Lambeth Day 11

27 July 2008

Megaphone diplomacy broke out here today and it effectively brought the Bishops of the Anglican Communion to a common place and to facing the same way.   The conference photos of the staff, the spouses and then the bishops were remarkable pieces of organisation – akin to herding cats.  But the organisers were adept in getting us all into place and before you could say “Indaba” the moment was recorded for posterity.

In my bible study we engaged in a vigorous discussion of sin, sickness, healing and the human condition.  Almost inevitably this developed into an engagement about the nature of homosexuality and a sharing of our attitude to this issue.  Even though we have been together for over a week we encountered some surprising insights being offered by members of the group. This will all undoubtedly be continued during our times together next week.  There are levels to the whole debate – human, theological, mission, church order, cultural and social – simple responses or understanding will not help in the long term.

The Indaba later in the morning was far less driven by process and, whilst we agreed to keep with the theme, we broke down into our Bible study groups to address issues around our ministry in the face of environmental concerns and global warming.  We heard penetrating accounts of the changes being already experienced in parts of Africa and of the environmental damaged impacting on people’s lives.

We recognised how small projects such a planting trees, recycling and changes in our lifestyles are important – but ultimately it needs fundamental changes in the way in which economies work and in what we understand by ‘economic growth’.  My take is that this is a fundamental gospel issue and cannot be sidelined as a secondary concern for enthusiasts – the Good News has to be for all creation – which from the outset has resonated with the phrase from Genesis – “and it was good”.

Thank you to all who have been saying that they want to be a positive 1/650th about how good this conference is and how much they are valuing their time here.  Next week we start to look at how we take the Communion forward and how we deal with diversity and disagreement – I suspect that those who have found listening and talking not to their liking, will be far more comfortable with such processes.

Lambeth Day 10

26 July 2008

A characteristic which appears to be common to all bishops is that they have opinions.  So, if you take 650 bishops and bring them to a campus in Kent, you have 650 opinions about most matters you discuss.  If, as a commentator on church matters, you want to run a particular slant to a story, then you are almost guaranteed to find an opinion to support the line you are taking – even though it may only be a 1/650th of the truth.

As we poise midway through this Lambeth Conference this appears to be exactly what is happening here at Canterbury and a distorted picture is emerging about Indaba Groups, the Bible Studies and the Conference outcomes.

I can report that I am really enjoying both my Bible study group and the Indaba Group – they are good opportunities to share experiences, clarify what others are thinking and they give focus as we address key areas for our mission and ministry.  Most important of all, they are forums for building relationships and, in a Communion which is fundamentally about relationships then, that is no bad thing.  So this 1/650th of the conference is encouraged by the process and valuing an outcome which feels deeply spiritual, as we build bonds of fellowship and trust.

There are those who want to rush forward to address the BIG issue, sweeping aside less important issues for the Communion.  But how could we meet as a worldwide communion and not be engaged with the challenge for the world coming from global warming?  Earlier this evening Professor Chris Rapley , Director of the Science Museum, encouraged the Communion to fill the vacuum of moral leadership in the world as we face of the mounting evidence that unless we change the way we release carbon dioxide, then the damage to the planet’s atmosphere is going bring disastrous consequences.

Over the past 10 days I have met so many bishops who are clearly leaders in their community.  Together, we represent a body of leadership which is well placed to give the moral leadership which is so absent from the politicians.  To do so we would have to re-order our priorities.  Issues within human sexuality are important, how we shape our Communion and cope the variety of approaches to the authority of scripture is important – but our stewardship of God’s gift in creation is fundamentally important for a church whose vocation comes from the one who came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

So the Conference goes on, my Indaba Group has moved off process and is finding its own way to address the issues, whilst my Bible Study Group has become an increasingly good place to be.  The outcomes are at present ‘soft’, which is frustrating for those who want ‘hard’ outcomes.  I think that these will follow quite swiftly, but they will have more ownership because they will come from the relationships which this conference appears to be fostering.

I was talking with another Bishop earlier today and he agrees with this analysis – so this blog represents 2/650ths of the opinions here at Lambeth.

Lambeth Day 9

25 July 2008

How many demonstrations in London end with a rally addressed by a Prime Minister and member of the G8?

After a remarkable piece of logistics, we all decamped to London today to march through the heart of the capital city calling for renewed energy to be put into achieving the Millennium Development Goals as promised by the year 2015.

The Millennium Goals are about justice and I can’t really describe how I felt to be walking alongside Bishops from places where justice is an elusive quality, where poverty is the norm and where corruption blights the lives of millions.  To me this is what needs redeeming in this world and this is what God’s mission in Christ is all about – the flourishing of humanity.

Over lunch I talked with a Bishop from east Africa who told me how his mind was on his son who had been beaten up and left deaf in one ear by the police, just before he left his country to come to the Conference. It was a horrific story and as he shared it, the pertinence of what we are about was reinforced – how can anyone flourish when they are the victims of corruption and injustice.

One march does not change much, but we needed to demonstrate that we are united in the cause of justice.  The flow of purple cassocks caught the attention of the press, media and passers-by enabling us to remind people that eight years ago promises were made by the rich and powerful in the world to address poverty, injustice and the chronic economic imbalance which so blights the lives of many.     There is much to do to deliver on those promises and only seven years are left to do it.

I talked with a number of Bishops and their spouses and heard how they were immensely encouraged to hear the Prime Minister’s passion about achieving the Millennium Development Goals. They also recognised that it is only a worldwide Communion, such as ours, which would receive the attention of a world leader.

The day continued with the Bishops and their spouses receiving hospitality both from the Archbishop and then from the Queen at a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.   In the beautiful and peaceful setting of the Palace Gardens I took a moment to reflect that we had spent a day immersed in the contrasts and complexity of life.   During our day we have travelled together, witnessed to our faith, shared in hospitality, engaged with the powerful and promoted the cause of justice – we must try to do more of this!

Lambeth Day 8

24 July 2008

Although it feels as though we have been here forever, today is actually only day three of the Conference itself and for me it marks a turning point.  Both in my Bible Study Group and in the Indaba Group, the quality of the engagement and the positive energy within the conversations has changed and we started to look at the issue which tacitly dominates the agenda of the Conference – homosexuality.

The day started with an amazingly upbeat Eucharist led by the Episcopal Church of Cuba and which undoubtedly contributed to the texture of the morning.  The story of the woman taken in adultery in John’s Gospel was a good vehicle to take the Bible study group into a discussion of a statement by the Sudanese Bishops in which they expressed their opposition to the consecration of a practicing homosexual as a bishop.  Whilst the majority of my group shared the concerns of the Sudanese, the engagement was much more about how we can ensure that the Communion remains intact.

I was moved by the very positive statements being made about the value of the Anglican Communion.  We considered how provinces having a different attitude to these things may not be an issue which can be resolved, but we went onto consider how we can find a future together.  Whilst we didn’t even begin to resolve the issues, we did achieve a quality of engagement which will frustrate those looking for conflict and schism.

At the Indaba we were considering ‘Bishops and Social justice’.  Gone were the rather disconnected and reluctant conversations of yesterday and in came a positive response to the questions.  Again we heard moving stories from those who minister on the frontline of human suffering.  We heard of the church’s involvement with the disastrous impact of HIV/Aids.  We heard of the care being given to orphans, of the programmes of education and of a positive commitment to the challenges being faced by the church in different parts of the Communion.

One thing which came through was the strength of a global family of churches being committed to human flourishing.   We were at one in recognising each and every person as an outward and visible sign of God’s grace, in other words that we are each a sacrament and that we should be treated and cared for as such.  Again, although the members of my group represent both sides of the issues concerning human sexuality, there was no thirst for division, but rather a desire to reinforce the links which hold the Communion together in a common cause of mission.

One good day doesn’t solve our problems, but it does suggest that the Indaba process may yet prove to be a positive way of us working together at the challenges we face as the Anglican Communion.   The voices of the sceptics, the cynics and the disaffected can still be heard and will probably end up being the most reported, even if they are a minority, but I was greatly encouraged by my experiences today.  So tomorrow were off to London to see the Queen and, should she ask, I will be able to reassure her that we are making progress!

Lambeth Day 7

23 July 2008

Choreographers need an enormous amount of co-operation from their dancers before the product of their work can be enjoyed by both the participants and the audience.  As we get used to the dance of the Lambeth Conference Indaba process, talking and listening with each other, it was apparent today that not all of the performers have learnt the steps of this particular dance. So there was a certain amount of stepping on toes, being in the wrong place, missing the beat and ending up without a partner.

Those who have quickly picked up the steps and dance movements were frustrated at the ponderous footwork of those more used to dancing to their own rhythms.  The different styles of dancing have also been apparent, with some are clearly more comfortable with the set pieces of the ballet,  rather than the interaction of this participatory dance which is so full of polyrhythms.  As with so much about the Anglican Communion, the cultural agenda leads to much misunderstanding and people feeling wrong footed.

So we are still learning the steps and a great deal of patience is going to be needed from those who are keen to get on with the main performance.  Those who want to rush ahead before we are all ready may just spoil the dance which has been so carefully crafted for us.

There is a fascinating connectivity between conversations each day – today the word which kept reappearing in the Bible study, at my Indaba Group and then in the afternoon self-select session with Brain McLaren was ‘authenticity’.  So my thought from the day is that evangelism has to be rooted in authenticity, lest it just becomes recruitment.  I am glad to say that this recognition seemed to be owned from across the cultures of the Communion……….perhaps we’re beginning to dance.

Lambeth Day 6

22 July 2008

I am quite exhausted after the first full day of the Conference (Ordinary Day 1).  It has been wall-to-wall conversation, with a double dose of the Indaba Groups – of which more later.  My exhaustion comes from really enjoying what I have been hearing and experiencing, but needing some time and space to absorb it all.

The day started with a Eucharist led by the province of South Korea which really came alive when the Korean Archbishop talked about the experience of fear during the time of their occupation by the Japanese – he used the striking phrase “fear as the absence of God”.   The good will here at the Conference was tangible as the Archbishop of Japan then offered moving prayers of reconciliation and commitment.

It was the fourth meeting of our Bible Study Group and we are really relaxing into each other’s company.  So far we have skirted around the gay issue, which is probably just as well as we need to secure our confidence and trust in each other before tackling it.  But today was a powerful time as we talked about ‘fear’, drawing on the story of Jesus walking on the water and the fear of disciples.

The stories of fear from members of our group who have been in the civil wars and strife of Africa were demanding.  The two of us from the West really had little to contribute as, in truth, we live very safe and predictable lives.   One of our number helped us understand that he fears that he would be deposed if he was known to have become soft on issues central to the thinking of his Diocese – and another piece fell into place in the jig-saw of the complexity of the issues which face the Conference.

The double dose of Indaba was clearly designed to get us in the mood for dancing together.  There are certainly those who are very suspicious of this process, feeling far more at home with weighty reports, set piece speeches and a western style parliamentary approach to ordering the mind of the church – convincing them that Indaba will work may be an uphill struggle.  But we all appeared willing to try and my group had a good go at establishing an ‘Anglican Identity’.    It was very much a first day at this and other groups clearly found the process frustrating.

The day was rounded off by the charismatic evangelist Brian McLaren ‘rattling our cages’.  He drew on the sociological language and model of cultures in transition to help us understand what is happening to the global church. He suggested that when cultures make the transition from pre-modern to modern, then the church is used to exploiting the transition and gains large numbers of converts, but when the transition is from modern to post-modern, then we become either static or decline.  The problem is that we don’t know how to unfold our faith in the emerging culture. He used the image of a lumbering  giant tortoise to reflect how the church reacts to the immaturity of an emerging culture which it doesn’t really understand.

I thought that it was great stuff – but I suspect that one or two exoskeletons were dented!

And so to bed……..

Lambeth Day 5

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.