Lambeth Letters – Part 2
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10
In my first reflection on Lambeth, I told you about the results of the Call on Human Dignity, which involved a discussion of human sexuality (and I was very happy with the result). In this second reflection, I thought I would give you my Top Ten Observations about Life at Lambeth. Note that for me, Lambeth ended early, as I tested positive for Covid on August 3, which put me in isolation for the rest of the conference. (Not to worry about my health – I simply have mild cold symptoms and expect to recover quickly.) So here are my observations about my experience from July 26 – August 2, and the remainder of the conference in which I participated virtually.
- People here are delighted to meet and make new friends. I thought that some of the Global South bishops, who disagree with The Episcopal Church’s stance on human sexuality, would avoid talking with us. Not true – they are friendly and kind, and often seek us out to meet us, exchanging business cards and asking to keep in touch. One of my most memorable conversations was with a bishop from South Sudan, who was consecrated a bishop and almost immediately went into exile because war broke out in his country. He is now a bishop in exile in a refugee camp, and his diocese is growing and changing lives.
- I have met bishops from several areas that have sent refugees to San Diego – from South Sudan, as noted above, from Congo, and a Karen bishop from Myanmar. They are delighted to hear that they have brothers and sisters in our churches in San Diego. So to the people of St. Luke’s, St. Alban’s, and others from those countries, please know that bishops in your home countries are thinking of you and are glad to know that you’re part of our church.
- I had hoped to meet a bishop from Singapore and thank that diocese for the work they are doing to support my good friend The Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, who was struck with a serious illness while visiting Singapore. Their care for Scott, known to many of you because he preached at my consecration in 2019 and led our clergy conference in 2021, reminds me of why being part of a worldwide church is a beautiful and powerful thing. Due to my Covid diagnosis, I didn’t manage to meet the Singaporean bishop – but I am still grateful for our worldwide communion of churches.
- The worship is beautiful and moving – both worship in Canterbury Cathedral, and in the more contemporary space where we meet for plenary sessions. Music and preachers from all over the world are featured, and it is a grand reminder of the feast of Pentecost, when everyone heard the gospel in their own language. Christ is truly present and the Holy Spirit moves tangibly in our worship. Sermons are powerful and introduce the conference to new voices and experiences.
- There has been much press about bishops of the Global South declaring that they would not take communion alongside inclusive provinces like ours. Despite those declarations, I observed very few people remaining in their seats during Communion in any of the worship services I attended. It is possible that some went forward for blessings only and did not receive communion, but I was glad to see that the worship did not display impaired communion to a great extent.
- The bishops present at the conference are invited to give feedback on a series of Calls on important church and world issues, ranging from Discipleship to Climate Change to Science and Faith. The process of giving feedback on the Calls started as a disaster, but the organizers managed to repair the process. Everyone was surprised, a week before the conference began, to discover that there were going to be a series of “Calls” that we would vote on. The Calls were detailed and thoughtful, including theological reflection and action steps bishops were invited to commit to, but they came without warning, and in the case of the Human Dignity Call, resulted in widespread consternation. The Call process then was modified four times. For the first Call, we voted using electronic devices, and the voting options were essentially “Yes,” “No,” or “This needs more work.” At least a third of the bishops present abstained from that vote, apparently in protest of the process. For the second Call, we were invited to stay silent if we agreed, and shout “No!” if we disagreed. (More than one attendee pointed out the irony that on a Call related to Safe Church issues, silence equaled assent.) For the third call, they added back the “Maybe” option, but we were invited to shout “Yes,” “No,” or “Eeyore,” with “Eeyore” meaning the Call needs more work. The “Eeyore” vote felt like the height of absurdity to most of us, and gave short shrift to the hard work of the Anglican Identity drafters, two of whom were in my small group, and who were given no opportunity to explain what they intended the Call to accomplish. Accordingly, that Call received mostly “No” votes. There seemed little promise for the process that awaited the controversial Human Dignity Call the following day. However, the process on that Call was saved by dropping voting altogether, and by Archbishop Welby’s speech calling for unity, detailed in my previous message. Since then, table groups have been submitting written feedback related to each Call, without voting. The Calls will be finalized and issued as official documents of the Lambeth Conference, though most of us will not have seen the final versions.
- There are many female bishops here. I am told that there were 11 women bishops present in 1998 and 16 in 2008. This year, there are 97, roughly 15% of the bishops present at the conference. We are not a novelty any more. Retired Bishop Chilton Knudsen told me a few months ago that her advice was for women bishops always to wear their clergy collars, because press would want to interview us. That hasn’t happened – we are not unusual enough for the press to pay attention to these days. Thanks be to God!
- Climate change is one of the most important issues facing the planet, and it affects every Anglican Province. Wealthier countries like ours see climate disasters like drought, wildfires, and weather extremes. Poorer countries experience climate change as an existential threat to water, crops, habitable areas, and human life itself. I believe it was Archbishop Welby’s hope that our Anglican response to climate change, rather than sexuality, be the most important focus of this conference. The day trip to Lambeth Palace in London (which I was very sad to miss because of my Covid isolation) focused on climate change and on a global Communion Forest initiative. I know that our diocese’s Creation Care group will be excited and passionate to be part of that initiative, and in fact they are already working on a tree-planting project that will dovetail with it beautifully.
- Views on sexuality and gender roles vary widely, to no one’s surprise. It is common to see a male bishop from a Global South province walking along with a wife walking three steps behind him, the two of them conversing as they walk. Though this way of walking seems odd to western eyes, bishops’ spouses in the Global South are considered essential partners in ministry, leading the diocesan Mother’s Union, which wields considerable power in many areas of the world. Some of the opposition to The Episcopal Church’s inclusive stance on sexuality comes from locations where Christian churches are subject to persecution from non-Christian sources that oppose or even criminalize same-sex behavior. These churches fear retaliation if they are associated with our inclusive stance. Other opposition comes from provinces where the Anglican Church is working hard to outlaw polygamy, and therefore focuses on the definition of marriage as one man and one woman.
- Reconciliation in Christ is one of the most important themes of this conference. The theme scripture, 1 Peter, refers to Christians as “aliens and exiles” in a hostile world, who are called by God to become living stones, built into a royal priesthood, a chosen nation. As a Roman Catholic cardinal said in one of the plenary presentations: “We are the home God wants to build.” From all over the world, we come together amidst differences and are made one in Christ. Unity amidst diversity is not an easy task, especially when the diversity manifests in outright disagreement such as our decades-long Anglican dispute over sexuality. Yet coming together in person allows us to learn from each other, respect each other, and care for each other as siblings. One of the bishops in my small group signed the statement of the Global South bishops insisting on a reaffirmation of Lambeth’s 1998 Resolution 1.10 which rejected homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture, on the same day as I signed a statement of support and affirmation for our LGBT+ siblings. Nevertheless, we prayed together, studied the Bible together, and learned from each other’s very different contexts. Worldwide, many Anglicans live dangerous lives, fearing violence, poverty, and disaster. Our lives are enriched as we come together in Christ to share one another’s burdens.
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