Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Report from Lambeth

Dear folks, here is a report from the Lambeth Conference - the once every ten years gathering of the bishops of the Anglican Communion. It is one of three from our bishop, + Mark Lawrence. To check out the two other reports, click on the link at the bottom of the report...

Dear Friends,
A bishop asked me this morning while we were sitting in Canterbury Cathedral waiting for the Eucharist to begin, “What has been the biggest surprise for you?” I thought about it for a moment and said, “The way my heart has been broken and broadened.” I suppose it goes without saying that as a new bishop of the Church I hardly needed any more challenges then I already had before I came here. Yet somehow I must trust that God gives us the grace necessary to sustain us in the responsibilities to which he calls us. Bishop Charles Henry Brent used to say, “Responsibility keeps pace with spiritual development. The more a man carries, the more he is capable of carrying. God fits the back to the burden and the burden to the back.” So, for instance, how can I pray and share meals with these bishops from the Sudan or Ghana who have such needs for their people and then forget them when I return home? How can I reconnect with an old friend like Bishop Tito Zavala from Chile and not sense that God brought us together for his purposes years ago when I was the diocesan liaison between the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Chile and not feel that this relationship should be cultivated afresh? I have met so many bishops of kindred spirits from England, Ireland, India, and elsewhere that it reaffirms my conviction that we need one another to carry out the mission Jesus Christ is calling us to in this global age. It is clear to me that they face challenges that we can help them with—and we challenges for which their clarity and forthrightness is a strengthening balm. One of the highlights of these past few days was our day in London—the Witness Walk from Whitehall to Lambeth Palace where the Prime Minister of England addressed us with passionate conviction regarding the need for people of faith and good will to work together towards the goals of eradicating extreme poverty, hunger and bringing educational opportunities to all. After his speech and that of the Archbishop I wandered into the Lambeth Library seeing documents of the Virginia and Carolina colonies. From there we went by coach to the Garden Party with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. I found it only natural while in this setting of royal majesty to reflect upon the splendor of the heavenly realms which our Lord left in order to sojourn among us in humility and with his body hung in shame upon a cross to purchase our salvation. The Father, in his will to redeem a slave like me, sent his Son, who in his humiliation, revealed his glory and our redemption. We enter now into the final and crucial week. The Bible Study and Indaba Groups have begun to peel away layers of caution and hesitation therein laying bare many difficult issues. This has been painful at times as we’ve faced the chasm that divides us. Like many of you, particularly those who have been to General Convention or provincial gatherings of one kind or another, I have lived with this chasm for so many years that it is easy to forget that for Christians elsewhere it is hardly the most pressing issue they face. For some of them it is the need for food, shelter, clean water, coping as refugees or holding firm to the gospel in the midst of persecution that dominates their ministries. Yet the crisis that The Episcopal Church threw the Anglican Communion into in 2003 has not only complicated our lives as Episcopalians but has made it increasingly difficult for them to do their ministries in what were already demanding cultural contexts. A conference such as Lambeth must address many concerns and these are often interconnected and multilayered. Perhaps I can share some of our discussions with you later, but for now there is a verse in the Mosaic Law that comes to mind as I write about these two seminal groups of the conference: “You shall not uncover your sister’s nakedness.” That is, it would be inappropriate in my mind to discuss in any detail what is transpiring in the Bible Study and Indaba Groups. Beyond saying it is the striving of people from diverse cultures to engage one another respectfully yet honestly in order to understand what the challenges are that dominate the lives of our people. The last two meetings of the Self-Select Session, The Bible and Human Sexuality, I attended (Wednesday and Friday) were much improved over the first. We looked at certain Old Testament passages regarding human sexuality in the second session and New Testament passages in the third session. Some of each session was spent in a lecture format, some in small group work and some in larger group discussion. The time was hardly sufficient for the subject at hand. At the end of our final meeting an Australian bishop made a statement that was in a way a question, but there was hardly any answer that seemed sufficient with which the presenter could reply—“Surely a loving Heavenly Father would not leave his children confused about something so fundamental as human sexuality…if so, I’ve been wasting my time for forty-three years!” I suppose some were put off by the force of his words, but it seemed to me a necessary and poignant pause with which to end our time. Tomorrow we have another hearing on the Windsor process and the Covenant. We’ve already been told that nothing will be definitively decided on the Covenant at this Lambeth, but I suspect that what we do decide will play a role in this ongoing process towards a covenant that unites us in a deeper fellowship or the lack of a covenant that will surely lead to greater division than we already have in the Communion. I need to prepare what I’m going to say at this hearing, or, if I do not get the opportunity to speak, then to turn in my written words to the Windsor Continuation Committee, so I will leave off writing to you for tonight. It is 10:00 p.m. and I have this other work to do. But if I may say in conclusion, Allison and I joined many other bishops and spouses at Canterbury Cathedral for worship this morning. We enjoyed a lovely luncheon given to us by the Cathedral congregation, and then she and I walked over to St. Martin’s Church, the oldest Church in England. Afterwards we visited the ruins of St. Augustine’s Abbey before catching the bus back to the University of Kent and to our dormitory rooms. The three sites which are almost contiguous with one another are World Heritage Sites. They are also reminders that forms and structures may change—yet the Lordship of Christ will abide forever. But some embodiments of the Church and its mission abide, changing faithfully with the culture, and some entirely collapse, or exist merely as relics of prior generations’ faith. These three places were a stark reminder to me of the gravity of the issues before us in Anglicanism and in The Episcopal Church. Can Anglicanism adapt to the opportunities and challenges of a Global age? I, for one, believe it can—and what we do at this Lambeth Conference will either further us towards this opportunity or drag us back into an overly autonomous provincialism that will only thwart the call of Christ for us today and the movement of the Holy Spirit in shaping a church that is sufficient for tomorrow. As I’ve begged you before so I do now, keep us in your prayers.In Christ,
+Mark LawrenceSouth Carolina