Passing the peace at Lambeth

By Luiz Coelho

As a steward for the Lambeth Conference, my days have been filled with all sorts of random activities. I have carried luggage for bishops and their spouses. I have riden a bicycle around campus carrying conference materials from building to building. I even led a workshop on art and prayer in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. The experience has been more than a day filled with work, however, including a “garden party” with the Queen of the United Kingdom (not that she spent much time with us) and the opportunity to meet in person so many men and women of God, which has given me much hope for the future, in spite of our current controversies and divisions.

However, I would say that the high moments for me were the worship services. They varied in range, scope and organization from happy clappy evening prayers at the “Big Top”, to an intimate Anglo-Catholic Mass organized by the stewards in the Cathedral’s crypt. It is impossible to forget the magnificent Sunday morning Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral (which had a procession of hundreds of bishops and officially opened the Conference), and the simple daily night prayers in the chapel with the chaplaincy team comprised of religious from around the Communion.

The second Sunday of the conference was the one which marked me the most, though. It was an ordinary Sunday Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral (if anything in that fantastic church can be considered ordinary). That day I had to wake up extremely early, since I was one of the people invited to read the Intercessions for the BBC-broadcasted service at St. Dunstan’s. Nevertheless, I decided to go to the cathedral Eucharist afterwards, as some other stewards did. We arrived very early, so we spent some time walking around that magnificent building, and then went back to our seats. Next to us was a man who looked familiar. He smiled to us and said “Good morning”. Something deep inside me told me I knew him. However, it was only after the service actually started that I realized who he was.

This man is one of the leading conservative media writers. His thoughts and writings represent, in fact, many of the offensive values that I oppose in the Church. I frequently use his news group as an example of what I understand to be an unchristian way of communicating (and please do not misunderstand me; I recognize that there are progressive media writers in our church who unfortunatley share his same unchristian rhetoric in their own communications, so I am not singling him out because he is on the far right.) Still, he was there, next to me – as vulnerable as he could be – taking part of the same liturgy I was.

Several thoughts crossed my mind. What would I do when it was time to give a sign of peace? Should I make myself known and tell him how much I abhor his style of communicating? Should I point out how evil I believe his news group is? Should I make a statement by refusing to be in communion with a person that has hurt me – and many of my brothers and sisters – several times, through his vitriolic style of writing?

But I knew that I could not make any of those choices, because none were faithful choices for a follower of the Prince of Peace. So, I decided to exchange the peace with him. After all, in spite of our disagreements on some issues and methods, I knew he was just one more child of God – made in His image and likeness; and, I realized that we did share some things in common, like the creeds and our common desire to love Jesus. Not sharing the peace with him would represent a dinigration of the Good News in Christ that I to proclaim: that the Church is for all, that all can repent and change their lives, that the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ preserves us in everlasting life, that we must seek Christ in every human being… So, I decided to do what I believe we are supposed to do if we are faithful to the Great Commandment. He smiled – totally unaware of who I was – and shook my hand.

I do not know if anything changed in his heart. I do not even know if he received communion, or just a blessing. Most likely he was not radically changed at all after that service, and many of you readers will keep “fighting the good fight” against his oppressive rhetoric in his writing. But maybe… maybe that moment changed him, even just a tiny bit. Even if it did not, it changed me; as for me, it changed everything.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.

This blessing has always been one of my favorite ones and is one of the reasons I am so fond of the Book of Common Prayer. Through my experience last Sunday the Holy Spirit once again offered me a glimpse of what that “peace which passes understanding” means. As we exchanged Christ’s mysterious gift of peace, I felt an immense relief in my heart, and a renewed sense of hope for our Church. I understood a bit of the essence of Jesus’ teaching to love and pray for those who persecute you. It is a liberating love, by which Christ empties us from all hatred and prejudice, and fills us with an everlasting peace. Amen.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines “Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view.”

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