By Peter M. Carey
It should be of no surprise to anyone who reads the Episcopal Café that this summer is the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops in Canterbury, England for the Lambeth Conference. Much has been written about this conference this year, and the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are surely picking up more than our share of headlines. I have been thinking about this gathering of bishops and their spouses and thinking about both the turmoil and the possibility that exist for the Anglican Church at this moment in our history.
I was reading last month in Ed Friedman’s posthumously published book, A Failure of Nerve, that one sign of overly reactive and anxious organizations is that there is a lack of playfulness. Is the Anglican Communion displaying the tell-tale signs of an overly reactive and anxious organization? Is there playfulness and humor at each level of the body of our church? I hope there is more playfulness than I am sensing in what I read and see.
While I know that the lack of playfulness and humor is the result of the reactivity and anxiety, I wonder if play and humor may also be a solution. I wonder if play and humor might help heal some of the wounds in the body of our church.
I have noticed that there is time set at Lambeth each day for Bible Study, in which, I imagine, bishops will meet with their counterparts from around the globe, to pray, to reflect, to study, and to build fellowship. In addition, I imagine there will be worship, and there will be time to eat and drink together. There will be meetings, and speeches, and press conferences. All these items are to be expected. I have also read that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is asking bishops to join him on a walk through the streets of London to highlight the issues of poverty and hunger. There will also be some discussion groups made up of bishops from different perspectives which sound very interesting. I give the plan for the conference high marks, but if I could time-travel back a few years and bribe the right people I would get on the planning team and propose something else.
You see, I’ve been spending my summer watching my three children in the city of Manhattan while my spouse is working on coursework for a master’s degree. I have spent countless hours in Central Park, in Riverside Park, and also on the streets of this great city. After spending the day watching the playfulness of children (and adults) in the parks, I spend time in the evening reading about GAFCON and Lambeth, and Covenants, and “emissions.”
What I would propose, if I were to time-travel back several years and get on the Lambeth planning team, would be to plan some playtime. And, I don’t mean drinking cocktails or tea or coffee. I would get the bishops together, count off in teams to get some good diversity on each squad and play what we Americans call “soccer ” (football, in most of the world). At first, the “games” would be to play “possession” in which there are no goals other than just trying to keep possession of the ball, what we might know as “keep away.” I would pay a fortune to see our bishops running and playing and sweating and laughing and learning how to work with one another. After a few days of “possession,” we would turn to games with two goals, and we would keep score. I am not one of these people who think it dehumanizes people to play something competitively, and I imagine that the egos on the field would want to keep score anyway.
So, you say, we are dealing with “serious business,” this business of the church, and we are dealing with deadly serious issues, and we should have greater formality, and the bishops’ time is too valuable for such things. These are childish things, and adults don’t “do” such things. And, if fun is to be had, it should be had over a glass of sherry and not over a soccer ball. Maybe yes. Maybe no. In my thinking, it’s worth a shot; doing the same old things will most likely get us the same old stuff. Who knows, maybe injecting some playfulness into the scene might just help to transform this church body by getting the bodies moving together, having some fun.
It’s not too late to smuggle a soccer ball and some short shorts into your bishop’s suitcase!
The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine’s School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. His theological assumptions are challenged and strengthened while leading services for over 800 young people each week and at home with his three children under 5 years old. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.