Blogging bishops, July 29

Bishops continue to report their reactions to the Windsor Continuation Group report and the Covenant process. Every blogging bishop, from whatever point of view on other issues, seems to have been inspired by Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of England. Today the bishops were deeply moved by the presentations on gender violence. The bishops’ wives requested a session on this subject for the 1998 Lambeth Conference and it finally appeared on the schedule in 2008. Videos of the news conference with the presenters can be found here.

+Porter Taylor, Western North Carolina, TEC, was inspired, as were many bishops, by Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi for England. For one news report on Sacks click here and read his entire speech, which ended with the the bishops giving him a standing ovation, here.

He called on humanity to renew our Covenant of Fate, [which are bonds that arise from a common condition – which he links to Noah], because if we do not, we will die separately. This covenant enables us to “make space for one another and for God.” More poignantly, he called on us as Anglicans to be an example of communion to the world. He said the hardest thing in this time is holding a faith community together and yet we have done this with a world wide Communion for 500 years with grace. He called for us to be an example to a world of growing divisions.

He ended by talking about the Middle East. He said that the way to reconciliation there was through “our shared tears.” It’s only when Arab and Israeli; Muslim and Jew look at the loss of lives together that peace will come. Specifically, he mentioned a group of Muslim and Jewish parents who have all lost children in the conflict. They go and advocate for peace so that no more parents will have to weep as they have.

+Nick Baines, Croydon, Cof E, blogging for Fulcrum, was also inspired by Sir Jonathan Sacks:

I found this lecture extremely powerful and suggestive of a way forward. The world needs not a fragmented church, but one which recognises the urgency of our times and the need to be bound by a common fate that is bigger than the particular predilections of our internal strife.

+David Rossdale, CofE, also blogs on Sir Jonathan Sacks’ lecture as well as the Covenant hearings. He remarks that the session was held in the “sauna” of the big blue tent. He reports on the bishops’ speeches on the WCG report:

The second offering came from the Eugene Sutton, the Bishop of Maryland. He reminded us that his forbears had been taken into slavery and shipped to America to suffer dreadfully by people with the Bible under their arms. He cautioned us to remember that you can use the Bible to oppress. Good stuff from a self-professed evangical who assured us that he sits under the authority of scripture.

+Pierre Whalon, Churches in Eurpoe, TEC, did take a little time off from the intense meetings to meet up with friends:

The best part of yesterday was going with friends I’ve made over the years and our wives to Whitstable, a little port near Canterbury that is famous for its oysters. As you know, I am French as well as American (I am in the UK with my French ID card), and British food does not stand up, as a rule, to our cuisine. Last night, it did. We had a lovely meal of seafood, served nicely as we looked out at the sun setting on the Channel.

+Christopher Epting, Ecumenical Officer, TEC, reflects on the various reports from the Windsor Continuation Group:

The suggested ”Pastoral Forum” is more problematic. It’s to be chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury and serve as an advisory group to the various Provinces when there are internal disputes and difficulties which affect the whole Communion. Such schemes have been tried (or at least floated) in recent years and have always failed. I’m not sure why this one will have any greater chance of success.

I believe we should ask everyone to do the best they can to honor the spirit of the Windsor Report while the Covenant process continues and ‘cut each other some slack’ until that time. All of us are working hard to maintain Communion while responding faithfully and fairly to our local contexts. That’s what Anglicanism is supposed to do and be, it seems to me.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to have this a “non-legislative” Conference was a very wise one. If we were “voting” on such matters this week, we would leave here as divided and wounded as we were in 1998. As it is, we will discuss all the ‘hard issues,’ give our input, and leave the matter for cooler heads to digest and deal with through the “Covenant Design Group” and the “Windsor Continuation Group.”

+Jack Iker, Fort Worth, TEC, is interviewed about his thoughts on the Windsor Continuation Group report here.

He is surprised that the WCG would offer up ideas that have already been rejected three times. He viewed it as old ideas dressed up in new language.

Rob O’Neill, Colorado, TEC, wonders about how Indaba is going and how it compares to the session in the hot tent on the Windsor process:

Although the process as it has been practically implemented here has been widely criticized, I am mindful of the question posed by the Archbishop of Canterbury during his first presidential address—that is, “how effective has the old process been?”

In spite of its flaws, I have found that in my “Indaba Group” we are indeed speaking our hearts and minds, we are listening, and in a process that may not travel easily across cultural differences, we are teasing out a more fulsome description of our life and our issues as a communion.

That process stands in stark contrast to the second hearing of the “Windsor Continuation Group” that was held yesterday afternoon. Picture a large plenary session in a sweltering hot room with few and time-limited opportunities (three minutes for each speaker to be exact) for a handful of bishops (approximately 20-25 according to my math) to find their way to a microphone and state their position in response to a paper entitled “Preliminary Observations Part Three” (a document that was officially released to the press this afternoon, is said to be provisional in nature, about which some are rushing to conclusions, and because of which levels of anxiety are inevitably rising both here and at home).

It’s not that there weren’t good and helpful contributions from those who spoke at the hearing, and as deeply challenging and offensive as I may have found some comments, it was still good and helpful to listen.

But as a bishop from another part of the world said only a few days ago, so long as we gather in the old ways “we shall only be doing difference as difference has always been done.” Instead, he continued, “we need to do difference differently.”

In the spirit of indaba, I am not rushing to conclusions.

+Robert Fitzpatrick, Hawai’i, TEC, podcasts on what gives him hope at the Lambeth Conference here.

+Larry Benfield, Arkansas, TEC, gives his report on the Covenant hearings and shares his closing statement to the group:

As you might imagine, comments varied not simply widely, but extremely. Perhaps the most disturbing one I heard was that there is only “one interpretation of scripture.” If that were indeed the case, preaching would have ceased over 1900 years ago; the reality is that every generation, indeed, every preacher has been called by God to interpret Holy Scripture in light of the concerns of the day. The most hopeful comment was from someone in the Episcopal Church who is committed to staying in the church in spite of disagreeing over the appropriateness of recent actions, and who wondered why the rest of the Communion couldn’t act similarly.

I ended up being the “clean up hitter,” the last person to speak. My comments were brief. I told the assembled people that my fear is that we are raising issues of church government, finding suitable candidates for ordination, and the pastoral response of the church to its members to the level of creedal authority. Doing so will eventually turn us into a confessing church, not a catholic one, and that is bad for the long term health of the Anglican Communion. If we have experienced anything through the stories shared at the Lambeth Conference this week, it has been that there is a need for a catholic Anglican expression of Christianity that has the power to be experienced in any village, community, or urban area in the world. Confessing churches cannot fill that role; a catholic church can.

+Wayne Smith, Missouri, TEC catches us up on today’s sessions on violence against women

…. we dealt in a joint plenary with spouses on a sensitive issue that leaves many without defenses, the issue of gender violence. Seating in the tent was divided in half, one side for women, one side for men, because the issue is not safe to talk about for everyone. Jenny Te Paa, principal of the theological school at St John’s College, in Aukland, New Zealand, introduced the topic, after which came a play depicting various encounters of women with Jesus in the gospels. Then the Conference Bible study convenor, Gerald West, from the School of Religion and Theology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, led a Bible study on 2 Samuel 13:1-22. It’s hard to imagine a Bible study with 1400 of one’s closest friends, but Dr. West, with the others on the Bible study team, managed to pull it off. Jim Naughton has a fine summary here.

Here is a place where the Lambeth Conference can exert real influence, both in our various cultures and in our Churches. I was very glad that we did the work, and the dynamic across the divide of the room, women’s side and men’s side, was instructive. At various moments it became obvious, from the level of applause and other noise, that there was a point which the women especially wanted us men to hear. It was both thrilling and humbling to be under that great blue canopy.

+Kirk Smith, Arizona, TEC, found the morning on abuse of women and children in the church thought provoking and a call to action:

Much cooler weather today, after thunderstorms last night, so everyone is in a much better mood. … this morning … both bishops and spouses met together to do a Bible study related to the abuse of women and children in the church. It was the story of the rape of Tamar in II Samuel. The men sat on one side of the tent, the women on the other, so we could discuss it safely. We began with a very moving play about Jesus’ healing of women, and then broke up into smaller groups to discuss the questions it raised. The interchanges were very intense. It was noticed that during the morning over 100 of the men left the venue, while not a single woman did. This exercised raised my consciousness on this topic and prompted me to think of more ways this topic could be covered in church, where it certainly goes on, but is almost never mentioned.

+David Walker, Dudley, CofE, also reports on the impact of the presentations on gender violence:

Today we threw over the usual timetable and spent the morning as spouses and bishops together studying the story of the rape of Tamar as a way into seeing what societies, including our own, do to the powerless. To make safe space for all we were divided into male and female on separate halves of the Big Blue. Riding Lights Theatre Company provided some fascinating drama on the same theme from the New Testament, showing us how women are accepted as long as they are infantilised, useful or invisible.

The story of how all the men around Tamar work to silence her voice was pretty salutary. Chaplains were available then and all afternoon to help people deal with the personal issues raised. This could have been trivial and corny but ultimately it was challenging and profound. I suspect the more paternalistic the home culture the more shocking the day was. And for many of us the read across to other minorities including LGBT who are invisible, allowed to participate only in as much as they prove particularly useful or blocked from seniority was pretty obvious. It will form part of the narrative we take forward.

Highlight of the day: the first cool breezes on campus for days

Lowlight of the day: the harrowing scenes of the aftermath of the winds and floods in Burma, shown as part of that province’s presentation of itself during Evensong.

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