Monday, July 21, 2008
A Message from Bishop Mary at Lambeth
Dear Friends, 21 July 2008
I bring you greetings from Lambeth Conference, 2008! It is indeed an honor to be here, and a humbling experience to represent the Diocese of El Camino Real to the wider church, and the wider church to you.
For the first three days, the bishops were in retreat with Archbishop Rowan at Canterbury Cathedral, and the spouses in their own separate program, lead by Jane Williams (details of both schedules can be found on http://www.lcintranet).
For our retreat the Cathedral was ours in whatever way we needed it to be. We were made to feel at home and given access to the whole space. We received meditations at regular intervals from the Archbishop of Canterbury and then were free to wander, meditate, pray or sleep (some are obviously still jet-lagged!) in the prayer stalls, chairs, the undercroft, garden, or in some nook or cranny around the place. Kneeling, sitting, lying, walking, praying, chatting, gazing – postures of prayer in our Anglican home.
As one takes in all that is here, one is struck by the idea of being in the attic of the Anglican Communion. Our roots, our story, are grounded here. There are memorials and buried remains of our heroes and those whose names we do not recognize, altars, pulpits, chapels, Biblical stories depicted with white faces in stained glass, prayer books, furnishings that match and others that don’t, lots and lots of foot-worn stone on which thousands of pilgrims have walked and worshipped. Vestments that are not useful anymore but treasured like Grandma’s wedding dress. Carefully crafted love letters to God expressed in paintings offered from throughout the centuries, and a more spontaneous love note scratched into the stone: “G.S. + S.T. forever”. All the bits and pieces of our founding story is everywhere, scattered here and there, prominent and tucked away. And yet in this attic is not the whole of the communion – the buildings and its contents telling only part of our story. One is aware that it is in the people present that we discover and portray the fullness of Anglicanism. Not a relic or a memorial, but God incarnate in us, a diverse, living sign that God in Jesus is alive and present in the world.
The days of retreat prepared us to officially begin the conference yesterday, again with worship at the Cathedral. The service was extraordinary. It was perfectly executed, diverse, beautiful, enriching, humbling and everything you imagine worship in Canterbury would be. The sermon given by Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo (Sri Lanka) was inclusive, mindful of our need to remain together no matter what we think about one another’s worthiness as Christians, and reflective of his own context – a country with five dominant religions. Indeed, he closed with a Buddhist prayer! While in California this may not seem edgy, at the Lambeth Conference, it definitely is!
The boys and mens choir (which we heard daily at evensong on retreat and then again at this opening service) were wonderful. At the service yesterday I sat next to them and enjoyed not only their gift of music, but the fidgeting, gazing, and giggling of these talented little kids. I thought of their parents and how proud they must be, and what an amazing example of the stewardship they were, as family and Cathedral joined together to nurture the gift of these amazing voices.
In addition to wonderful choral music, we sang too, including as a communion hymn, “All are Welcome”. I struggled (as did others) getting the words out; recognizing that while our liturgy in word and song is not reflective of our perfection, but also a vision of who we want to become, the reality of Gene Robinson not being invited to Lambeth was very present at that particular moment. “Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word. Built of tears and cries of laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace, let this house proclaim from floor to rafter, all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place…..” While some have chosen not to attend the Conference, at least one was intentionally left off the guest list. In stark contrast to the magnificent worship at the Cathedral, about 20 bishops walked from the Cathedral to the park near St. Stephen’s parish where a service for Change Attitude, UK was held. There was +Gene’s unofficial and low-key welcome: a Eucharist in the park. With the Cathedral notable on the skyline and no tickets required, all were really welcome. While difficulty with timing precluded more bishops from attending, the opening day of the Conference felt complete having worshipped in the Mother-church of our tradition as well as on the margins.
Today we shift gears into our Indaba groups, a time for everyone to be heard. We have experienced one another in daily Bible study, which continues throughout the conference, but mostly we have had the benefit of hearing a lot from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is a brilliant man. As a spiritual leader of our time, his intelligence and depth of being stands in stark contrast to the media-wise, slick, Christian leaders of our popular American culture. He conveys the nuanced, dynamic and prickly reality that is God and the Christian life with careful spiritual strategy that is prayerful and grounded. While I do not embrace all the decisions he has made, and we prioritize matters of ecclesiology differently, the content of the retreat reflections and the opening address yesterday were moving, deep, thoughtful, reflective of the complexity of the time we are in, inclusive, comforting and challenging. I am most struck by his honesty. He has clearly named the ineffectiveness of previous Lambeth Conferences: legalistic process, resolutions and long-winded documents which have done little to accomplish a deepening of Anglican identity, relationships or ministry. We are trying a new thing at this conference, and I applaud his leadership in naming reality and in trying something new. He continues to say that we will not solve our problems here; indeed, I know he understands that the day has past when any problem of world-wide communion will be solved in a conference. As we all know, too many constructs and boundaries have shifted, or simply disappeared altogether. I wish I could tell you what to be prepared for – but none of us knows. I do believe that is the point. We must be disciplined in allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us into a new place. This takes time, the spiritual discipline of staying in relationship, living with our human failing, holding up Christian community beyond difference, and recognizing that no resolution will ever grasp the depth of the common, abiding life of Grace that Jesus is and invites us into. In the end, instead of producing a lot of statements, I pray we shall be rendered deeply silent.
You can take in the conference at the lambethconference.org website as well as see beautiful photos online. ‘Google Lambeth Conference Photos’ and various photo albums will give you a good glimpse of what some of the events above looked like. The Episcopal Church website has a daily media briefing piece as well as other articles. Together with Jeff Lee, Bishop of Chicago, I did Saturday’s media briefing. I understand the Archbishop’s address yesterday will be online today; I encourage you to read it to get a flavor of what is happening here on a deeper level, and find something to take to heart about your life with Christ and with one another.
Thanks to you all for your prayers, cards, emails, and love. I am truly honored to be here and grateful for this opportunity to be part of God doing a new thing. I pray to remain in the Grace of Jesus, to be a deep listener, and lover of all souls – as Jesus is for me.
Padre says: If I hear anything from Bishop Julio I'll post it, too.
I See You!
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