Wednesday 21 May 2008

Lambeth Talking

On May 20th the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas, Angus Dun Professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a member of the Lambeth Conference's design group, joined the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in talking about the Lambeth Conference.

This is my summary of the media conference with added comments.

An introduction told of the small group conversation model of indaba groups (40 people at Lambeth; follows after 8 people groups) in that were first designed for a Southern Africa Anglican congress that did not happen (to which Lambeth would have been related), and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, asked that this innovative external-mission focused model was used for Lambeth itself, replacing a parliamentary type model of winners and losers. This replaces a text-driven conference of reports and resolutions on a Western linear model. There is a retreat, then ten ordinary days. It is a decentred, relational, conversationalist, face to face based conference. The Presiding Bishop said conversation comes from spending time with - so it is about hanging out with people you do not know. You meet the other, and not discarnate as on the Internet. Parliamentary procedures leads to winners and losers, producing an out-group that did not succeed. Removing this brings us back to being a Christian community.

This raises an interesting question. When you meet a predicament that needs an answer - the source of all politics - what happens if the method becomes resolution free? There is sometimes a comparison with the Quakers made. However, the Quakers do have plenary meetings and do resolve, but aim for consensus. Is there no basis for this then? Not according to this presentation.

Almost immediately GAFCON was mentioned. Bishop Schori said that the Bishop of Colorado, Rob O'Neil, is going to give support to Bishop Dawani as Dawani had said that it is not helpful to import conflict into the Middle East at this time. Another venue would have had positive potential. It was also said by Professor Douglas that it is good for Christians to come together and have conversation. An either-or session saddens as a loss of opportunity. There was no fear or concern about GAFCON. It would be wonderful if participants there also came to Lambeth.

Of course Dawani has been sidestepped. GAFCON is definitely a conference: the GAFCON leaders sidestepped him at first by saying Jerusalem was a pilgrimage. It is bad faith. They have show contempt for Sulheil Dawani. He wants to tell them what he thinks, and one wonders if he can.

Ruth Gledhill had an open question about Lambeth and hopes that went on in her sly way to ask about the impact of conservative bishops attending like Gregory Venables. This latter question was ignored. Indeed there was a rather significant correction: the Anglican Church not a correct term for the Communion, said Bishop Schori. The Conference is about encounter and building relationships. Relationships lead to growing new partnerships - and the number of these new partnerships had grown recently.

Yet the confusion of terminology of Church and Communion has been made by Rowan Williams, the same one whose aim for the Covenant (hardly mentioned here) was that of centralisation: the bishops in dioceses and then... him. The Communion became thus a Church. Clearly this is not acceptable to The Episcopal Church.

A question was on how to meet Gene Robinson there. The House of Bishops has been very disappointed that he was omitted, said Katherine Jefferts Schori. He might be present around the edges and , anyway, Province 1 bishops (his) will give opportunities to meet Bishop Robinson. Professor Douglas said that invitations come from the Archbishop of Canterbury. There are issues of timing, irregular bishops (about which Rowan Williams looked to the Windsor Report), and Gene Robinson (and he looked to the Windsor Report again - the principle goes both ways) and the [deposed] Bishop at Harare was not invited. So there is a larger context and it is not simply about one bishop in one Church.

Bishop Schori's reaction was quite strong and that Gene Robinson was going to be represented and could be met. Professor Douglas provided an apology of reasoning that tried to be even handed.

Interestingly someone asked why Brian McClaren of the Emerging Church is speaking. Professor Douglas said that the Archbishop of Canterbury heard him and wanted his fresh vision to be useful for bishops. He speaks on the first night of ordinary nights - on evangelism and Fresh Expressions. He will allow bishops to think in new ways. The Presiding Bishop said she met him in Seattle. She was greatly encouraged. She said how he turned the normal pattern of believing then belonging and then behaving around into belonging, behaving and then believing and this applies in more than just Western Churches. Professor Douglas said that he has a global view and was in Rwanda.

Of course some evangelicals question whether Brian McClaren represents an evangelical position at all, with all his postmodernism. One sees Fresh Expressions as almost a form of desperation regarding decline.

They were asked if the Lambeth Conference will significantly change the Communion and Episcopal Church. They said deep and full conversation leads to conversion and hope. Also that the communion is becoming. There is a many voiced global perspective to facilitate conversations to help the becoming.

The question was probably referring to the coming divisions but, again, the answers were hopelessly (or hopefully) positive in the face of the actual.

It is less well remembered that the 1998 Lambeth Conference endorsed Millennium Development Goals. Implementing these takes us towards what a healed world looks like, said Bishop Schori. Professor Douglas said the third ordinary day (23rd July) will look at the bishop as a leader in social justice with MDGs involved. The London day is the next day and will involve a witness there involving MDGs as well as these palaces being visited.

All bishops may go to somewhere in England, Scotland and Wales. The Presiding Bishop is going to Salisbury (assuming her strange pronunciation) and some others are going there from different provinces. This will allow bishops to see localities in Britain, and feel more at home in these islands. It will allow them to rest into business.

A crafty question asked how the I AM statements of John's Gospel will provide an avenue for those who disagree on the authority of scripture to discuss differences: especially regarding homosexuality; were these texts chosen for that purpose - why or why not were they chosen - and how can Indaba conversations or workshops look at Church's approach to gay clergy.

The Presiding Bishop guessed that studying these statements are because they give one view of what it means to be the incarnate presence of God. Bishops are not the only leaders, she said: all the baptised are. Thus she saw it about how we too become God's incarnate presence. Professor Douglas said she was exactly correct about the texts and why they were chosen. Rowan Williams is drawn to the Gospel of John. Six Bible scholars were chosen about how to help bishops get into the study and the question is what does Jesus say in all those different circumstances of I AM. He said that the Indaba groups will not shy away from hard questions - one day's Indaba is dedicated to how Bible study is done and Bible authority; one day's Indaba is dedicated to human sexuality. There is also Anglican identity, Anglican Covenant, environment, gender and violence to be tackled this way.

One wonders if some bishops will be frustrated about the texts. Also one day discussing the Covenant, one discussing identity, one to human sexuality, may itself lead to a frustration of 'time's up'. I can see some bishops, especially those like Venables, attempting to usurp the agenda. If this happens the whole Conference could indeed become linear and even bloody.

Regarding how much TEC's own controversies will be discussed depends on other individuals "het up on it" and their passions, said Bishop Schori.

Professor Douglas, in being asked to describe the wide diversity of the Anglican Communion and how other provinces are unique (was this another crafty question?) referred to British and US colonial history used by God to plant the Good News in many 164 countries. He saw a New Pentecost in the Anglican Communion. We can all contribute. The fullness in all of our differences across the world helps us to know more of the full gospel. The Presiding Bishop believed the Anglican Communion is important as the whole advances God's mission.

I do find this language about God using colonialism to plant the gospel such romantic drivel. More often than not these missionaries were invasive and cultural thugs. They had no right to be where they went, and the end did not justify the means. As for this New Pentecost for the Communion, it just beggars belief. It almost seems like their heads are stuck in the sand, ostrich-like. Where have they been? The agenda is not the same thing as the issues at hand.

The Presiding Bishop answering the next question was quite blunt that learning to be with one another is made more difficult in this particular instance of Bishop Robinson not present: that avoiding people we find uncomfortable means conversation ceases to be"incarnate". Professor Douglas said it is sad and painful when the full family cannot come to the family gathering - all are diminished. He said that it is not however up to only one bishop to tell the story of what the Holy Spirit is doing in The Episcopal Church. All TEC bishops are to participate and witness to the difficulties and joys of being faithful Anglican Christians.

Again he was trying to be the more explanatory.

A question was put whether this indaba method is not a sidestepping of difficult issues and how to plough through them. Meeting face to face rather than head on, came the reply from Ian Douglas. The design group went beyond the Western Enlightenment and parliamentary method of debate and resolution. He asked, in these post-colonial times, whether those old processes, that create winners and losers, provide the best way forward. Such privileged that one way of being and doing the Church; face to face is the change and there is to be real person to real person and genuine meetings around the hard issues. Parliamentary alienates, divides and causes hurt. The Presiding Bshop said sexuality is central for us and some others, but this is not so everywhere. Elsewhere hunger, disease, life and death are to be met head on.

But again, if there is an issue that needs resolving, how can this be done by an agenda and method that prevents resolutions?

A question was how to interpret Lambeth back to parishioners? The Presiding Bishop said it can be seen as a global conversation. Lambeth 2008 will not legislate at all. There will be no final decisions about anything. One part of the body of Christ in the Anglican Communion (bishops) is to have challenging, enriching and converting conversations. Professor Douglas said it is hard for the media as there isn't a focal point of decision making. What happens will do so in very small, close, one-on-one relationships. The story will be difficult but one story is strengthening. The Presiding Bishop added that journalists might consider how they can tell any particular story that images the holographic view.

Someone was confused that there could be absolutely no resolutions. Both affirmed this.

Does strengthening happen when there is an unresolved issue that can but go around and around?

Another thought that Lambeth showed a lack of transparency contrary to the aims of The Episcopal Church. Bishop Schori said it is not her meeting and she does not issue the invitations. Americans and British have one language but different cultures. Dozens of different cultures will encounter each other. Such encounters happen more easily in an intimate community than on a parliamentary floor. Ian Douglas said it is an "incorrect presentation" to describe Lambeth as closed shop. There are sessions for those invited. The design however allows for wide open hospitality before the conference and in the evenings and in open spaces. There are spaces on the university campus for all sorts of organisations. There is the Market Place too. Fringe events in UK parlance mean a key part of the encounter. So this Lambeth compared with 1998 will be more porous. The Presiding Bishop added that not only is this a post colonial but also a postmodern way of operating.

Yes and there may be the odd demonstration too. Security may be rather worried about the porous aspect of the Conference. Homophobes may be worried too.

Closing statements followed with Ian Douglas focussing on worship. 1998 had one kind of daily Eucharist and then the issue was who did it. Lambeth 2008 will have a service order, yet with cultural understandings then brought in. Worshipping together would facilitate unity. He asked for bishops and Rowan Williams to be kept in prayers for such a very different conference.

One wonders what planet he is on. There are going to be - just as at Dar Es Salaam in February 2007 - refusals to have communion with one another. It would be good if these diminished via the hard one to one talking, but not if issues emerge unresolved in any wider sense.

Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schrori said that from England came this idea of worship in the language of the people. It is in the DNA. Despite the colonial imposition of one language, this had grown into diversity of contexts, the Gospel presented in new idioms around the world. She added that the first conference was about bishops and teaching and on walking into other terrritories - and that such still not sorted out. There are indeed challenges in a complex, diverse, challenging family.

Such is the point. Will the challenges be anything other than mangled through these groups? How can they emerge with any resolution? When a predicament is not tackled to some outcome, the result can be frustration. Talk is a means, not an end. The Quakers both talk and resolve. The people coming up from GAFCON are coming to give one message and that's it. Of course there will be some output, in terms of identity and Covenant, but even that will be decentred. Will the Covenant still attempt to centralise? In the real world, the Covenant will present itself with a level of restrictiveness across the Communion. If the Covenant just presents talking and no effective restriction, then a large constituency will find it inadequate. If it presents effective restriction, then a large constituency will find it unacceptable. Such win-lose linear "parliamentary" issues do not go away by some method of absorption into talk.

I think this is naive and over-optimistic. I'll stay with my more depressing bet. It is called realism.


Anonymous said...

From Ruth Gledhill. Good report Pluralist, and sorry that you found my question 'sly'. It wasn't meant to be at all - it was openly asked in an email and it is sort of my job to ask questions - not sure quite why you thought it sly. I also asked in my email about Gene Robinson not being invited, although I am not sure if that bit of my question was used because obviously others asked that as well and they understandably would not have wanted repetition. Regards, Ruth (it is me, but have posted under 'anon' because it is so difficult to log onto blogger. check if you wish on

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Many thanks for that.

Sly in the sense that you had an open question (almost like one of those 1950s questions to politicians - "how are you doing today?") and then, sort of, 'put one in' at the end for them to fall into. It therefore has a sort of welcome effect in the question, only to turn it at the end. Better to ask straight up - and a good question about Venables who is obviously out to force a point there which, had it been up front, would have been harder for them to have avoided.

So my question might have been, "What do you think is the effect of Gregory Venables coming on your aspirations for the outcome of Lambeth Conference?"