Archive for July, 2008

A Community of Celebration

July 30, 2008

In addition to the daily Bible studies, the daily Eucharist at 7:15 a.m. is a highlight of the Lambeth Conference for me. It is well attended and contains a brief “reflection” or homily on the Gospel we will be studying later in the Bible study groups.

There is a common outline of the Eucharist, following, I believe, the contemporary Church of England Common Praise and using rather familiar settings for the Kyrie, Sanctus, etc. But each day is different in that the Presider and other leaders are from the various Provinces of the Anglican Communion. And so we have Scripture read and prayers offered in the languages of Provinces from Canada to Brazil, from Japan to the Indian Ocean from Myanmar to Sudan. We say the Lord’s Prayer each day in the “pentecostal tongues” of our own languages, and it is beautiful. 

I think the attempt is to convey that, though we are no longer bound together by one Book of Common Prayer (if we ever were!),  there is a distinctive “Shape of the Liturgy” for Anglicans which is recognizable and comfortable even when “incarnated” in various culture and languages. For me, at least, this has worked pretty well. I still note a lack of women in worship leadership (so far, only one woman bishop — from Cuba — has “concelebrated” with her male diocesan) and only once has a deacon appeared at the Table. Surely we can do better than that!

It is encouraging to see how far renewal has spread in our worship around the globe. I serve as Bishop Visitor to the Community of Celebration (the old “Fisherfolk”) in Aliquippa, PA and I think they would be proud to see how the kind of blended and liturgically-sensitive mix of contemporary and traditional hymnody, guitars and drums and keyboard and flute and a small team of lead voices are so easily done these days.

Back in the 1960’s, at the Church of the Redeemer in Houston, I doubt that Graham and Betty Pulkingham and the others would ever have believed that this kind of praise could be “normative” worship at a Lambeth Conference of Bishops!

Praise the Lord!

Episcopally Led But Synodically Governed

July 29, 2008

As we begin the last week, as always, the Lambeth Conference is a mixed bag. The daily Bible studies and Eucharists are splendid, the “indaba” discussion groups less than successful. They are a “westernized version” of the African conversation model with way too much “process,” smaller group work and even newsprint! Some groups have rebelled a bit, but more of us are making the best of it with some minor alterations.

The “reflections” process will produce some kind of paper at the end of the Conference, but with the wide variety of topics and approaches, it’s hard to see how it will be anything but pretty bland and generic. Or, alternatively, sharp and hurtful to some. Not a good alternative.

The “Windsor Continuation Group” is the most problematic from my perspective. I could probably sign off on “the Covenant” (though we will not be asked to here) pretty much as is, with some simplification of the “process” steps in the Appendix, but the Windsor Continuation Group is tasked with managing things until the Covenant process is complete in several years time.

I have no real problem with the Communion-wide “Faith and Order Commission.” It is not intended (as the press had said) to be like the Vatican “Holy Office” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) with all kinds of powers to censure and discipline. It is simply the rolling together of the current International Anglican Doctrinal Commission and the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations (upon which I serve). 

I don’t think merging them is a great idea — there is more than enought theological and ecumenical work for both Commissions — but this has been a done deal for some time, partly because of the cost of both Commissions. We need some kind of clearing house to which to refer matters of doctrine and discipline for discussion. The fact that we have not had such a thing in the past is why The Episcopal Church did not do more “consultation” in matters theological dealing with issues of human sexuality years ago.

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.”

As always, any final decision will have to come through our separate Provincial structures (in our case, General Convention) for a vote by all the people of God, not just bishops and Primates! Thank God for a Communion which is “episcopally-led” but finally “synodically-governed!”

The Big Issues

July 26, 2008

A very interesting development in the dust-up with the Sudanese Archbishop calling for Gene Robinson’s resignation a couple of days ago. Rather than overreacting and making some public statement in response, many of us have engaged our Sudanese colleagues in Bible Study or indaba groups in conversation, and those of us who have companion diocese relations have sought out opposite numbers for deeper reflection.

Much misunderstanding has been cleared up, much deeper appreciation of one another’s contexts and perspectives. Do we now all agree? Nope. Is there a greater chance that we can learn to “give space” to one another and stay at the table for the sake of common mission and the common good? I think so. There’s still a week to go and lots can happen, but — at the halfway point — my sense is that the Lambeth Conference is unfolding just as planned. 

Those who want us to move along and address “the big issues” are surely deluded if they think our days this week talking about evangelism, social justice, and the environment were not really already addressing “the big issues” this church needs to be dealing with. 

The hundreds of signs we carried through the streets of London on Thursday dealing with poverty compared to the two signs I saw decrying homosexuality pretty accurately reflect the importance of the two issues…in God’s sight and ours.   

London Day II

July 24, 2008

(See my comment and others on yesterday’s post “London Day”)

The London Day

July 24, 2008

Well, the goal that “we all may be one” was certainly not advanced by The Archbishop of the Sudan, Daniel, holding a press conference to suggest the resignation of the Bishop of New Hampshire! Talk about “meddling” in another church’s affairs/polity!

No one is surprised at that perspective and all of us expected to hear it and talk about the matter here at the Lambeth Conference. But such a studied, planned (no doubt, orchestrated) “bomb” done publically at a press conference in clear violation of the spirit of this “conversation called Lambeth” was discouraging to many of us. The whole point of the design is that we listen to each other first. He refuses to “listen” to Gene Robinson while famously claiming that there are no homosexuals in the Sudan.

Overall, the Conference design is still “holding.” Bible studies are rich and full, though sometimes difficult themselves, the Indaba discussion groups have begun to find their stride, and the self select sessions are mostly well attended and helpful.

Today we do “the London day” with a march through the city and an emphasis on the MDG’s and fighting povery, a visit to Lambeth, and tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace! Anyone see some contradictions there? 

Some of the wives are particularly incensed at having to go on the “march against poverty” decked out in their finest (including hats) for the Queen. The English press will probably have a field day with that! Obviously, the idea is to get all this done on one trip into London to save time and expense of as second trip. But, I’m not sure the whole thing will “play.” Obviously, for me, the tea party at Buckingham palance is anachronistic and unnecessary to say the least!

Ah well, I’m just a voice from “the colonies…”

And, this too will pass!

Sunday At Lambeth

July 20, 2008

Well, this has been a roller coaster of a day, probably the first of many here at Lambeth 2008. A really moving Sunday morning Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral featured bishops in procession in totally random order with no real preference given to Primates or others, a wonderful Gospel procession with Melanesian brothers and sisters dancing the Gospel book placed in a model boat to be read by a young Black deacon, and an English choir actually pulling off the Mass setting in Latin to Congolese music with drums and rattles! Anglicanism at its best perhaps.

But the highlight was a masterful sermon by Bishop Duleep de Chickera of Colombo, Sri Lanka who daily faces down the barrel of a gun in persecution. He spoke of two over-riding issues — the need for the Church to confront issues of justice and peace in the wider world and the need for us to address the woundedness in our own Communion.

He said the first must be our priority but called for us to address the second by adopting the discipline of self examination and repentence (by heeding the Gospel imperative to be hard on ourselves and gentle with others — if we root up the unrighteous weeds in the field, none of us will survive, he said), by claiming the Anglican genius of unity in diversity, and by reclaiming or prophetic vision.

He concluded his sermon with a Buddhist chant, but one which offered the Archbishop and the Conference to the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Spontaneous applause broke out at the conclusion of his sermon. It was deeply moving and came from deep in his soul.

Then, we returned to the University of Kent and got a briefing on the week. Reality returned. Anyone who thinks that we are “avoiding the hard issues” by our format did not hear Rowan, Ian Earnest of the Indian Ocean, and especially Clive Handford, chair of the Windsor Continuation Committee. We will spend hours and days dealing with our Communion-dividing issues, giving input into the draft Anglican Covenant, and sharing honestly in our “indaba” discussion groups. It will be excruciatingly painful work.

The difference is, we will not try to resolve these issues with a vote, but by continuing the discussion and being but one more step in the process. We are in for years of arduous work both our preacher today and the Archbishop have admitted. 

The question is, do we have the will to engage the work…and the time left to complete it.

I pray that we do.   

Lambeth Retreat

July 20, 2008

I had rather hoped that our pre-Lambeth Conference retreat would be a “real retreat,” meaning three days of disciplined silence and time for prayer guided by meditations from the Archbishop. This was not to be as we were bussed daily from the University of Kent campus to Canterbury Cathedral and bussed back each evening.


Even the time for silence after Rowan Williams’ addresses was observed mostly in the breach as bishops from all over the world met in informal groups and buzzed about a variety of topics. Not a bad thing, all in all, but it forced those of us who really needed silence to find a stall in the Great Choir or in one of the chapels to be alone with our thoughts, our prayers, and our God.


It was a joy to spend real time, nearly twelve hours over the two days in Canterbury Cathedral itself which is a great and sacred space, light and airy despite its antiquity. And to feel more like a pilgrim than a tourist for a change.


The Archbishop was, of course, in his element as a teacher and retreat leader. He appeared relaxed and confident with clarity of expression a no little humor. In the first address he asked us to give thanks for times of healing we have experienced, to reflect on the faces of people over our lives who have revealed the image of Christ. And to think of times when we have been “convicted” and called to change.


He asked too for us to give thanks for the bishops who confirmed and ordained us and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit we received in those sacramental moments. He spoke of our own role as bishops presiding at the Eucharist and laying-on-of-hands as participating in bringing God’s future into the present and so preparing the way for the Kingdom.


In the second address Dr. Williams described the mission and ministry of a bishop as showing forth the Son of God as “the gathering Christ” in whom all things hold together – for that is the very mission of God. But he said that, because we have been made Christ’s own, bishops can be undependable allies in any “cause” because we have to take the larger view. I understand what he means and have some sympathy with that perspective, yet would want to raise the questions about Christ being made known in some of the “causes.” Bishops are not Jesus’ sole voice. He often speaks from the margins and edges. The question is one of discernment.


A very nice image was that unity is not merely an institutional one or finding consensus. It is a quality of life where each suffers with the other, where each death diminishes me. Surely we are experiencing that cruciform reality in the Anglican Communion today!

We were asked to reflect on when we have felt pressure as bishops to “belong” to something less than Christ. And to think of those whose suffering today diminishes us.


In the third address, the Archbishop pointed out that the apostles were “people on the road” and as such had to learn new languages in order to communicate. To speak God’s word in the language of the people. As apostles and bishops (and, I would say, as Christians!) we must listen with one ear to God and with the other to God’s people.

He singled out Paul as trying on the language of Greek philosophy in Acts. 17 (with limited success!). And in I Corinthians 9:19 and following knowing that who had taken hold of him yet belonging to everybody. Rowan concluded that session by quoting two unlikely sources seen together – American lawyer and social activist William Stringfellow and St. Ignatius of Antioch!


Stringfellow on the distinction between a “religious” person and a “biblical” person. A religious person knows all the rules and seeks to follow them. A biblical person is one caught in the spotlight of God’s attention, fearing God and yet having no fear.  Ignatius, on his way to martyrdom, said that sometimes the “silence” of bishops is pleasing to God.



The fourth address began with the citing of Luke 10 and the sending out of the seventy to underscore the fact that a disciple alone is no disciple, a Christian alone is no Christian, and a bishop alone is no bishop. He then moved on to explore perspectives from those who have gone before us – the desert fathers and mothers, the Benedictine way.


The desert fathers and mothers were scrupulous about themselves, not letting themselves get away with anything. But they were slow to condemn others. How do we measure up to that standard as bishops? And the Benedictines show us a community bound together in common prayer as well as common work. Rowan mused about what it might be like for small groups of bishops from around the world to share a common Rule of Life – praying the same prayer and psalms and scripture on the same day. What might that do for our Communion?


He concluded with the observation that fear is at the root of so many of our problems and suggested that the only thing to do with fear is to put it in the presence of God. And he invited us to seek out another bishop who “makes us nervous” and pray with him or her. To see what God might do in such a grace-filled moment. I’m not sure how many bishops actually were bold enough to respond to this challenge!


In the fifth and final address, delivered back under the “Big Top” at the University of Kent, Archbishop Williams said that the only way Christians can lead is by following – following the way of Jesus. Christian community is to remind and encourage one another that there is “a way,” that the final reality is not anxiety but hope. Concluding with Hebrews 2:9-15 and 12:1-2, he asked us to pray that Christ will guide us, by the way of the cross, to the Father…to resurrection and new life.


It is surely our prayer indeed. And these thoughts will provide “grist for the mill” during these next days.   




Prayer for Lambeth

July 18, 2008

I’m not planning to join the “blogging bishops” with daily accounts from the Lambeth Conference. I have too much work and too poor a wireless connection for that!

I do agree with some of my colleagues that we are off to a good start. The spirit is good and Rowan Williams is providing thoughtful and strong leadership. It is much “whiter” conference than in 1998 due to the absence of nearly 200 bishops mainly from Nigeria and Uganda. That is a great sadness and we include them in our prayers every day.

There is still much diversity however in the over 600 bishops who are here, and the Bible Study groups are, as usual, rich and deeply moving as we share stories of ministry and open the Word together. The two day retreat in Canterbury Cathedral was a great way to begin. It was nice to spend “quality time” there, free of tourists, to really pray and explore the space.

Many ecumenical guests here: of course our full communion partners like the Church of North and South India, the Old Catholics in Europe, the Philippine Independent Church, and the Lutherans. I am “host bishop” for Mark Hanson, the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA and President of the Lutheran World Federation. We will be joined by many others next week, including Cardinals Diaz and Kasper among others.

I am hopeful for this conference…and for the communion. We won’t solve all our problems here, but it can be a healing time…At least that is my prayer.

Racism and the Church

July 11, 2008

Recently I was privileged to be invited to be an ecumenical guest at the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in St. Louis, Missouri


The Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church share common histories that date back nearly to the founding of this country. It was less than ten years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence that Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and other African Americans walked out of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church having been segregated into an upstairs gallery of that church.


Three years later Black Christians organized the Free African Society, the first real African American society. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were elected overseers.   

In 1792 they began to build a church which was dedicated two years later. Soon after, some applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on the following conditions:


  1. that they be received as an organized body; 2. that they have control over their local affairs; 3. that Absalom Jones be licensed as a lay reader and, if qualified, be ordained as a minister. In October of that year, the church became St. Thomas African Episcopal Church and the Bishop of Pennsylvania ordained Jones as a deacon in 1795 and as our first Black priest on September 21, 1802.


Absalom Jones was an earnest and powerful preacher who denounced slavery and warned the oppressors to “clean their hands of slaves.” To him, God was the Father who always acted “on behalf of the oppressed and the distressed.” But it was his constant pastoral visiting and mild manner that made him beloved by his own flock and by the community.


We could have built on that rich beginning. But the legacy of slavery and racism in this country has affected – and infected – us in destructive ways. So much so that in 2006 our General Convention offered our church’s apology for its own involvement in and benefits from Slavery. It also called for a Service of Repentance to be held at the Washington National Cathedral as well as in Cathedrals in all dioceses.


2008 is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the international slave trade yet the effects of that heinous institution are still with us today. On October 4 at the Washington National Cathedral, our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will preside at a Service of Repentance for our complicity in that institution for so long.


Yet there are signs of hope. Just over a week ago The Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton knelt before that same Altar at the National Cathedral and was consecrated as the 14th bishop of one of our oldest dioceses, the Diocese of Maryland. He joins 18 other African American bishops and over 200 clergy in our predominantly white church. There was a deeply symbolic element to his election, Bishop Sutton said,


The church’s first Maryland bishop, Thomas John Claggett, was a slave owner. Sutton himself is a descendant of slaves! “The world is crying out for healing,” he wrote in his first message to his new flock in Maryland, “and wherever there is division and brokenness, we are called to build bridges.”


We have so far yet to go, dear friends. And yet our feet are set on the path. Let us pray that we can find new ways to make common cause toward that beloved community which is one the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God.