Friday, August 1, 2008

7/31/08-8/1/08, Thursday and Friday

These past two days have been focused on the hard work of the Conference. The Archbishop's 2nd Address challenged us at the end with this question: "Having heard the other person, the other group, as fully and fairly as I can, what generous initiative can I take to break through into a new and transformed relation of communion in Christ?"

We have been wrestling with that in our small groups as we talk about the proposed Anglican Covenant and the issues that have brought us here. My experience is this:

There is a great distress around the globe at where we are. We had a very difficult session this week where we shared the upheaval in the wider Church. I have often quoted lines from the Irish poet, W. B. Yeats: "All is being changed, changed utterly,/ A terrible beauty is being born." Whatever this terrible beauty is, we are going through the birth pangs and it will be a long birth.

There is also a great desire on the people here to stay together. I don't know know if that desire exists with the bishops who chose not to come; clearly it's not strong enough to overcome their reluctance. My only question is whether our desire is to stay together with the actual Churches in the Anglican Communion as it exists today or do we hunger for some idea of the Communion that only exists because we could not know each other very well? In some ways what we are dealing with is "the scandal of the particular." We aren't talking about some generalized Americans or Africans or Brazilians or....; we are talking about people with names and histories and specific actions.

The difficulty is that there are so many layers to the issues. They are about biblical interpretation, the interplay between autonomy and interdependence, ecclesiology, polity, power, money, colonialism, American imperialism, ethics, and on and on. Thus far, we have not separated these, and I believe that is part of our difficulty in moving forward. Too often the situation is presented as if we simply don't agree on Scripture. This is an oversimplification. In addition, I find it very frustrating that the incursions by foreign bishops into the Episcopal Church has gotten little attention or even acknowledgement.

With those qualifications, I would tell you that we are wrestling with issues that matter--despite what the press might report. Much of my afternoon yesterday was spent talking about what constitutes the essentials of our faith. The Proposed Covenant says that our unity might be impaired over "essential concerns" but what are they and how can we define them so they are the same this decade and the next and the next after that?

I am, frankly, unclear about the overall process. I do not know how our work gets folded into whatever document eventually gets circulated next Spring. But I am trying to let go of that concern (since there is little to do about it) and just focus on the dialogue with my fellow bishops about things that matter.

I too have been reading the newspapers, and I can say that they do not portray the deep generosity that I have experienced here. I read bishops giving condemnations in the press and wonder what conference they are attending. My group has wept and laughed together. We have been quite honest about the dynamics of the last years and about what we need to go forward. I was thinking about the phrase in 1 Peter--the call for us to have a "tender heart": "Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind." Yes, I have witnessed an absence of these qualities here, but only in moments and not on the whole. In my encounters, we have had glimpses of that "unity of spirit" because we have had "tender hearts" and "humble minds."

I do confess that I am tired. I feel like Dorothy and I keep clicking my heels and saying "There's no place like home," but I open my eyes and I am still here--not even in Kansas much less North Carolina. However, there really has been an abundance of grace amid the very confusing issues and process.

Tomorrow we will celebrate the Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral. I will pray for you then and hope wherever you are in the diocese, you pray for us.