Bishops blogging, July 31

Reports from bishops’ blogs today find them wondering if the tentative relationship building will hold up in the face of pressure from those who want an “answer” now. There were moments of tension and many of amazing grace.

+David Rossdale, Grimsby, CofE, finds it ironic that the call for product from Lambeth 2008 comes from those who say contemporary culture should not affect the church:

The conference ends in four days time and concern that there should be a ‘product’ from the Conference is mounting. I find it ironic that whilst such concern comes from across the spectrum of opinion here, it includes those who are convinced that the church must not be influenced by contemporary culture. Yet this idea that you cannot meet without a purpose and an outcome is totally driven by contemporary culture, influenced by an economy which only values an activity if it ‘feeds the bottom line’.

It is regrettable that over the years The Lambeth Conference has become associated with some kind of legislature for the Communion, with its resolutions being given the status of law….the question “do you subscribe Lambeth 1.10?” has at times taken on a McCarthyistic character. So an expectation has developed that on Sunday evening we will be coming down the mountain (well, hill actually) on which this campus is set, with tablets under our arms having solved questions about the use and interpretation of the Bible which have challenged the church throughout its history.

+Neff Powell, Southwest Virginia, TEC, and blogging for Episcopal Life Online, relates why the men and women sat separately in the session on gender violence. He also was frustrated and depressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s second address.

The men (bishops and spouses) were seated on one side of the room, women (bishops and spouses) sat on the other side of the room. When one of the spouses objected to this arrangement, the leader explained that there are spouses at the Lambeth Conference who do not feel physically safe to speak in front their spouses. That statement served to point out that abuse is not limited to “those other people.”

The archbishop delivered a second Presidential Address Tuesday after Evening Prayer. It seems to me that the archbishop came to Lambeth with the idea of the Covenant firmly in mind and he has not wavered. Listening to his address last night left me frustrated and depressed. I woke up profoundly annoyed. Speaking with several other bishops, two lay persons outside of the House of Bishops, and getting some time reflect and pray has calmed me.

+Carol Gallagher, North Dakota, TEC, writing from stateside, reflects on covenants and gardening:

I am reminded that we tend, as an institutional Church, and as the Anglican communion, to take an engineer’s approach to the process of planting and growing. We measure and make specks and write. Then we talk and argue and go over things again and worry furiously, not wanting to have to make mistakes and yank things up. All the while, nothing has been planted, nothing has the chance to grow. No one gets too messy either, in good Anglican fashion. Well, except for those people and missions who are set aside waiting for a resolution – a plan. And those set aside can whither and die, while we chat each other up and express ourselves endlessly. I would like to argue for an artist’s approach, knowing that our great Creator, fashioned us in a process of getting in the dirt, breathing on the wind and moving ribs and other things around. God got busy with the tools and used the available gifts in creation. I would like us, for a change, to get out there and get dirty, to get elbow deep and realize we might fail, and might have to do some replanting, reworking, re -hydrating in order to be a community acting for the love of Christ. The older I get the more I know that there is no one blue print for us all but that we each, as people, families, communities, dioceses, provinces and churches must work out our call through digging in, getting dirty and letting God bring the increase. We are called to marvel and enjoy the artistry, complexity and diversity of God’s kingdom.

+Alan Wilson, Buckingham, CofE, on what might come out of Lambeth 2008:

Some people, understandably, look to Lambeth for a magic blueprint. I don’t see this happening:

There’s a process for Covenant and another for Windsor follow-up. Both are out for consultation. If Lambeth gazumps those processes, we really will be in a fix. We need to stick to the paths to which we’ve committed.

Lambeth 1:10, much discussed is not gong to be revisited because it does represent something cebtral to where the vast majority of Anglicans in the world actually are. Some will like this and some won’t but that’s the fact.

If we produce a toolbox for people to rebuild communion, the law of unintended consequences means it will be used in various ways. Nice Bishops will use the tools to fix the shed. Some touchline lobby groups will use the hammer to smash the windows, and go round poking their enemies in the eye with the screwdriver. These people have already worked merry hell in the communion, by strring up contention, sowing mistrust, and whipping people into their own foreign powergames. Best develop toolboxes slowly and deliberately, not here over the next day or so.

+Tim Stevens, Leicester,CofE, on how the process is working:

Today at Lambeth we have begun to see at first hand how this conference design might offer the church a way of coming to a mind about complex subjects without using a synodical process of resolutions and majority votes. It still remains to be seen how well it can work, but over the next 3 days we shall be working hard to see if we can agree a text which speaks for all of us and does justice to the wide variety of experiences which such a diverse global conference is bound to produce.

+Paul Colton, Cork, Church of Ireland, prays that no one will “collapse the scrum:”

As I have said elsewhere, for me, it has been simply and successfully a gathering and place of encounter: meeting and engaging with other bishops from other parts of the Anglican Communion and addressing the issues in respectful, mutual dialogue. I couldn’t have asked for more: it is the sort of Lambeth I have prayed for.

This process hasn’t suited everyone, particularly those who feel they need swift resolutions to a crisis. If I have one main worry at this stage it is that someone will try to collapse the scrum – to stop the play and disrupt the process by demanding a new process or a U-turn in our current process at this eleventh hour.

+Sean Rowe, Northwest Pennsylvania, TEC speaks on what it means to him and his diocese to attend the Lambeth Conference here.

+Alan Wilson, Buckingham, CofE, relates conversation between a Sudanese bishop and Ruth Gledhill, of The Times, reflecting the desire to remain in the Anglican Communion:

“What are you planning to do now?” I asked the good bishop, meaning what cunning strategy did they have devised to make things go their way at Lambeth.

He looked at me thoughtfully.

“Now, we are planning to get on a train and go to London and go shopping with our eyes.”

I was not to be deterred.

“How has the Archbishop of Canterbury done here? What do you think of him?”

His eyes lit up.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury is like a saint. We are so impressed. We have never known anyone quite like him. He has had all these important people here, the Coptic archbishop, the Orthodox, the Chief Rabbi, all these Cardinals. Every time he puts them on the podium and lifts them up above himself. It is as if he is saying, listen to these people before you listen to me. Oh he is such a leader. He is a true Christian. He is so humble. His witness has been so powerful. That is the message we are taking back to Sudan.”

+Mary Gray-Reeves, El Camino Real, California, on being a bishop at Lambeth who is a woman:

While difficult to be an American, female bishop in this context, the good far outweighs the challenging here. I have a much greater understanding of those who are angry with us, and experience with them, mutual patience and respect. We have worshipped, prayed, cried, argued, agreed and learned together. At least in my crowd (and one not of my choosing) here at Lambeth, communion is more important than moral certitude. Moreover, I am beyond grateful for our diocese and our country, for the rights we enjoy and expect, and how much we have to share with others in the world. My contextual understanding and compassion has deepened enormously for those who do not enjoy a fraction of what we do. There is so much need for so many things in the world, and I believe that strange Grace shall find a way to bring our common mission of reaching the poor and marginalized in Jesus’ name, including the whole creation, back to the forefront of our life together. May we in El Camino Real continue to prepare our hearts for the work God is going to ask of us; may we watch for Grace, anticipating its presence, as it comes steadily over time, or in large bursts of justice and love

+John Howe, Central Florida, TEC,

I have just come from a specially scheduled session billed as a time to think concretely about “moving forward.” It was clear there is absolutely no consensus as to how we are to do that – or even what it means.

However, I think a few things can be said at this point. At least, these are my impressions.

First, positions taken ten years ago have not significantly changed. The great majority of the Bishops here would still agree with Lambeth 1:10, and indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury was very clear in repeatedly saying, “We are not here to revisit Lambeth 1:10; it is the position of the Communion.” At the same time, there is a strong minority position, held not only in the US and Canada, but by some in nearly every part of the Communion, that believes it is a justice matter, a “gospel imperative” to work for the “full inclusion” of all people, particularly “LGBTs”.

But secondly, the atmosphere in which those differences are held is vastly different than it was a decade ago. Today, in some of the Indaba groups there was a real willingness to listen to and appreciate the convictions of those holding opposite views on issues of human sexuality. (This, I think, was true of those who worked together in the sub-section on Sexuality last time; but it certainly was anything but true of the Conference as a whole.)

Thirdly, there is no question that those who are here care deeply, even passionately, about the Anglican Communion. They want it to continue, to be healed and robust, and they want to be part of it.


Most of the GAFCON folks have stayed away. My sense is that most of them – not all, thank God – have given up on the Communion, and they are working toward a “new ecclesial structure.” But those who are here do not see that as a Communion solution; it will be another basically protestant denomination (or denominations) with quasi-catholic ceremonial.

+Greg Rickel, Olympia, Washington, TEC, relates an incident from the Conversations with Gene Robinson:

…. went to the last of the conversations with Bishop Gene Robinson. What I witnessed there was amazing. This was the kind of discussion I wish we were seeing everywhere here. One bishop from a part of the world where this is a very difficult thing to abide, stood and said to Bishop Robinson, “I came here tonight to listen, to hear more, to know more. The reality is that this is just too difficult for our people to take right now, but in meeting you tonight, I wish to tell you that, my brother, I do love you. I will pray for you, and I hope you will pray for me.” This was the kind of dialogue the group sponsoring was hoping for.

+David Walker, Dudley, CofE, on the new labyrinth at Canterbury and hope that the Indaba discussions will carry over as each bishop returns home:

Today Anglicans circled prayerfully and slowly around, worked hard at not stepping on each others toes, and eventually all ended up in the centre admiring Canterbury. Yes, it was the official opening of the new University Labyrinth on the slope behind Eliot College and with wonderful views over both city and cathedral. I’m not sure whether the Conference simply coincided serendipitously with the labyrinth’s creation or not, but it made a fine late addition to the programme and afforded yet another way of holding all we are doing before God.

Our indaba group on sexuality was every bit as moving as I had hoped for. Emotionally I think the Conference has gone a long way towards endorsing what I would call responsible, accountable, contextual diversity. The tricky bit may be trying to capture that in a text that will survive the flights home, the determined shredders of the blogosphere and the efforts of some of our absent friends.

+Stehen Lane, Maine, TEC relates an explosion of frustration in his Indaba group:

Like most explosions , however, this one was unfocused and it soon spread into chastising the Episcopal Church for creating all the disagreement in the Anglican Communion and keeping it going. The Episcopal Church was repeatedly charged with not responding to the Windsor process. The actions of our General Convention 2006 in responding to Windsor are not well known and are often received as new information.

The Episcopal bishops in my Indaba received this critique in respectful silence, without defensiveness, and responses actually came from other churches. The gist of the responses was that all of us are shaped in our ministries by the people and culture of our communities. Each of us is struggling to be faithful as God has given us the light. So there were voices of support, but it was a long session.

+Kirk Smith, Arizona, TEC, reports on an optional session on ideas for staying together, mostly a re-hash of old positions, but 2 bishops offered a new idea:

Two of our bishops (Reeves of Camino Reale and Rivera of Olympia) offered a great plan based on relationship rather than doctrine. They called for a “rule of life” in which we would meet more often, pray for each other, and enter into supportive missionary relationships. But both being women, their proposal did not get very far.

I liked the story they included, even though it failed to get the attention most of of the old men:

Joan Chittister, in speaking of the nature of a Rule of Life, tells the story of someone who visited a huge sheep station in South Australia. After driving the vast expanse of the ranch, the visitor asked the rancher, “I see you have herds of livestock all over your ranch, but you have no fences. How do you keep your sheep on the ranch? The rancher responded simply, “We have wells.”

The moral of the story–let’s concentrate on offering things that will draw people to church, instead of putting up barriers to keep us apart.

Thank God for women in the church! The women bishops and the spouses who are here understand the importance of relationship, while the men argue about words and doctrine.

But here is the good news: Everyone wants to stay together. We have a much better understanding of each others cultural contexts and there is a real affection for one another. But we seem tonight to be at a kind of an impasse as to how to create a structure that will enable us to do just that.

+George Packard, Bishop for Chaplaincies, TEC reports on a breakthrough in his Indaba group:

Then Bishop Michael of Sudan continued as he said that his church was only getting used to thinking about homosexuals now with that he composed a prayer right on the spot emphasizing his point. After the entreaty to “Our dear Lord” it was as sensitive a summary of their uncertain lives in his land that I had ever heard. We were silent. (I wonder if this Lambeth is about where had (sic) hoped the 1998 meeting would have been in the appreciation of basic gay lives and rights.)

The bishop went on to say that we had to give he and his people some time; elevating gay persons into leadership positions of authority was confusing to him and his congregations. “Can’t a baptized person get into heaven without you making him a bishop for awhile?” He had us there. As he was speaking I wasn’t sure if the nods were in sympathy or agreement. It seemed like both and it came about as there was an acceptance of North American remorse.

The atmosphere in the room had changed. Said our facilitator, “We seem to arrived at a special level of trust.” And that seemed to hold true for the heretofore stilted conversations about the Covenant too, that code of conduct we have all been dreading. Now, there was a growing consensus around the things which make us an affirmed, communion of churches in search of a grace-filled process which would come to the rescue when we get out of sorts with each other.

+Pierre Whalon, Churches in Europe, TEC, asks the question that is on everyone’s heart and mind:

In a meeting convened today to discuss constructive solutions, I retain three comments: “Is homosexual practice adiaphora?” “The Communion is dead! Pull the plug!” And “the real Communion is just being born.”

Resurrected, maybe?

One thing is sure: the Bible study and Ndaba hasve brought us together, much closer than I would ever have thought. Our hearts are in the right place—now what about our heads?

Stayed tuned.

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