A new kind of parliament?

Today at Lambeth we have begun to see at first hand how this conference design might offer the church a way of coming to a mind about complex subjects without using a synodical process of resolutions and majority votes. It still remains to be seen how well it can work, but over the next 3 days we shall be working hard to see if we can agree a text which speaks for all of us and does justice to the wide variety of experiences which such a diverse global conference is bound to produce.

So this afternoon several hundred of us gathered to comment on a draft of a statement which will try to express to the churches of the world what we have been exploring in our groups and what are the key messages we want to pass on. The process involves a drafting group listening carefully to comments from the floor and amending the text accordingly.

Perhaps there is something here for us to learn from in our synods which are really little parliaments where some win the argument and others lose. Here it seems is a serious attempt to avoid winners and losers and instead accept every voice as having something to contribute to the big picture. And at this point I am pretty confident it can work.

And the issue of how churches govern themselves and reach conclusions when there is conflict came up in a well attended talk given by Cardinal Casper, the head man at the Vatican on ecumenical relations. Although he was very frank with us about how Rome views issues around the ordination of women, he also acknowledged that the issues we face in our Communion are the same issues which the Roman Catholic Church faces. Clearly they resolve things very differently from us, but the process of listening to the voice of the whole church which we see emerging here is one which possibly both communions could learn from.

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July 30, 2008 at 9:57 pm Leave a comment

Speaking Life to each other

Two major themes have emerged from today’s work at the conference. The first has been the full plenary session this morning in the Big Top bringing together the bishops and the spouses conferences on the subject of the abuse of power. This proved to be a long and demanding session studying the story in 2 Samuel 13 of the abuse of Tamar by King David’s son Amnon. Its a story not often read in church on Sunday Services because it tells of the rape of Absalom’s sister by her half brother. It is therefore a very delicate passage bringing to the surface in any discussion many sensitive issues about the way in which in many cultures around the world there is systematic exploitation of women by men. The Big Top was arranged so that men and women were separated for the discussion from each other.

What did this extended Bible Study reveal? First that many women were cautious about talking about these subjects in  front of men. Secondly that in many parts of our Communion the culture permits systematic exploitation by men of women. Thirdly, that the fixation on the subject of gay sex is a way of avoiding the big issues around the way in which men abuse women  in many different cultures around the world.

So the second big event of the day has been the presidential address by the Arcbishop of Canterbury at the midpoint of the Conference. Archbishop Rowan reminded us all of the differing positions adopted by the traditionalists and by the progressives in this conference. He took care to hold up to the conference an accurate picture of the different and conflicting voices we have heard here without taking sides. And he invited us to talk to each other in ways that give life to each other – recognising the differences but respecting the need for those differences to be accomodated if possible within the greater vision of the worldwide communion.

 

Over the next four days we shall see if the Archbishop’s pleas have been heard.

July 29, 2008 at 10:25 pm 1 comment

Christianity and Other Faiths

Yesterday’s theme for the Conference turned our sights outwards to the very different contexts in which Anglicans relate to other faiths. In Burma some of the bishops are forbidden to mention the name of Jesus for fear for their safety. In parts of Africa the interface with Islam means that Christians are confronted with aggressive forms of proselytisation. In India and Bangladesh, Christians have learned to live in a culture shaped by faiths which are non-Christian and not always sympathetic to the Christian Faith. In Western countries and in cities such as Leicester the story is very different but here we have the challenge of trying to communicate the faith into a culture which is ignorant or indifferent.

And the challenge for the worldwide Communion is to discover how best we can understand and support each other in our very different contexts:how dialogue in one culture can be seen as compromise in another one:how we can be in solidarity with Christians under persecution in some parts of the world without undermining trust and friendship between faiths in another part.

These conversations climaxed last evening at a very remarkable event addressed by the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. He spoke with great passion about the concept of Covenant – how God Covenants with his people and how this leads human beings to covenant with each other. He spoke of his deep affection for the Anglican Church and for the Archbishop of Canterbury and pleaded with us not to break up the precious gift of our worldwide communion. He even spoke to us about Jesus and called on us to do the work which God has given us to do which is different for the Jews but not in competition with Judaism.

He recieved a standing ovation for a speech which was moving, passionate, scholarly and amusing. Here was evidence beyond any doubt that God’s voice can be heard from beyond the community of the Christian Faith if we have the wisdom and the grace to hear it.

July 29, 2008 at 2:50 pm Leave a comment

Time off at the Conference

Saturday afternoon and Sunday have been quieter days here-a chance to stand back from the routine of the conference and take stock. Where have we got to and what do we want from the remaining week?

So far we have had some space to be reflective during the opening days of the retreat in the Cathedral. We have settled well into the rhythm of Bible Study and we are trying to make the indaba process work, although most of those groups have decided in one way or the other to adapt the timetable in order to make space for real encounters. We have also had a huge quantity of special sessions of one sort or another covering every subject from global warming to ministry appraisal and some high profile plenaries on evangelisation.

So where are we now? Some appear to be feeling that the conference must now start to identify the main messages to send to the Anglican Communion. Others feel that the process of relationship building still has further to go before we shall be in a position to make a clear statement on behalf of all the members.

But certainly the next few days are going to be demanding and tiring as we seek as faithfully as we can to craft something which can represent the mind of the conference. We shall need an atmosphere of trust and prayer if we are to achieve that.

July 27, 2008 at 10:02 pm Leave a comment

Marching for Justice

It’s not every day that Parliament Square sees a demonstration quite like yesterday. Hundreds of us in purple cassocks making our way to Lambeth Palace with placards calling for an end to poverty certainly attracted attention. But we walked with questions in our minds. Was a short walk in the sun really costing us anything except perhaps a slight loss of dignity? And could you justify the cost of all the coaches from Canterbury to London and the lunch for 1600 afterwards?

Well, the questions were answered by the Prime Minister in an impassioned speech. It is people of faith who can make the difference to the world more than others, he said. After 20 minutes of speaking in the broiling sun without notes he had convinced us all that on the issue of justice for the world’s poorest people, Gordon Brown is a conviction politician. And on his face we could see the evident genuine concern and determination to press the United Nations to move forward as quickly as possible to achieve the Millenium Development Goals.

This was the part of the Conference I had been waiting for since we were able to see for ourselves the power of a worldwide Communion when it speaks out with a common voice for those who have no voice. This above all is what the Communion is for, and this is the reason why we must do all we can to preserve and develop the Communion in spite of our differences.

July 25, 2008 at 4:24 pm Leave a comment

Conference gets real

After a week on site here at Kent University campus it feels as if the debate is beginning to get down to the difficult issues which have so divided the Anglican Communion over the last 5 years. The first of the big “hearings” took place with several hundred bishops present as some were speaking about their concerns and hopes for the way the Communion might be held together. And it becomes clear as we did this that both sides of the “argument” have deep seated and genuine convictions about what should be done.

How do we live with these differences? It remains to be seen what answer emerges, but what is already clear is that there is no way forward without being ready to listen to each other very carefully. After all it is only during my lifetime that it has become lawful for gay people to have sex. In many African countries it remains a serious offence. No wonder they have difficulties understanding how this can be permitted of a bishop in North America. Yet for the Americans the issue is about mission. How, they ask, can you be a credible church in the States, speaking effectively to young people when the church is seen to homophobic?

Interlaced with all this is an ongoing debate about the authority of scripture which has been running for many years.

My question is this. Is there something about the Anglican Communion worth preserving even when we disagree profoundly about so much? And at this point in the Conference the answer is clear. Yes we have something immensely precious here which would be tragic if it were to be dismantled.

Tomorrow the focus changes as we all make our way to London to march through Parliament Square on the way to Lambeth Palace to draw attention to the Millenium Development Goals and turn our attention to the world’s poor instead of to ourselves.

July 23, 2008 at 10:32 pm 1 comment

Lambeth Day two

The sun has finally smiled on the Lambeth Conference and bishops from around the world are beginning to relax here. Today has seen an uplifting eucharist celebrated by the province of Central Africa including Zimbabwean bishops praying with us for the urgent talks in that troubled country. We have worked hard in our groups at understanding the role of bishops in evangelism, and we have heard this evening from Cardinal Diaz who is responsible in the Vatican for leading on evangelisation for the worldwide Catholic Church.

Archbishop Rowan with the diocesan young people

Archbishop Rowan with the diocesan young people

But best of all has been the presence of young people from Leicester at the Conference who came to share with some of the bishops the conversation called “The Lambeth Talk” which took place in Leicester during the week before the Conference. Amongst a choice of 30 self select groups today the Archbishop of Canterbury chose to join our young people for over an hour listening to their account of the international conversation of the previous week. And the media people came to interview some of the Youth Council for the Lambeth Journal to be shewn in tomorrow’s TV account of events.

Of course the notorious disputes of our Communion lie not far below the surface, but our young  people have helped to put much of that in perspective today.

July 22, 2008 at 9:55 pm Leave a comment

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