Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More Lambeth Updates from the Bishop of Spokane

I don’t think I will post nearly as much about the Lambeth Conference this week as I did last week – but then again, I didn’t expect to post much about it last week, either. But I recognize that anything I have to say about Lambeth is an irrelevant drop in the sea – for the best analysis and news, keep reading and The Lead, TEC’s Lambeth Journal, +Gene Robinson, Susan Russell, and Elizabeth Kaeton.

I will only say one thing about Lambeth: I am opposed to this Pastoral Council business. I would also like to pass along these three weekend updates from my own beloved bishop, the Bishop of Spokane, Jim Waggoner. (BTW, the picture of him and his lovely wife Gloria comes from Ruth Gledhill.) In the first, he explains the Bible studies and Indaba groups. Here is a brief excerpt:

Through the daily Bible study sessions (75 minutes), followed by Indaba groups (2 hours) of 30-40 bishops each, we participate in exercises that make it impossible for anyone to sit it out. Most encouraging is the readiness of all to speak and to engage actively in discussion topics and questions. The language differences have not been a great obstacle, thanks to the pre-planning and translation equipment available - and the fact that most speak English at some level, even if their fourth or fifth language.

The Bible study group I lead is composed of two bishops from India representing two difference dioceses, one bishop from the Sudan, another from Tanzania, and a Bishop Suffragan from England… It is heartening to hear freely offered candid comments and insights on scripture passages. The study sessions have exceeded expectations timewise, quickly fostering honest and respectful interaction that is not at all always comfortable for any of us. In the commitment to candid communication I find real hope.

His second update is the most substantive. Here is an excerpt, but this one where I certainly recommend reading the whole thing.

Though there remain distinct and abiding differences on matters of ordaining gay and lesbian persons to the episcopate and the proposed Covenant, what is also distinct and most encouraging is that the overall tone of the conference remains far more positive than negative. Disagreement on issues does not normally translate into dislike or disrespect of one another. That for the most part holds true across the gathering. The more strident, critical voices making headlines are few and frequently misleading, especially if taken as the sentiment of the body here.

Overall there is a discernable readiness and general goodwill toward reaching increased levels of understanding and accommodation throughout the Lambeth gathering, but what that will look like in detail is yet to be decided. One primary tension is whether we will evolve into a federation of national provinces that are connected, but clearly independent of one another or become more a Communion unified in mission and interdependent. The latter is of course the preference, but the way there is not yet clear and a consensus is yet to come.

In the midst of listening, learning, and testing out possible next steps, we are exceptionally well served by the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury and our own Presiding Bishop - and others as well — in that both model being non-anxious, centered, and unhurried in a body where anxiety could easily escalate to the level of reactive decisions that would be less than wise and lastingly harmful. Archbishop Rowan and Presiding Bishop Katharine are very present and relatively at ease in their comments and the conversations they are encouraging.

I am still bitter that the Archbishop has excluded my other bishop, Gene Robinson, from the Conference, for in a way that excludes me and certainly flies in the face of Christ’s welcoming message. (The Diocese of Spokane is my home diocese, but I go to college and participate in campus ministry in NH.) That being said, a number of Lambeth reports have said +Rowan is showing strong leadership. Jim Naughton’s report is especially encouraging. Perhaps the Welshman will guide us through this process after all. Here, then, is the third and final weekend update from +Jim:

In this update I want to note the London Day last week when the entire group made the three- hour bus trip to the city and participated in the Walk of Witness in support of the MDG’s, after which we were treated to events of memorably gracious hospitality at Lambeth and Buckingham Palaces.

Though the social events were beyond what most of us had ever experienced and ever will again, the spirit of the day was carried by the Walk of Witness in which more than 1,000 of us marched with placards in support of action to eradicate poverty and dire consequences it perpetuates. Though it was an unthreatening scene and a quite pleasant walk through town, simply being in the streets and saying publicly something of import made the Gospel itself seem more real and present...

Bishops from some of the most devastatingly poor countries have said to me that discussion of sexuality and like concerns are a luxury of the rich compared to the life threatening circumstances they must address daily. It reminds one of the scripture, “Your concerns are not my concerns,” says the Lord. And certainly challenges us to put in perspective that which is of highest priority.

These insights from within Lambeth Palace can be rather informative. It is interesting to know that the arguments surrounding sexuality are being seen as an American agenda, given that it is the poor provinces of Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya that seem to be driving that debate. Perhaps, then, we have not done a very good job responding to the GAFCONites after all. Of course, the other bishops +Jim quotes are compelling voices - it is not the Church's job to respond to GAFCON, but rather to respond to poverty and oppression, wherever it is found. And yet if we do not respond to GAFCON, we will unable to respond to poverty. To make a crude analogy, they are playing Tom DeLay to our Bill Clinton. Quite the paradox.

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