Sunday, August 3, 2008

Nautical Retrospect

Yesterday, reunited as a family, we headed out in our boat. The sea was a little lumpy and the North Atlantic wind was fresh from the south west. So we headed into it, passing the Colonel's Rock out of Castlehaven and bearing towards Horse Island and Black Rock. The sea splashed over us: liberating after the intense heat of the southeast of England that had me (and many others) fanning myself every minute, or so it seemed. Away from the sauna-like heat of the Lambeth Big Top I can again breathe freely.

We caught our bait in the lea of Skiddy Island and put down two lobster pots. We then let the wind and waves carry us north east, gently drifting and riding the waves. The others fished: I kept an eye out for the rocks and relaxed at the stern of the boat.

As the waves grew bigger I recalled my bible study group and our reflection on the account of the disciples out in the boat, and of Jesus coming to them as the sea got rough. There and then with seagulls squawcking overhead (attracted by the gutting of fish) I prayed for Trevor, Nick, Bud, Rod, John, Geoff, Brian and Iain.

And the memories of recent weeks flowed: the retreat, the first Presidential Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his undiminished stamina throughout. I thought of the Bishop of Vanuata whose Diocese embraces 83 islands and whose people, among them, speak 108 languages. The Melanesian Gospel procession with the Gospel book in the boat is still vividly before me. 'The only way we can bring the Gospel is in our boat' one of the brothers said to me. How very biblical is that? I prayed for bishops whose situation is challenging beyond our imagination: in Darfur, Zimbabwe and in Myanmar, for instance. I am grateful for my new contact with a Bishop from the Sudan and for the part I played in helping him through his first visit to the U.K., his first encounter with lobbyists and still can visualise his and his wife's response to their first glimpse of London. I thank God for the incisive perspective of our ecumenical partners, and for the generosity of fellow Anglicans (not least to Carlos and Ana from Madrid for their gift of my fan).

I was pleased, as a guest of some bishops from The Episcopal Church, to have the opportunity to meet Bishop Gene Robinson and was startled by how theologically conservative and evangelical he is! I was humbled by the fact that he was introduced to us by the people of his own Diocese by way of DVD. To them he is clearly and simply 'the bishop' not, as he has become known everywhere else 'the gay bishop'. The esteem they have for his episcopal ministry is humbling.

What was challenging and humbling also was the prospect of each of the rest of us as bishops having to bring a DVD introduction and commendation from the people of our Diocese as a mandate for our being at Lambeth. What would the people of Cork, Cloyne and Ross say?

I looked along the coast to the West and was reminded that I have to make contact with a West Cork resident Rabbi Dame Julia Neuberger who will soon arrive, and who suggested we renew contact; and I thank God for Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, whose lecture provided one of the most exhilarating moments in my Lambeth experience.

Now I am refreshed by the anticipation of a rest. I will go on holiday in a week's time. These past three weeks have been no picnic: physically, mentally and spiritually demanding and relentlessly exhausting. The schedule was punishing (impractical even, if you tried to be diligent as most did). There was an all pervasive underlying anxiety - a bit like walking on the skin of cooling custard the whole time - about how things would unfold and what might happen next.

Out on the sea yesterday, exposed to and invigorated by the wind and spray, conscious of the nakedness of, and our vulnerability to, the natural elements, I am, above all else, hugely thankful for the openess and honesty of the Lambeth encounter. We gathered to meet, to encounter and to dialogue. This we did; and in doing so I believe we began to rebuild trust - a rebuilding only made possible because we did meet, face to face for dialogue, seeing in each other the image of God, and side by side, in bible study, prayer, worship and at the Lord's Table.

Coincidentally, in recent days, the Chaplain at the University of Kent opened their newly constructed labyrinth. The way forward for Anglicanism may still be uncertain. There are still the circles and twists of the labyrinth pilgrimage but we journey towards the centre - with God towards God. It is this centre that the Archbishop of Canterbury has urged all of us, of whatever perspective or polarity, to cling, and in clinging to that centre to be generous to each other.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Happy Families

I arrived home during the night: 812 km, 2 petrol stops, 3 lots of services, 1 Travelodge, 1 three and a half hour ferry journey, 1 bag of mint imperials, 2 large americanos (each with an extra shot) .... you get the picture ... later.

My time had come to leave: over three weeks away from home and a packed conference schedule of unrelenting activity. I am glad I saved my days off to the end and that I left the party while it was still going strong. The welcome home from my sons was out of this world: we have never been apart for such a long period, and I did not find it easy.

On my way home I came to the village of Leap (pronounced 'Lep' - almost 'Lip', but not quite). Glancing down I saw that it is precisely 500 miles (800 Km) from Canterbury to Leap. Leap is part of the ancient ecclesiastical and civil parish of Kilmacabea. (More important, my mother in law comes from there!). It and Canterbury are worlds apart - in one sense. In another they are close, for tradition tells us that Saint Patrick travelled as far as a rocky promontory a little to the east of here and, looking westwards over the parish of Kilmacabea towards Cape Clear (the island birthplace of St Ciarán) , decided to go no further as 'Saint Ciarán has already been here.' While Christianity was already here long before Augustine arrived in Canterbury both places go back a long way in a shared pilgrimage of faith.

And this prompts me to ask, what will the Lambeth Conference 2008, nearing its closing formalities and ceremonies in Canterbury, mean in Leap, Co. Cork and in thousands of parishes like it all over the world?

Let me answer that by saying that I enjoyed most the fellowship and friendship in our indaba groups and, most especially, in our Bible study group. The other day we were busy handing out our business cards so that we may keep in touch with each other and pray for one another. Cards were flying in all directions, prompting me to quip that I had so many cards from different provinces that when I got home I would have enough for a game of happy families!

My overarching sense, therefore, of this, my first experience of a Lambeth Conference, is of a family, an ecclesial family, part of the family of Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ, covenanted already to one another by our baptism. Yes, this, like all families, is not always a happy one, not least when particular challenges are faced or disagreements arise, however, in the last three weeks I have heard no one saying that we are not part of the same family.

If in coming years (and it will not be achieved by tomorrow's close of Lambeth 2008 - in fact, if there is pressure to reach solutions by tomorrow that would amount to collapsing the scum - see below) we can find a way of continuing our pilgrimage together while accommodating the difference and diversity in our midst we will, under God, have manifested what is surely the attraction and genius of the Anglican way.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Collapsing the Scrum

Our Lambeth journey continues and we are only a few days away from its conclusion. 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.

As is so often the case with people, so it is, I believe, with Anglicanism: our greatest strength, paradoxically, may also, at times, be our weakness. So it is with our diversity and inclusiveness, but these are worth clinging to. And all this will take time and many more weeks of listening into the future.

Pray that no one will try to collapse or pull down the scrum!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

As others see us

Yesterday evening I was a guest of a member at a dinner of The Nikaean Club held in honour of the ecumenical participants at the Lambeth Conference. The after dinner speaker was Cardinal Walter Kasper.

I had never been to the Nikaean Club before and knew little about it. Now I know a good deal more. It was set up by Archbishop Randall Davidson in 1925 to commemorate the sixteenth centenary of the First Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church held in Nicea in 325.

It exists 'to further relations with non Anglican Christian churches, to assist students from such churches and to offer hospitality on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury to representatives of such churches.'

Along with the many members who were there last night were the great number of ecumenical guests attending the Lambeth Conference as well as representatives of those churches with which we are in Communion.

Being there last evening prompted me to highlight for you my experience of the wonderful contribution non-Anglicans are making to our gathering, our work and our reflection. In my Bible Study Group we have a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (who is currently President of Princeton Theological Seminary) and, together with him, in our larger Indaba Group we have a Swedish Bishop, a Moravian Bishop and a representative of the Lutheran World Federation. Each of them has been a blessing and, frequently, at just the right moment, one of them has had the right word for we Anglicans.

Thank God for them: they help us to see ourselves as others see us.

Pick 'n Mix Resolution

I said I would return to mention the exhilarating address by the Chief Rabbi. However, meanwhile it has been widely reported elsewhere. There were so many gems in it. He spoke about how, on the one hand, contracts are agreements with mutual benefits, covenants, on the other, are about respecting the intergrity and dignity of the other. Covenants are about relationships: coming together to share interests and lives. He said:

'Contracts benefit; covenants transform"

Yesterday I went to an optional session called 'African Voices'. We heard the voice and stories of LGBT Africans from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Their message was simple: 'We are here!' While the event was reasonably well attended I counted only 7 bishops there (including two Irish and one Welsh).

So much for the listening that the resolution of Lambeth 1998 (1.10) enjoined on bishops! It seems it is indeed possible to pick 'n mix which parts of that resolution you prefer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dining Hall Security Alert

Yesterday was an exhausting day which started peculiarly but was enlivened by moments of grace.

The peculiar start was arriving for breakfast at Eliott College to find a small crowd gathered outside. There was a security alert. Some time later the police emerged with a black suitcase with a piece of string hanging out of it - not someone's laundry but, I was told, a case of books for a book launch. That's one way of promoting your book!

More important, while I was waiting outside I met David Mac Iyalla who had bundles of the daily newsletters for InclusiveChurch. Davis is a Christian, an Anglican, from Nigeria and is gay. (Strange - I have heard several African bishops and two archbishops say in recent days that there are no gay people in their countries). Davis is the leader of Changing Attitude Nigeria, a group that works for equality for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members of the Anglican Communion. I was glad to meet him and to have the opportunity to hear part of his story from him face to face (in contrast see my post of yesterday!). He fled Nigeria in 2006 having received death threats.There are some reports that he has also received death threats (which the British Police have established have come from outside the UK) since arriving at the Lambeth Conference. This week Davis' application for asylum in the United Kingdom has been granted.

As the day went on it was searing hot. The Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church in Spain came to my rescue. Just before my Indaba group he came up to me and said that Ana (his wife) had said to him that since the Church of Ireland had given his Church in Spain the apostolic succession that they wanted to give me a gift. 'It is a fan for gentlemen,' he said ' without flowers.' And so I am now the proud owner of a very clerical looking (and very effective fan). Roll on those over-heated churches in Cork, Cloyne and Ross who always turn up the boilers when the bishop is coming. I shall now arrived equipped with a liturgical fan!

In the afternoon I needed the fan for the hearing session organised by the Windsor Report Continuation Group. Nothing to report there: same old, same old.

And what an evening! The evening lecture was enthralling. It was the first time since arriving that I could say I was exhilarated. Our lecturer was the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. More about him later in the day. I've missed the morning Eucharist and need to get to the dining hall where I trust there will be no more book launches!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Not Here - but Here

One of the sadnesses of the Lambeth Conference 2008 is the absence of about 230 bishops. To be honest though, I could not say that I am specifically missing anyone: the conference campus is a busy heaving crossroads of cultures and it seems that most facets of Anglicanism are, in some way, represented.

Those who did not come ought, in my view, to have come. They should have come to make their point face to face and to engage in dialogue.

Instead, it appears some who are not here have devised other ways of being a ghostly presence, making pronouncements from afar or from elsewhere. Still others are finding ways to make their presence felt in other ways, albeit anonymously.

My own direct experience of this left me bemused. Several days after we arrived, the receptionist in Keynes College, where I am staying, knocked on the door of my room and delivered a package. Yes, it was for me; my name and diocese were on the envelope.

Inside was a book by the absent Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester (which is not far up the road) and a note on behalf of the publisher of the book to say that it was a gift to me from two bishops (unnamed) who felt unable to be present but who were praying for me on my pilgrimage.

I asked around and discovered that I was the only one in my bible study group, for example, who had received one. I was bemused. I still haven't found many others who also received them.

Nonetheless, in the spirit of the gift and in order actively to engage with the two absent bishops who are praying for me I emailed the publisher to say 'thank you' for the gift and asking him to reveal the names of the two bishops.

The response today was that he (the publisher) did not know either. He said

I am afraid that I have absolutely no idea. Chris Sugden mediated between them and us.
What is Canon Chris Sugden (executive director of Anglican Mainstream) doing mediating the distribution of books at Lambeth? I don't even know him!

Why do two non-attending bishops feel the need to send a book (by another non-attending bishop) to a bishop who is attending? Why did they do it anonymously? Surely it should be possible to engage face to face; we are a Church after all. I hardly think they lack courage or are afraid of me.

In fact, why didn't they just come to Lambeth, join in, and say to me what they seem to have wanted to say?