The Bishop of Winchester
reflects on the Lambeth Conference
The long days had other ingredients some of which, for me at any rate, worked less happily. After the daily Eucharist at 7.15, breakfast, the Bible Study groups at 9.15 and a drink at 10.30, we went on to the much discussed “indaba groups”, each made up of forty Bishops (five Bible Study groups). These were given a different topic each day; each had a Bishop designated as “leader”, and a “reporter” (generally a student or ordinand) tasked to produce for “the management” of the Conference the gist of what had been said day by day. I was by no means the only Bishop who found this process unsatisfactory – over-managed, under-prepared, often frustrating; and the “indabas” a context which though quite often good for mutual relationships and understanding did not encourage much real learning together, let alone the development by the Bishops of any substantial “teaching”.
In the afternoons there were a host of “self-select groups” which bishops could choose to attend, and which together made up quite a rich and varied programme; but what with the heat and the long working-hours, I’m afraid that many were only sparsely attended. I valued those given by Cardinals Murphy-O’Connor and Kasper; and (very different) the one which I was asked to chair, with a Burundian and a Sudanese
bishop speaking from their own experience about climate change, and how their Churches was seeking to react to it.
Into this already full programme was inserted at a late stage the work of the Windsor Continuation Group, three preliminary reports each followed by a “hearing” in what turned out to be intense and humid heat! The task of the Group, set up by Archbishop Rowan as recently as January 2008, is to review the Communions progress with the Windsor Report in the light of the communique from the meeting of the Primates in Dares-Salaam in February 2007. Chaired by the recently retired Archbishop Clive Handford, they produced what seemed to me to be refreshingly honest and challenging diagnoses of the crisis facing the Communion, if rather less challenging proposals for its resolution. The “hearings” enabled those who attended (and who had the stamina!) to broach the divisive issues, and to listen to each other speaking about them, a good deal earlier in the Conference than the indaba-programme had originally intended.
At the end of the first full week of the Conference, there was a significant ground-swell of opinion that the programme should be freed up, the “indabas” left with more freedom to manage their own agenda, and the critical questions of the use of Scripture, same-sex relationships and the Anglican Communion Covenant explicitly brought into the “indabas” before the last three working days of the Conference. Understandably, but I judged and still judge regrettably, the “management” decided to stick with their programme.
This placed significant pressure on us all as we began to tire, and as the end of the Conference loomed. I doubt whether many “indabas” did justice to these subjects upon which so many were looking to the Bishops to do careful work together and to offer some pointers, even some guidance, to the Communion. This made still more difficult and contentious the process which many of us rapidly realised had been poorly designed to produce, in the last days of the Conference, the 43 page report eventually entitled “Lambeth Indaba: capturing conversations and reflections from the Lambeth Conference 2008” – “conversations and reflections”, and only from the “indabas”; not the guidance, even the teaching, that most Bishops from the developing world, and many others, thought that it was the business of the Conference to offer at this critical moment in the Communions life! I make no criticism of those tasked with managing this process who worked long and hard and skilfully to achieve a result against the odds; and they joined many others in regretting that this process excluded, from having any part in shaping this report, Bishops with a less than confident command of English.
By the second full week of the Conference I and many other bishops had come to the view that the programme as a whole was designed to ensure that the Conference should not seek to offer any clear guidance or teaching on any issue, because of the potentially divisive effects of our starting upon the plenary debates, and the voting, which alone would enable the Conference to articulate a particular view comparable to that of “Lambeth 2008”. To me and to many others this had the effect of legitimising, in the life of the Conference and by implication in the Communion, the whole range of convictions about same-sex relationships and about the use of Scripture. There was little if any sense that the Conference was bound by Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference; and over and over again participants were encouraged to think especially of their “context” – with the tacit but clear impression that “context” could indeed, as some insist, powerfully influence Christian teaching; and that a world-wide family of Churches could continue with radically different teaching on the content of the Holy Life in different parts of the world, even when all are in communication in seconds through the Web.
For many of us, and perhaps especially for many Bishops from the developing world, these impressions were exacerbated by the extent to which the physical environment of the Conference was strongly coloured by the well-organised and well-funded activities of groups and individuals lobbying against the Communions teaching expressed in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and for that publicly advocated by The Episcopal Church and those who think like it. Around a third of the stalls in the “Market-place” were taken by those lobbying for change in the Communions teaching; Bishop Gene Robinson was quite often around the campus and extensively “hyped” by the British media; and news-stands at strategic points around the site offered copies of a near-daily news-sheet, The Lambeth Witness, sponsored by Inclusive Church and providing its “take” on events and people, while looking as if it might be an official organ of the Conference.
Russian Orthodox Church laments over General Synod decision
Moscow, August 1, – The Russian Orthodox Church laments over decision of the General Synod of the Church of England to consecrate women bishops taken on July 7, 2008.
“The Russian Orthodox Church has to state with regret that the decision to install women bishops impedes the dialogue between Orthodox Christians and Anglicans developed for some decades,” Communication service of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations’ Communication Service says in its special statement spread in Moscow on Friday.
According to the document, this decision “alienates Anglicans from the Orthodox Church and contributes in further division of the Christian world.”
The Moscow Patriarchate reminds the Orthodox Church has always been negative about women priests since some Protestant and Anglican Churches started to ordain them late in the 20th century. Such practice contradicts centuries-old Church tradition dating back to the first Christian community. Orthodox Christians consider women bishops even more unacceptable,” the statement further says.
Christian tradition, the authors stress, has always considered bishops as “direct spiritual successors of apostles, who grant them a special blessing to lead Gods people and a special responsibility to keep the purity of faith and be symbols and guarantors of Church unity.”
Thus, the Moscow Patriarchate believes installing women-bishops contradicts “the course of Savior, holy apostles and ancient undivided Church.”
In conviction that revision of the original church norms contradicts the Lord’s idea on priestly ministry, the Moscow Patriarchate states “it is not a theological or practical church need that dictated this decision to the Anglican General Synod, but rather its strive to keep step with secular idea of sexual equality in all spheres of life.”
The Russian Church reminds, “Secularization of Christianity makes many believers to abandon it as they strive to find spiritual support in secure Gospels and apostolic traditions introduced by Eternal and Unchangeable God.”
This digest of the bishop’s report to his diocese originally appeared on the website of Anglican Mainstream
Episcopal priests from Fort Worth may be looking at Catholicism
A delegation of Episcopal priests from Fort Worth paid a visit to Catholic Bishop Kevin Vann earlier this summer, asking for guidance on how their highly conservative diocese might come into “full communion” with the Catholic Church.
Whether that portends a serious move to turn Fort Worth Episcopalians and their churches into Catholics and Catholic churches is a matter of dispute.
The Rev. William Crary, senior rector of the Fort Worth diocese, confirmed that on June 16 he and three other priests met with Bishop Vann, leader of the Fort Worth Catholic diocese, and presented him a document that is highly critical of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
The document states that the overwhelming majority of Episcopal clergy in the Fort Worth diocese favor pursuing an “active plan” to bring the diocese into full communion with the Catholic Church.
While declining to specify what that might mean, Mr. Crary said it likely would not mean “absorption” by the Catholic Church.
He cast the initiative as following Anglican and Catholic leaders in longstanding efforts to bring the two groups into greater cooperation, with the ultimate goal of honoring Jesus’ call in John 17:21 for Christian unity.
“These discussions between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have been going on for 42 years,” he said. “We would like to bring these down to the local level.”
But other local Episcopalians interpret the meeting and document differently
“There’s a very serious attempt on the part of Episcopal clergy in the Diocese of Forth Worth to petition Rome for some kind of recognition,” said the Rev. Court-land Moore, who is retired as rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Arlington.
“They make it clear that they no longer believe there is truth in the Anglican Communion, and the only way they can find truth is reunion with Rome.”
Mr Moore is co-chairman of Steering Committee North Texas Episcopalians, a group that wants the Fort Worth diocese to remain in the Episcopal Church. He obtained a copy of the document the priests gave to Bishop Vann and made it available to reporters.
The Fort Worth Diocese is one of the Episcopal Church’s most conservative, having declined under Bishop Jack Iker to ordain women as priests and having strongly opposed acceptance of an openly gay Episcopal bishop.
The diocese has taken one of two votes necessary to leave the Episcopal Church and will vote again in November. Bishop Iker could not be reached for comment, but the document asserts he’s supportive of the effort. Mr. Crary confirmed that. A spokesman for Bishop Vann confirmed the meeting.
12am CDT on Tuesday, August 12, 2008 by Sam Hodges, Dallas Morning News firstname.lastname@example.org
Scotland leading on tolerance – will the Church of England follow?
The bishops of the Anglican Communion are all gathered at Canterbury this weekend. It is the last weekend of the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade jamboree for bishops hosted by the Arch-
Well, all the duly consecrated bishops of the Communion are there except one: the Rt Rev Gene Robinson has been in Canterbury, but with no status in the conference. He was frozen out of the official programme by the Archbishop of Canterbury – presumably his presence was too much to stomach for some potential participants. In the end, they did not turn up anyway. Gene Robinson was refused a place at Anglicanisms high table because he is the only bishop to live openly with a gay partner. The rest of the gay bishops of the communion presumably keep the details of their relationships firmly under their mitres.
The Anglican Communion was really started, if you believe any Scottish Episcopalian, by the Scottish Episcopal Church. It consecrated a bishop for Connecticut when the Church of England would not dirty its hands dealing with the Colonies. Yet the Communion remains a strangely English place. No-one really gets excommunicated from the Anglican Communion for being naughty or indeed for being gay. You just don’t get an invitation to sup with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Lambeth Conference; no garden party with the Queen.
Bishop Robinson has also been refused permission by the Archbishop to celebrate the Eucharist while he is in England. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no jurisdiction here in Scotland. When it became apparent Bishop Robinson was inhibited from celebrating communion in England, it was inevitable he would be invited by someone to do so in Scotland. That someone was me. Tomorrow, Bishop Robinson will celebrate communion and preach in St Marys Cathedral, Glasgow.
I invited Bishop Robinson to spread good news. Not just the Good News of the Gospel, which inspires all preachers, but the good news that churches are changing. At one time, gay people were expected to pretend they were not doing anything with anyone in order to be acceptable on Sunday. Those days are gone, at least for some of us.
They are certainly gone in the Scottish Episcopal Church, which has many serving gay clergy and in whose churches clergy may offer, if they so choose, prayers of blessing for gay couples.
The character of the Scottish Episcopal Church is more pragmatic than the Church of England. No-one seriously believes there are no gay clergy in the Church of England; their presence has been the subject of snide innuendo for decades. However, their presence has also been witness to the kind of faith
often prepared to go places others find most difficult.
A couple of Lambeth conferences ago, the church made a compromise over polygamy that is worth re-examining. It was decided where the church had a mission to local polygamous cultures, if a family were converted to Anglican Christianity, then it would be better to keep it intact than to dump all but one of the women in a culture where women had no power and little value. It was a liberal compromise to ensure women did not suffer as the news of the gospel spread. It meant different standards of behaviour were being worked out in different cultures. But now many from those cultures are turning the tables on us in the West and demanding we take our cue on morality from their local interpretation.
At such a time as this, I’m proud to invite Bishop Gene Robinson to share bread and wine and preach Good News. He is a symbol of positive change. He represents the fact churches can once again be worth belonging to, preach about a God worth believing in and contribute to a world worth living in.
Oh, the Sin of Tolerance!
The Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow