support their case against any acceptance of homosexuals, but I don’t think that I have heard anyone use this text to ask gospel questions about domestic violence and abuse. One Bishop observed in the plenary session, “talking about homosexuality may be a way of avoiding the greater problem of heterosexual males behaving badly.”
Although trying to orchestrate the 1100 Bishops and spouses in a Bible Study was no easy task, I thought that the morning was well used and the production by the Riding Lights Company about Jesus’ dealings with women was a powerful and effective way of introducing this very sensitive subject.
Later in the day, the Archbishop, in his second presidential address, posed the question which has been on all our minds “What is Lambeth ’08 going to say?” He suggested that we need to speak form the centre, from our living in and as the body of Christ. He offered two caricatures of the two sides engaged in the debate at the Conference. I thought that they were a helpful way of increasing our understanding of each other and which may lead to a positive response to the Archbishop’s encouragement to step towards each other. He observed “If both were able to hear and to respond generously, perhaps we could have something more like a conversation of equals — even something more like a Church.”
We were encouraged to revisit the concept of ‘covenant’ as a way forward for the Communion and, in the days that are left to us, that will form much of our agenda. My own concern remains that structures can be used negatively when ideas to move the Church forward become a challenge to those who like things just as they are – but I have to admit to being open to persuasion, as where we are, is probably not going anywhere that is productive for God’s mission nor release the potential for mission which is contained within the Anglican Communion.
21 July 2008
Now that the Conference proper has got under way you have to be careful where you walk! No stone has been left unturned by journalists looking for conflict.
At the opening session yesterday afternoon the serious questions facing the Anglican Communion were laid out before us. The presenting issue is of course about human sexuality, but the underlying and real issues are about authority, identity and power – issues which lurk around every family and which, I think, are part and parcel of the ebb and flow of family relationships.
The most encouraging thing which came through to me yesterday was that, whilst there are clear disagreements here, there is no thirst for conflict – in fact quite the reverse. This is bad news for journalists looking for copy. The standing ovation as Archbishop Rowan started his Presidential Address was a clear affirmation of his standing within a family which wants to stay together.
We had the process for listening and engaging with each other over the coming two weeks explained to us. It appears to be a far more robust process than it first appeared. It is clear that the disagreements are going to be addressed, but is such a way that enables us all to be involved, rather than through large plenary sessions which of their nature exclude opinion and contribution by the majority.
The opening Eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral was Anglican worship at its best – dignified, vibrant, engaging and prayerful. The interweaving of traditional and modern was seamless, as was the interplay of languages. It really did feel offered to the glory of God – and that’s what worship should be all about.
There’s a long way to go in this conference, but I ended the first day encouraged that we are a Communion which is worth working hard to retain. At the heart of this worldwide family is a real desire to be faithful to our vocation and to our part in God’s mission, being here does give you that bigger picture of what that means to the diversity of people which make up this Communion. I just hope that the journalistic thirst for sensational copy will not distort that picture.
20 July 2008
In the last session of the retreat, Archbishop Rowan picks up from the theme he left us with yesterday about bishops being in communion and prompts the question “What is Christian leadership like”?
The simple answer he offers us is that Christian leadership is not about commands or making decisions, but about following the example of Jesus in “clearing the way and going before”. The quality of such leadership depends on the ability to discern the way which lies ahead. So he picks up on Alan Ecclestone’s paper to the 1978 Lambeth Conference which suggests that a bishop’s leadership has to be both insight and oversight.
We need courage to be set free for some institutional risk-taking and be prepared to ask whether what is being suggested or promoted is part of the new way of God. When we fail in leadership it is because we have been too much about command and not about being part of the new living way.
In conclusion he asserted that it is essential for us to know that their is a new way – to know what God has done, is doing, will do. The Archbishop then asked us to keep silence together and let that soak through us.
It was a very profound silence – 650 bishop at one in silence. Thus ended our days of retreat during which we had experienced some very profound and accessible teaching from the Archbishop in his role as a focus for unity in the Anglican Communion.
There are many critics of the Archbishop, but, as I hear them, they want to judge him by measures of leadership which are wholly inappropriate for the leader of a worldwide communion of Christians. In the meditations which he offered us over this time of retreat, Rowan has given us a different tool for discerning and exercising leadership. The impact on those who have come from around the globe appears to be profound. When we come to discuss the difficult issues which lie before us, I hope that our engagement will be enriched by a very different understanding of the quality of leadership lying at the heart of the Anglican Communion – a quality vastly at variance to the distorted caricature that has been promoted by the media and by those who use negative criticism to promote their own agenda.
The Conference itself opens tomorrow afternoon. We have now been joined by Ecumenical guests, bishops in communion with Anglicans, a variety of lobbyists and an abundance of rabbits and ducks!
19 July 2008
One of the key elements to the conference structure is the daily bible study groups looking at passages from St John’s Gospel. Today was the second meeting of the eight in our group and it feels as though we are going to work well together – five of us come from Africa, two from Europe and one from New Zealand. As we considered John 1:19-34, much of our conversation was about our context and considering the influence which a particular context has on mission and our interpretation of the gospel. Early days, but we were quickly onto real issues which faces all Christians as we seek to unfold our ministry and mission across the world.
……and so to Canterbury Cathedral for the second day of the retreat. The Archbishop began with the observation that a Bishop is bound to be both a friend and a stranger. Someone who is traveling and adapting their language to the conext in which they find themselves. Never quite belonging, but coming as a Christlike stranger with the humility to address the needs of the local community.
The Archbishop also offered us a reflection from William Stringfellow, the American lay theologian, who suggests a difference between a religious person and a biblical person. A biblical person is someone caught in the spotlight of God’s attention and call – a fearful place to be, but as Archbishop Rowan reminded us, we hear in the gospel “Do not be afraid”. The Bishops as a biblical persons know that they are never going to satisfy the demands and expectations, but hear the words “Do not be afraid”.
In the afternoon, the Archbishop addressed the theme that bishops are called to live in community not only with their congregations, but also with each other. We model what the life of the church is like.
So it was a full day and there wasn’t a single reference to events at Headingley……..but I think that we were on a kinder wicket!
18 July 2008
We spent today at Canterbury Cathedral on Retreat and for me it was a day not to be missed. The Archbishop was at his best, building on his scholarship and personal spirituality, as he led us to reflect on the theme that every calling or vocation is an invitation to become, gradually, a place where God’s life is revealed.
He left us with so many pointers to mull over during the day that I can’t really do them justice, but his observation that the only way of being a successful apostle is to be incapable of distancing oneself from the weakness of others I found to be particularly helpful. He took this idea forward to reflect that bishops can never, however much they’d like to be, become the spokesperson of a single nation, or cause, or group, however worthy they may be.
Amongst all the words offered and shared today, it will be these two phrases which will stay with me.
One of the challenges of a gathering such as this is to remember the name of the person to whom you have just been introduced. A higlight and a name I can remember was Hector Zavala , Bishop of Chile. I was really glad to be able to meet him as, to mark the millennium, my parish raised money to support USPG in building 15 houses for the poorest communities in Chile. Bishop Zavala brought me upto date on the project and how the funds we rasied had been used and in a short conversation the interconnectedness of the Communion became tangible.