Blogging bishops, July 21

The Indaba groups began meeting Monday to explore their commonalities as Anglican bishops. Most, but not all, of the bishops who blog seem to feel positive about the experience of listening to one another although there are some who dominate their small groups – not a surprise to anyone who has been a part of any group discussion. Hope and honest sharing are the two themes from today.

+Pierre Whalon, Churches in Europe, writes:

Three things, dear Reader: first, nobody is pulling punches or playing nice, though the conversations are respectful, earnest, and free-flowing. Second, the fine biblical study materials, and the discussions that result, are rich loam from which a lot of fresh teaching and preaching will spring up, especially for me. The Lambeth bishops are working hard. Third, there is already emerging some tentative trial balloons for a new way forward.

+Wayne Smith, Missouri, discusses the topics and structure of the Indaba groups:

Our first assignments in two sessions today had to do with the ministry of bishops and Anglican identity. We have an “animateur” (a bishop) to facilitate every Indaba group, and we also have a “reporteur” (not a bishop) to record the discussions of the group. Both roles were handled adeptly, and they were both obviously well prepped for the work given them. The product our group arrived at on these two issues will then be collated with the reports of all the other groups, the point being to look for those places of agreement. Representatives writers from every group will then work together, with these reports before them, to prepare a draft statement, which will then go to the whole Conference. God willing, we will have a mind-of-the-Conference position at the end of the work.

+Kirk Smith, Arizona, updates the news on +Gene Robinson and his participation in the Provincial Meetings and discusses the breakout groups within the larger Indaba groups. Smith also reports on the evening program with Brian McLaren of the Emerging Church movement.

Two interesting things today: We had a meeting of the American Bishops in the Big Tent this afternoon and one of the topics was the status of Gene Robinson, who you know has not been invited. There is some misinformation I want to clear up: Gene was NOT excluded from the HOB meeting! He was invited to join us and accepted. The problem was that we are in conference facilities and since he has not been invited to the Conference, he was not given security clearance. Know that the American HOB is concerned about this and it is working on a way that Gene can be included. Stay tuned.

The second item is that we began those “indaba” groups I mentioned. They are intended to be intentional conversation groups modeled on a South African method of village meetings in which everyone gets a chance to speak and thus (hopefully) arrive at some consensus. Now,after our small morning Bible study group of 6 people we move into our Indaba groups. Each of these has about 30 people. During the course of those meetings we sometimes divide into smaller groups as well. The theory is good, although so far, my group has pretty much functioned like you would expect any small group to function, namely, most of the talking is done by a few people. But that may change as time goes on and we get more comfortable. The good news is that we got right into some heavy discussions about the nature of Anglican identity. The tone is respectful, although clearly there are some huge differences. At least we are talking…and listening!

Then tonight, in a plenary session, we heard Brian McLaren’s presentation on the dynamics of making disciples in a rapidly changing world. His point, not a new one but one which he convincingly presented, is that the ways of the modern world, to which the Church for five hundred years has accommodated (or over-accommodated) are losing their currency. He also suggested that in the three basic cultures in place in the current world–non-modern, modern, and whatever it is that you want to call the one after that–the Church has yet to find a voice. He pointedly challenged this Conference to work in finding one, saying that the Anglican way has within it distinct gifts to do so. The coexistence of the three cultures, he also said, has in it the makings of many of the conflicts in a world-wide communion like ours. A long evening well spent.

+Mark Lawrence, South Carolina, is suspending judgment of the process for now:

The format was unfolded and explained. I’m suspending judgment for now, though hardly entering into matters unaware of the grave concerns that lie before us. It is a day for vigilance, keenness of spirit, prayer, discernment, forthrightness and honest acknowledgement of the profound differences, fears and challenges we face in the Anglican Communion. I think of a scene from the Lord of the Rings where (I believe it’s) Stryker asks Frodo if he is afraid, and Frodo replies, “Yes.” Stryker then says, “Not nearly enough. I know what hunts you!”

+Alan Wilson, Buckingham, tells of the difficulty of understanding each other’s contexts and polities:

First indaba group today on the basis of a bible study group which has been wonderfully affirming, with a group who have become firm friends. It was pretty inevitably a basic acquantance with each other and the process. There is a basic level of information about our contexts without which we cannot meaningfully interact about big ecclesiological questions, far less make big decisions. Skating over this thin ice in 1998, they fell in, and some were vulnerable to being hijacked by lobby groups. For example, someone this morning in another group was baffled as to why the Bishop of London hasn’t simply fired Martin Dudley. He was just reading the way such a matter would be handled back home into a context of which he knew nothing. Listen to Bishop Alan here.

+John Howe is not as impressed with the process but “the day was not a complete loss” as he attended a dinner party with Archbishop Rowan Williams and wife, Jane.

My group had thirteen in it, seven of whom spoke. It was difficult to hear because there were three other conversations going on in the same room simultaneously. The statement itself wasn’t bad. If you care to read it you will find it here.

But the process was asinine. First of all, why combine five Bible Study groups, if you are then going to sub-divide them into four groups? Secondly, what is the point of this discussion of a document we are seeing for the first time? It seemed more appropriate to a junior high Confirmation Class than to a world-wide gathering of Anglican Bishops. And thirdly, why in the world were we having these conversations in the same room at the same time? (At a cost of approximately $8 million just for the Bishops’ part of the Conference!)

Well, things may improve. I remind myself of the Archbishop’s comment that, “A failure in leadership is a failure to hope in Christ.”

An hour long gathering of the American Bishops in mid-afternoon was equally disappointing. Presiding Bishop Schori (sic) called us together “just to check in with each other and share any concerns.” Fully two-thirds of our time was spent discussing Gene Robinson’s sadness – and the injustice! – over his not being allowed to be part even of this meeting of “his own House.”

(Conference organizers responded to objections that: “This is NOT a meeting of the House of Bishops; it is a gathering of American Bishops at a meeting of the Lambeth Conference, and only those invited to the Conference can be part of the gathering.”)

There was talk of possibly organizing another meeting of the American Bishops offsite somewhere so Gene can be part of it.

The day was not a complete loss! The Archbishop put on the first of three special dinners for the first third of our Conference attendees tonight, and I happened to draw an invitation to it. Quite lovely; he and Lady Jane are very gracious hosts.

+David Chillingworth, St. Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, believes the Bible study group is worth it all:

We’ve been experiencing what the Lambeth Conference Programme enticingly calls ‘Ordinary Day 1′ This is without prejudice to the fact that we arrived here last Tuesday and will not leave until Sunday week. Ordinary Day 1 has been long.

For me, even if nothing else happened here, it would be worth it for the Bible Study Group. As we get to know one another better, we edge closer to the difficult stuff. Given that we have another two weeks, I look forward with anticipation to where we may get to.

+Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, gives her insight into the meeting on a video at Episcopal Life Online.

+David Walker, the bishop writing for Thinking Anglicans, has more to say about the Indaba groups and his disappointment that his only free time would be filled with a Provincial meeting:

Indaba is not simply 40 people sitting in a circle and talking in plenary for two hours. Most of the time we have been working in smaller groups (of size 1,3,5,10 so far in mine) and then sharing the essence of the conversation with the wider group. The tricky issues are being flagged and discussed, but they are arising in a context and from a developing relationship of collegiality and charity rather than simply being hurled across a divide wrapped round large bricks.

And Dave Walker, the official cartoonist, reveals the The Secret Plan in his latest cartoon.

Finally, +Stephen Lane, Maine offers a video of the resources being used by the bishops. He offers an image of the conference from a bishop of Northern New Zealand, “When we sing together in harmon we have unity of purpose but each of us has his or her own voice.”

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