Wednesday, 23 July 2008
Life is full of surprises – yesterday evening I bumped into Sally who was one of the first people I met when I first went to Moortown Baptist Church in Leeds, when my Christian faith was being reawakened. Sally works in Geneva with the UN on their Aids programme and was speaking as part of the self-select programme. She and her husband Ian are terrific people.
Lots of memorable quotes – but just two to share and both from Archbishop Rowan:
the key task of the bishop is to be a linguist, learning the language of God;
and, God always creates a new situation when we listen and pray.
He’s got quite a job on his hands, but I have to say, I think he's a great guy!
Over another week to go, but after ‘The London Day’ that’s it for me.
The Bible Study was a spirited affair as we looked at the story of the woman taken in adultery and the following words of Jesus, ‘I am the light of the world’. In the exchange some fascinating insights emerged.
The Indaba group was a very different experience from yesterday and the concerns expressed had been taken on. We stayed within the group except for a few minutes in three’s or four’s following a DVD relating to the Millennium Development Goals. The two questions that were asked were, What is God calling us to do about justice and evangelism in our own context? And how can we work together to do that?
People spoke passionately and movingly and there was a sense of deep listening to the challenges that are faced in the different contexts. One bishop related how he had spoken to a bishop from Africa who commented that at Lambeth he eats three cooked meals a day, while at home some days he has no food at all. People shared their concerns, inevitably touching upon the sexuality issue, but although there was diversity, there was respect. One bishop from the Episcopal Church in the States spoke about his context in which there were a huge number of gay people, many who attended his church - there had been a time when the cathedral was burying fifty people a week because of the Aids epidemic. His diocese was actively committed to the relief of global suffering in core survival areas of the world.
At the end of the meeting the group needed to nominate three names from which one would be taken as the Listener for the group. The facilitator, or animateur, as he is called, did an excellent job of managing a process in which there were a number of views of how it should be done, and we got our three names. It feels as though it’s reached the point where things might really start to happen. And I’m about to leave. I have to say I feel some sadness. It’s been excellent to share this part of the journey.
When we as a Baptist family have a global gathering, different parts of the world are given an opportunity to share their culture within the worship. This can be extremely rich but the down side is that with a completely different menu each time you can feel a bit stuffed! I’ve only been here for a short while and if I was present for the full two weeks my experience might be different, but my sense is that the worship led by different provinces brings a distinctive flavour whilst remaining within a liturgy which remains essentially the same. So there is variety but within a given-ness.
The collect for today I particularly appreciated:
Almighty God and Father,
who breathed your life into humanity
and wrote our names in the dust:
help us to accept the transient nature
of our saintliness and sinfulness,
that enlightened by the witness of your Son,
we may ever hold fast
to the eternity of your love. Amen
During the Eucharist, the music was sublime, including a beautiful piece sung by Geraldine Latty. It was very special.
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
He began with the Choluteca Bridge, Honduras, which survived Hurrican Mitch in 1998. Amidst devastation and huge loss of life, the river got moved and now the bridge goes nowhere, standing as a monument to Japanese engineering. This was his way into explaining the shift from a modern to post-modern world. As I’ve already said, great quotes, but also he issued some basic but provocative questions: How do we create space for people to become authentic disciples of Jesus Christ? What if it were as simple as being an example?
I wish I’d got his definition of evangelism but I’ll have to listen again. To whet the appetite it began, ‘Evangelism is the gentle and respectful relational process of understanding and responding to people’s questions …’ He was deeply respectful and appreciative of Archbishop Rowan, and drew out those things that Anglican’s have going for them in this time of change. I loved his comment on the liturgy, ‘Liturgy which combines beauty, mystery, intelligence and clarity’.
On Tuesday he spoke at one of the many self-select sessions. It was billed as ‘Evangelism by Example’, and I guess that he addressed this in a roundabout way. But his approach was to continue with some of the questions that he didn’t have an opportunity to respond to on Monday evening. It became a conversation with many participating and no-one dominating, and looking especially at the questions that are asked by people not obviously part of the church.
The predictable question concerned why bad things happen to good people, and he explored the thinking behind the question, showing that people work with a model of the universe that is mechanistic, and one that needs challenging. Other questions that were striking included, How do you justify a book that reverences genocide and violence? And this one, though probably not often put so succinctly, In a multi-choice world, what do we choose and what’s worth choosing? This begs the question, what will happen if the multi-choice world begins to fragment, if consumerism should begin to crumble?
I liked the story he told about being distinctive. He was speaking with Seventh Day Adventists who asked him, ‘Can we really keep the Sabbath in this day and age?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, but you can’t think it makes you right.’
A question he asks often of people he meets who aren’t connected to a church goes like this, ‘I guess you don’t go to church. What do you think people like me need to hear?’ It’s a great question. He followed this with the lines of a song written by a friend, ‘An open hand is stronger than a fist, and listening is stronger than a shout.’ And his conclusion was the point that he made on Monday evening, biggest change requires example.
A surprising and pleasant point of connection for me is Geraldine Latty who has been a prominent presence in our own Baptist Assemblies and a familiar and friendly face.
Each day after Evening Prayer there’s a corporate rehearsal to learn some new material for use the next day which with a global constituency is not only a good idea but a necessary one.
A nice touch - in the Bible Study, with four Indian bishops we got into Mother Teresa stories which came from first hand experience and were moving.
And a ‘thought for the day’, emerging from talk about church decline and the pressure to be successful, ‘In the book of Revelation, the crown doesn’t go to the successful but the faithful.’
Monday, 21 July 2008
And the Indaba group? Well, so far, it’s what it said on the packing. We set some ground rules and then in quietness answered three questions. We then moved into two conversations in different pairs and then formed a group of five in which we explored in more detail the question, ‘Who am I as an Anglican bishop?’ At this point I might have felt left out, but not only was I was fully included but the group immediately offered to ordain me to the episcopacy there and then, and were already improvising for a bishop’s staff and Episcopal ring! Of course I resisted. What followed was not significantly different to the conversation I might have with my Team Leader colleagues, or indeed all Regional Ministers.
We then took our one sentence back and with the other small groups within the larger group, shared findings noting points of convergence and divergence.
Group dynamics are always fascinating, more so when you get a group of leaders together. And today was no exception, although everyone was very gracious and listened well. This was just the first meeting.
The second meeting followed later on in the afternoon. We took as the starting point, The Anglican Way: Signposts on a Common Journey. These are: Formed by Scripture; Shaped through Worship; Ordered for Communion; and Directed by God’s Mission. After a reading of each of these, we opted for one of these signposts for further discussion. I decided to join the group considering Formed by Scripture.
We were asked to engage with the statement which began, ‘we discern the voice of the living God in the Holy Scriptures, mediated by tradition and reason’. I was intrigued to hear the breadth of understanding, ranging from a ready acceptance of the tools of the historical-critical approach to simply taking God’s Word as it is, without allowing our culture to interfere with it in any way.
We face a similar breadth of understanding among our Baptist ministers and churches. But I return to our Baptist Declaration of Principle which begins in a different place in stating, ‘That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.’ Interestingly, this went down extraordinarily well with my Anglican friends who seemed to be quite taken with it!
Each Indaba group - fifteen in all - will nominate one of their group to carry the views and the fruit of their discussion into the reflections process. Their ‘listener’ will join a Listening Group whose task will be to generate a common text which authentically reflects the Indaba. On four occasions the Listening Group will meet in open sessions where the bishops can comment on the developing text. The hope is that every bishop attending the conference will be given the opportunity to shape the reflections from what emerges.
I’m taken with this approach and find it helpfully expressed in this statement: ‘The thinking behind this is that in Indaba, we must be aware of these challenges (issues) without immediately trying to resolve them one way or the other. We meet and converse, ensuring that everyone has a voice, and contributes (in our case, praying that it might be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) and that the issues at hand are fully defined and understood by all.
The purpose of the discussion is to find out the deeper convergences that might hold people together in difference and come to a deeper understanding of the topic or issues discussed. This will be achieved by seeking to understand exactly the thinking behind positions other than our own.’
Bishop Alan makes these useful reflections:
Indaba demands full participation
Indaba is an emergent process
Indaba is driven by trust
Indaba requires working space
Indaba is an expression of respect
Indaba is an expression of faith
There’s a real world out there, far more important to God than Ecclesiastical navel gazing.
I’ve been inspired and influenced by the Mennonites, Bridge Builder approach to peace making and in particular conflict resolution, and the similarities are apparent. Bridge Builder’s premise is that conflict is natural. The challenge is how we handle it and learn to live with difference. And listening, deep listening, is crucial. And our Baptist ecclesiology, with its emphasis upon the gathered community discerning the mind of God through listening to one another in the presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, also finds resonance in the process.
Now for the experience.
Sunday, 20 July 2008
It was fascinating to hear more about the Conference Programme and especially the nature of Indaba – on which I intend to blog – as well as the Covenant Proposal and also the Windsor Report Process – this is the report on human sexuality. This last aspect began to address the issue which is never far from the surface. It seems to me to be many people’s concern that this shouldn’t be the overriding issue of the Conference, that there are other more important issues to discuss. However, the absence of 250 bishops is, as Bishop Clive Hanford, the Chair of the group responsible for the ongoing process of the report, said, ‘a symbol of division and pain’. I was impressed by his analysis of the current situation, in which he spoke of the severity of the situation; the complexity of the Anglican Communion, with competing value systems, and a lack of clarity about shared values; inconsistencies in applying the Windsor Report; the breakdown of trust which has a number of components; turmoil in The Episcopal Church; and diminishing Communion.
Concluding this session, before Evening Prayer, Archbishop Rowan gave the first Presidential Address, in which he acknowledged in his opening statement that the Conference was ‘very aware of people’s eyes upon us’. And that ‘our eyes are upon each other’. He was pointed. ‘God is asking more sharply than before, what do we want to do with the Anglican Communion?’ He made clear that the greatest need is for transformed relationships, and he provided some of the suggested options: a loose federation, a connection of national family churches, more centralisation. ‘Is there another option? There is, but it would take some change of what we take for granted.’ The option he offered as the one in which he believes the Anglican Communion is being directed consists of two elements: counsel and covenant. He’s a wise and godly man and this was good stuff – the question is how will the Conference proceed over the next two weeks? A helpful reminder was that the Conference doesn’t vote, but it does make resolutions.
I had tea with Phil Groves, who was a Team Vicar at Melton Mowbray during my ministry there. He’s the Facilitator of the Listening Process and he’s done an excellent job in editing, ‘The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality’. You can imagine what we talked about.
Canterbury Cathedral is an awesome place – majestic and beautiful. The music was wonderful and varied with the organ enhanced by a brass group, and the choir accompanied by African percussion for the setting for the Eucharist, the ‘Missa Luba’, a version of the Latin Mass based on traditional Congolese songs for the Eucharist. During the Giving of Communion, the Choir sang ‘O sacrum convivium!’ (O Sacred Banquet) with words by St Thomas Aquinas, and music by Gabriel Jackson (b.1962) which was exquisite. This was followed by ‘Loquebantur variis linguis apostolic, alleluia’ (The apostles spoke in many tongues, alleluia) by Thomas Tallis.
The liturgy used at least six languages apart from English. And a highpoint in the drama was the Gospel Procession accompanied by a dance by the Melanesian Brothers and Sisters.
The preacher was the Right Reverend Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo, who spoke from 2 Corinthians 12.9, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ Commenting on the Anglican Communion, he noted that, ‘The crisis is complex - it is not a crisis that can be resolved instantly. He called for self-scrutiny, for unity and diversity, and for articulating a prophetic voice. He spoke with a quiet authority and insight and I particularly appreciated his comment that inevitably the prophetic voice is boring, relentlessly boring, it has to be said again and again. And also it isn’t self-serving. A great opener – Sri Lanka has five major religions: - Bhuddism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and cricket!
We left at 9.00 a.m. and made it back for 2.00 p.m. so it was something of a marathon. And though it was nothing like my normal Sunday experience of worship (nor most people’s I guess), it was a deeply meaningful experience and one that I won’t forget.
There are about 650 bishops from all around the world – I enjoyed an evening meal with Pradip from India and Doug Stevens from Australia - and 75 ecumenical participants.
Geoffrey Weaver is responsible for the music and looking through ‘Lambeth Praise’ it should be a rich experience of worship from around the world.
The homily included a reading of St Dorotheus of Gaza from 6th Century:
‘Imagine a circle marked out on the ground. Suppose this circle is the world, and that the centre of the circle is God. Leading from the edge of the circle to its centre are a number of lines, and these represent the paths of ways of life that men can follow. In their desire to come closer to God, the saints move along these lines toward the middle of the circle so that the further they advance towards the middle of the circle the nearer they come to both God and one another. The closer they come to God the closer they come to each other; and the closer they come to each other, the closer they come to God.’
Rowan linked this to the New Testament reading from 1 Jn. 4, ‘Beloved, since God loved us so much, we ought also to love one another … if we love one another God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.’ Very simply, ‘the deeper we sink into God’s love’, to use his phrase, the deeper we sink into the love of God for our neighbours. In short, it felt very, what’s the word I’m looking for … welcoming.
Friday, 18 July 2008
Following a link from Maggi to the Church Times, the blogging bishops (and others) attending Lambeth have met up. It was particularly interesting to read that my colleague Bishop Alan manages to blog in the twenty minutes after morning prayer which, if you are familiar with his blog, is pretty amazing bearing in mind the quality of his posts.
I leave early tomorrow to arrive late morning and as I’ve made known already, I’m looking forward to it!
I'm looking forward to:
- meeting with church leaders from all over the world, and hearing their perspectives on some of the challenging issues that face us all;
- worshipping in a tradition which is different from my own and on this occasion will be flavoured by the global constituency;
- participating in an ‘Indaba’ group and observing how difference is handled across such a broad spectrum of views;
- hearing a variety of speakers, including Brian McLaren;
- meal times and other social dimensions (let the reader understand);
- attending a number of receptions including lunch at Lambeth Palace, and tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace;
- blogging on the experience;
- coming home in just under a week and going on holiday straight away!
Tuesday, 15 July 2008
The Lambeth Conference takes place every ten years and is the assembly of the bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s been happening since 1867.
One thing I don’t expect it to be is boring. The issues that are being addressed and some of the developments in the Anglican Communion over the last few weeks mean that the media are already giving it considerable coverage. Bishop Alan, one of my Anglican colleagues, has already contributed a number of stimulating posts on it. His blog on Indaba makes some helpful comments on what will be a significant part of the process.
As the Anglican Communion is an international association of national churches and not a governing body, the Lambeth Conference serves a collaborative and consultative function. It expresses 'the mind of the communion' on issues of the day. Resolutions which a Lambeth Conference may pass are without legal effect, but they can carry some clout all the same.
It’s fascinating to look back at some of the outcomes. In 1920, among other things, the Lambeth Conference rejected Christian Science, spiritualism, and theosophy, and affirmed the place of women as lay members of synods. It rejected without compromise or qualification all forms of artificial contraception, even within marriage.
In 1930 the Lambeth Conference rejected war as a means of settling international disputes, declared induced abortion ‘abhorrent’ and opposed racial segregation in churches. Interestingly, it approved the use of birth control in limited circumstances. Moving on to 1957 it called for respect for the ‘consciences’ of married couples who use birth control.
These were major issues of the day to which the Anglican communion was seeking to respond. The issues have moved on. It’ll be fascinating to see what the outcomes are in 2008.
Monday, 14 July 2008
We often seem to turn a blind eye (or is it a deaf ear?) to another direction by Mr Wesley, ‘Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.’
Tuesday, 1 July 2008
In the light of this, Sunday’s lectionary readings - which I read prior to visiting Aston Clinton Baptist Church where I was preaching – unnerved me. Or rather one of them did, the passage from Genesis 22, where Abraham is asked to do the unthinkable and offer his only son on the altar of sacrifice.
As a father of boys I’ve always found this a particularly heart-wrenching passage, and the last time I preached on it, I recall that I felt I hadn’t done justice to it. As I read it, I found it even more so. I look at my boys, who are in fact men, and try for just a moment to put myself in Abraham’s place, and the reality is that I can’t. What could this have meant for Abraham?
I had a quick look at ‘Texts for Preaching’, a useful commentary on the lectionary with contributions from Brueggemann and Cousar, and it was helpful. ‘In the first scene Abraham is addressed by the abrupt voice of God, described as a voice of savage sovereignty … In the second ‘Isaac his long awaited son, speaks a voice of innocent pathos. … In the third scene, [as Abraham’s obedient offering is about to be made] Abraham is addressed one more time. This is a voice of stunning generosity.’ (While I recognise the provision of God, I guess I find the adjective a bit over the top, unless you continue with vv. 15-19.)
I connected with some of the questions that the commentator raises. As Abraham tells his servant that he and the boy will return, does he believe in a miracle? Is he lying? Does he deceive himself? Does he recognise that he will return alone if he fully obeys the voice. None of these questions is answered. Add to these those that are raised from Abraham’s answer to Isaac’s question, ‘where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Is his answer that God will provide a loving deception? Is it a direct lie. Is it an act of outrageous hope? Again, no answers.
This is a story of testing and faith, set against a backdrop of the long-awaited but now realized promise. And the story is more manageable because we know the outcome. Shockingly, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, includes Wilfred Owen’s telling of the story which is changed so that Abraham goes through with the sacrifice:
Lay not they hand upon the lad
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
I remain unnerved which is right and proper. I must preach on it again, and maybe do a bit more justice to it.