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!
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.
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……..
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.
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.