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,