Sunday, August 3, 2008

The final three days

We spent the final three days of the Lambeth Conference discussing some of the most difficult issues before us: homosexuality; the proposed Covenant; and the Windsor Report's call for moratoria on the Consecration of gay or lesbian partnered bishops; the Blessing of same-sex unions; and cross diocesan incursions.

We have had a reasonably good process for addressing these matters in our Indaba groups. Sometimes it was very difficult and painful to listen to each other on these subjects and this certainly placed a strain on our mutual relationships. But those relationships had been made stronger for spending these last two weeks together in fellowship, worship and Bible study.

We were each invited to share something about context within which we address the issue of homosexuality. Our Indaba group did a good job of listening as each bishop responded. Still, I must note my deep disappointment that we are talking about gay and lesbian people rather than listening to them. I believe that Bishop Robinson's exclusion from this Conference profoundly diminished this process.

We addressed challenging questions about the three moratoria. In the course of our discussion, our Bible study group agreed that it is not enough for the bishops and provinces to agree to observe moratoria. Just stopping certain activities is not enough. There is no life in that. We need to know "Why?" and "For how long?" The moratoria should be in the service of a larger project of coming to a shared understanding of the Scripture, of an exploration of theological anthropology and an articulation of sexual ethics. Only by clearing space for those wider discussions will the moratoria speak life rather than threaten death (to echo the Archbishop of Canterbury) to the Communion. We hope that the Conference final statement will spell this out.

We also did a line-by-line reading of the St. Andrew's Draft of the proposed Covenant. There is broad support for the Covenant, but lots of concern and outright opposition to the Appendix.

These are large and important issues that draw a lot of deep concern and plenty of passionate rhetoric. Yet, as you have read elsewhere, the spirit of our discussions has been good, undergirded by a commitment to remain a Communion.

The distillations of those discussions have been forwarded to the writing team that is at work on the "Reflections" statement that will be presented today (Sunday) as an account of this Lambeth Conference. In addition, the hearings, self-select classes and other discussion groups have continued.

Along the way we have seen what I consider to be a very strong and positive piece on "The Bible and the Bishop in Mission." I anticipate that this will be one of the most valuable sections in the "Reflections" statement.

I have no doubt that the "Blogosphere" will be white hot as soon as we hear the Archbishop of Canterbury's final Presidential Address and the ''Reflections" document is released. There will likely be strong reactions from all sides. Everyone will find something about which to complain. No one will agree with everything.

As we consider this Conference and whatever statement it may produce, I ask that we stop, look and listen. Before we react, could we please stop, breathe and pray?

Before we react, could we look not only at the document but at the larger processes at work here? Let us look at the history of the Lambeth Conference itself. The Conference has, over time, changed its position on certain issues. The 1908 Conference, for example, opposed the use of contraception. In 1958, the Conference endorsed the use of contraception.

I am told that this Conference is a very different one from that of 1998. According to some who were present, there were boos and hisses during debates in 1998. There has been nothing of the sort in our plenary meetings here.

Although the bishops' leadership is important, this Lambeth Conference does not have the final word on several important matters that we have addressed. The Covenant process, for example, stretches out for years and years. And the observance of moratoria would, in The Episcopal Church, require the action of General Convention. And bear in mind the character of the Anglican Communion: a Communion of Churches, joined together by bonds of affection, not a juridical or legislative body.

And listen. Please listen for the still, small voice that is often drowned out by the big voices of church and society. I think that we will hear more of the Holy Spirit speaking to us not by calculating the winners and losers of Lambeth 2008, but by asking the Lord to show us who we really have to love as a result of this Conference.

We will have time to discuss all of this in the Diocese of New Jersey. Bishop Romero and I will meet with the clergy at a special Clergy Day in September. We have also planned four Convocation gatherings this fall. And we have the privilege of hosting a day of "Lambeth Reflections" for our Province, to be held at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton on October 4th.

When Jane Williams addressed the Conference last week she made three points on behalf of the Spouses. The first point remains with me. "God has not made a mistake by bringing us together in this place." I believe that. I believe that Lambeth 2008 has served God's purpose for this Communion, in ways that we cannot yet see and in ways that we may never see.

But I do see God's hand in this story. Do you know what Archbishop Williams will do when all the bishops go home? He will lead a retreat for the 50+ mostly twentysomething year-old Stewards who have been working at this Conference for the past four weeks. What an extraordinary commitment and sacrifice for the good of the Church and the future of the Communion.

A special plenary last night featured four of the Stewards who spoke of the meaning of the Conference. Their words were faith-filled, joyous and hopeful; filled with love for our Lord and confidence in the future of the Communion. They were full of light and life and they lifted up the weary and weak-hearted. One of them, from South Africa, opened her remarks with a call and response: "Bright light. Bright future. Bright future. Bright light." May it be so, to the glory of God, to the blessing of God's people and to the praise of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Keep praying, please.

Faithfully yours in Christ,


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Our Bible Study Group

Click the image to see a larger photo.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Learning a bit about that word 'context'

We came. We saw. We bought the photographs. Now, let's complete a good statement and all go home, shall we?

I'm joking, of course. We enter the final three days of the Conference today. Our Bible studies and Indaba groups, self-select classes and other gatherings are going forward, all surrounded and upheld with corporate worship and in the strength of your prayers.

Today we will receive and review a fourth draft of the statement (it's not yet clear what it will be called) that will be sent out from the bishops at the conclusion of the Conference. The group that is doing the drafting of the statement is offering truly heroic service to the Conference. It is too soon to say how it will all come out, but I have respect for the process by means of which it is being prepared.

In our Indaba groups we continued our conversation of how each of us understands the issues of human sexuality in our own context. These very different and, at times, conflicting approaches have been shared in a profoundly respectful manner. We have suffered none of the fundamentalism of the right or of the left in our exchanges. We have shared a lot of pain, but we have been on holy ground.

I have been learning a bit about that word 'context.' I think I know a little about our context in the Diocese of New Jersey and in The Episcopal Church. But I have lived for almost three weeks in the worldwide context of the Anglican Communion, represented by these 650 bishops. This is the world of our Church and of its mission.

As an American, I need somehow to keep this larger context in my heart and in my thinking and acting for the sake of the mission of God, working through this Church.

I had a jolt of recognition of my own cultural captivity the other day. We have been provided with headsets for the purposes of listening to translations of the eight languages of the Conference. I have routinely left my headset in my room. I simply assume that most of what will be said on any given day will be in English. But, in one of our plenary sessions, I missed several speeches by bishops who spoke in their first language, not English.

I am struck by how that habit of thought may be seen as part of the problem: that we Americans think that the rest of the world is here to serve us; to speak our language; to do things our way; to conform to our norms and assumptions. I am afraid that this is the message that many in the Anglican Communion have also received from our Church.

I am told that we bishops of The Episcopal Church represent 22% of the bishops present at this Conference. I am glad and grateful that we are here and I hope and pray that our contributions have made a positive difference to this gathering. But our beloved Church is only two million out of the 70+ million member Communion. Can we speak softly and listen more carefully and act more respectfully than we are perceived to have acted in the past? Will we come away from Lambeth more deeply committed to that sturdy formula of "Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ"? I certainly hope so.

I am struggling with all of this, but I am also experiencing the tremendous depth of these bonds of affection that hold us together. This Conference makes me more respectful than ever of the tremendous gift of the Anglican Communion. It is the gift of our Lord. We need this gift as we need one another.

One of the voices of the Conference is the Most Rev. Winston Halapua, our Chaplain. He is from the Pacific. He thinks and prays and talks a lot about the oceans where he and his ancestors in Tonga have made their home for thousands of years. Over and over again, he points out that the oceans cannot be separated. The flow into and out of each other. They cannot separate from one another. They belong to one another on this one planet.

So do we.


Faithfully yours in Christ,


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Strain, stresses, and challenges

I appeal to you, again, for your prayers for the Lambeth Conference. As we enter the final days of this gathering there are considerable pressures from without and from within to produce a certain outcome. Many of the bishops have given voice to their frustration with our slowness to engage our differences over homosexuality and to come to a clear decision. I, and many others like me, are very concerned that what some seem to want — by way of a clear decision — will present a message to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters that they are no longer welcome in this Church. Still others (among them several bishops from India who have spoken in plenary) have made it known that their priorities lie elsewhere and that they are looking to the Conference to make clear the commitment of our worldwide fellowship to address the needs of the poor and the outcast.

Even with those tensions, however, I am impressed with the generally positive tone of these discussions and with the overall commitment of most everyone to find ways to maintain and expand respectful and life-giving connections that keep us in Communion with each other for the glory of God and for the sake of a suffering world.

In the midst of all of these strains and stresses and challenges, Archbishop Williams has charged us to find our center in the heart of God, in the eternal generosity that we see revealed in Jesus Christ. And we need to speak to each other from that center; speaking life to each other across our disagreements and differences, rather than threatening death. As someone said yesterday, in the course of a tense and difficult Indaba discussion, we need to turn our frustration into words of life.

Wednesday was another hot day in Canterbury. So many bishops in one place for so long; in often oppressively hot venues; now tired from over two weeks of program; with three days left to come to some agreement about what to say, together, about the most contentious issues in Christendom . . .  Is this "the perfect storm"? Or, is this the place where God can work through our weakness and make His glory known?

Our Bible study worked very well with the assigned passage, John 11:1-44, the story of the death of Lazarus and Jesus' raising him up and setting him free. We did a group exegesis and, as has been the case consistently over these weeks, the Word was so alive and exciting. I wish I could meet with these bishops every Saturday night for their help with my preparations for preaching on Sunday. We have developed deep bonds of affection and have reached across our disagreements to laugh and cry, to challenge and to encourage one another. I shall miss this fellowship more than anything else.

My Indaba group wrestled with the proposed agenda for yesterday's meeting and, rejecting the schedule that was suggested to us, chose, instead, to engage one another directly on the issues of human sexuality that divide us. I supported that move. It was exceedingly difficult to listen to some of what some bishops had to say. I chose to practice listening to the voices of those with whom I am in profound disagreement. As is always the case, I think better when I am with those with whom I disagree.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, plenary sessions are scheduled for "Conference Reflections." All of us are gathered in one venue and there are two microphones open for any of the bishops to speak for up to three minutes on the successive drafts of a statement to come out from this Conference. The wide spectrum of views are heard and noted by the group (themselves selected from the broad diversity of the Communion, including Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta and Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island) who are at work to craft that statement. Next to the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, perhaps these bishops stand most in need of our prayers.

Yesterday I also had the privilege of attending a lecture by N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham and renowned biblical scholar. He spoke on the topic, "The Bible and Tomorrow's World." It was a stimulating and challenging presentation that called the bishops to a much more serious engagement with Scripture than has often been the case in some discussions, especially in The Episcopal Church.

There is much more to say, but too little time. We are all blessed by your prayers. Keep them coming, please.

Faithfully yours in Christ,


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Generous love — and its cost

One of the most important features of the Lambeth Conference is our common worship. Each service is led by bishops, spouses and others from a different province of the Communion. The attendees worship together with our staff, stewards, chaplains and our ecumenical guests each day at Morning Prayer (6:30), Morning Worship (Eucharist, at 7:15), at Evening Worship (5:45) and Night Prayer (9:45). While Ruth and I have not kept the full schedule of services each day (!), we have appreciated the different languages and different music that shape our worship each day. In addition, each service includes the viewing of a short DVD of its mission.

It has been a blessing to attend services at the Cathedral, as we did again last Sunday. We were there for Eucharist at 11 and for Evensong at 4. The music was absolutely glorious. At Evensong it included several Taize chants as well as some contemporary works.

In the morning we were delighted to find that the Dean and Choir of Christ Church Cathedral in Springfield, Massachusetts were in the congregation. They had just completed a week of leading services at the Cathedral in the Diocese of St. Alban's. Ruth had sung in that choir when we lived in Western Massachusetts. We enjoyed a happy reunion with several dear friends from those years.

On Monday, the Windsor Continuation Group held a third session. They are to prepare a report, with recommendations, for the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in May, 2009, on how the different provinces of the Communion (and especially our Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada) are observing the directions arising out of the Windsor Report of 2004. In a packed (and very warm) sports hall, individual bishops were welcomed to speak for up to three minutes to this plenary session while the members of the WCG and the rest of us listened.

Here and elsewhere, it is my experience that many (and, I would guess, probably most) of the bishops do not understand the actions of our Church with respect to the election and consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire and the provision, in some parts of our Church, for the blessing of same-sex unions. Not only are our actions not understood, many (maybe most) of our partners hold to a very different view of the interpretation of Scriptures and our Tradition. They remain unconvinced of the wisdom of what they view as innovations in the doctrine of the Church. To experience those views here is sobering, to say the least. Those who support these recent developments, as I do, have a lot of work ahead of us, if we desire, as I do, to remain a part of this beloved Communion.

Monday was also a day dedicated to Interfaith Relations. In my Indaba group I heard stories of Interfaith Relations in Tanzania, North India and Eastern Michigan. The key words that we wrestled with in our different contexts were "embassy" and "hospitality." These arise out of a report entitled,
Generous Love, about our Anglican approach to living with and serving with neighbors of other faiths.

That same afternoon I also attended a self-select group on "Communion, Covenant and Canon Law," where I heard (and understood, I think, a little) of two talks by faithful British attorneys about the proposed Covenant.

On Monday night we were all uplifted by a lecture given to the Conference by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. I cannot begin to do justice to this important and profound presentation on the meaning of covenant. It is online here. Please read the reflections of this strong, passionate, and wise friend of our Communion.

I was very, very proud of this Conference yesterday when we took the entire morning to focus on the issue of violence directed toward women and children. The bishops and spouses sat in different sections of the big tent that is the venue for our worship. After an introduction by Jane Williams and remarks by Jenny Te Paa, we saw a drama that explored the treatment of women in the Gospel. We then engaged in a directed Bible study that focused on II Samuel 13:1-22, the story of the rape of Tamar. It was both moving and inspiring to hear the voices of the Conference reflect on this passage and the subjects of abuse in Church and society. We were encouraged to spend the afternoon discussing these matters with our spouses.

At the end of the day, following Evening Worship, Archbishop Williams gave some reflections on the Conference, thus far. He repeated his emphasis on the importance of covenant. He attempted to capture the hopes of each side of our debate about homosexuality by setting forth the voice of the "traditional believer" and the voice of the "not-so-traditional believer." And he explored the question of the costs, to each side, of being generous toward the other side, for the sake of the eternal generosity that flows toward us from our true center, who is Christ, the very heart of God.


Keep us in your prayers, please.