Bishops Blogging, August 2

Today, much talking about the talk, so to speak: How language challenges us. How we hear things, how we say things, and how to truly listen–and speak–when there’s so much noise. The Bishops are coming to the end of indabas and bible study with colleagues from around the world, and are feeling pangs of sadness at it being time to go, wonder at what has been accomplished (even if it hasn’t seemed like much to those outside).

+Larry Benfield, Arkansas, TEC, observes that Lambeth is winding down for the most part, with just 24 hours left. The discussion on the moratoria that Jim describes in a previous entry today, says Benfield, was riddled with questions about “how long” and “what’s that mean?” He relates how he tried to change the tenor of this conversation within his group:

The Episcopal Church just might be the crucible in which we test the validity of how the Spirit is working. It may be the case that affirming people in new types of relationships can lead to an effective gospel witness. It may be the case that a partnered gay bishop can be an effective gospel witness. And conversely, it may not. What we are asking is that we be offered the space by the Communion to see if this is indeed the case; if it is of God, we will eventually know it. If it is not, we will eventually know it as well. Either way, it can be our gift to the Communion. If we trust that in the long run God’s desire will be known, we have nothing to fear and much to gain.

+Alan Wilson, Buckingham, CofE, talks about the name games we play, from “orthodox” to “revisionist” and every other word we use to describe that person on the other side of the fence. Instead, he says, why don’t we try describing other people using the terms they use to describe themselves?

In another post, Bishop Alan reflects on how others see them. Well, not others, exactly: Dave Walker, who turned the bishops’ photo into a noble group portrait.

+Stephen Lane, coadjutor, Maine, TEC, is feeling a bit blue over the approaching end of Lambeth, and is grateful for the new friends he’s made during this time. He’s inspired to make an observation about the supposed polarity of the Anglican Communion by one of those new friends:

I think, as my new friend, George, has said, the story line we’ve been given for this Lambeth is actually the wrong story line. The story line we’ve been given is that there are two sides locked in combat here at Lambeth. The two sides may be described as progressive or liberal and traditional or conservative, and they are said to extend throughout the Communion. But a truer narrative is that there a many “sides” and that in many places passionate Christians are proclaiming the Gospel. They may have opinions about the issues that divide us, but they are not focused on them and not willing to spend all their time talking about them. Attempts to resolve the conflict do not speak to their situations or their needs.

But the “two sides” story line is very strong, and the Lambeth reflection paper will reinforce it. There are many people who hope the existing moratoria will continue and that a Pastoral Forum will be established to deal with conflicts. And while some folk express deep skepticism about the need for and viability of a covenant, others hope work will go forward. The good news hidden in these matters is the now nearly universal recognition that nothing will work unless ways can be found to continue in genuine conversation. Good relationships are the key to resolving conflicts.

Also sad to be coming to the end of Lambeth is +Pierre Whalon.

+George Packard, Bishop for Chaplaincies, TEC, talks about a different kind of racket–that of sea gulls drowning out the conversation–before relating another bishop’s observation that having 20 “listeners” to relate summaries of each of the indaba groups works out a little weird:

The birds weren’t a problem today as we shoehorned into a too-small lecture hall to hear the latest and always improving script on group think known as the compilation of the 20 indaba groups and their countless pages of sub reflections. The task of the 20 “listeners” is to get a sense of how things are going, reduce it to a concentrate, record it, and then to re-present it to us. Unfortunately it is, as one bishop humorously put it, “like commenting on the minutes of a meeting you haven’t attended.”

He also notes that there’s been some conversation about other places where folks have had to accommodate and evolve to new points of view:

A hot button for the Africans has been equating the practice of polygamy and the current challenge to accommodate homosexuality in holy orders. “We have never allowed persons in such a state to enter positions of leadership,” they say. The Archbishop of York (an African) said his grandfather set his wives apart with property when he became a Christian and said Americans were “chasing butterflies” with that argument. Perhaps it was a lull from the seagulls but even I understood that the comparison was not of substance but of process. Christianity has always acquired new ways of adapting to the time. Males aren’t required to be circumcised before becoming Christians anymore. Apparently there was an accomodation for polygamy, so would the Church do that for homosexuality?

+Kirk Smith, Arizona, TEC, writes on his impressions of his penultimate indaba and bible study groups and has some criticisms of the emerging conference report. He also reports briefly on tonight’s plenary session, which he very much enjoyed:

On the bright side, this evening we had a plenary session to hear from the “Stewards” a group of about 50 college students from around the world give their impressions of the conference. We had a chance to ask them about what they wanted in a church 30 years from now when they might be sitting in our seats. It was great fun and a real inspiration.

Bishop Alan also has an entry about the stewards here.

And while some might say that there hasn’t been much progress at the Lambeth Conference, +Wayne Smith, Missouri, TEC, talks about what he calls “provisional successes,” in terms of relationships forged, lack of vitriole, and more:

Whatever provisional successes this Conference has arrived at–the palpable deepening of relationships, the near absence of poisonous statements, the tendency away from grandstanding, a desire for solidarity in mission, the fact that no one stormed out in protest–has happened in no small part because you have prayed, and that your prayers joined the prayers of millions. That we have arrived at these most modest achievements is no small matter, given the gloomy prognostications of many beforehand. I say “provisional successes,” partly because not all the bishops were here, as you well know. They are provisional also because of the fragility of many relationships, despite their having grown during our time together. They are provisional, because they have yet to be field-tested among the whole of the baptized. Even so, the bishops are mostly trying to find ways to walk toward one another, and that gives hope for sustaining the unity in baptism that is already ours, through Christ Jesus.

Another reason for the provisional successes lies in Archbishop Rowan’s spiritual leadership. Framing the Conference in prayerful listening by beginning with a retreat set the tone, and he was responsible for the content of the retreat, its shape, and the tone thereby set. It modeled the discipline of careful listening at the heart of all we have tried to accomplish. Archbishop Rowan has taken, and continues to take, many hits for his manner of leading in the Anglican Communion over these past years. Well, leaders have feet of clay, and hammers for smashing those feet are readily available. He has absolutely been in his element at Lambeth, and he shaped the Conference according to his own deeply held spiritual sensibilities.

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