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.