Karen and I have returned from Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference that ended there last week. I’m mostly recovered from the experience and have had some time to reflect on what I saw and learned. I’ll be writing and speaking more about the events of the conference later this fall, but I did want to share some quick impressions while they’re still fresh in my mind.
We belong to a global church that contains many cultures. I’m reminded of that, to a smaller degree, every time the Episcopal Church House of Bishops or General Convention gathers, since the Episcopal Church is found across this nation and across the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. But gathering with bishops from the 42 provinces (we’re just one of them) really drives that home. We met and prayed together in multiple languages, out of multiple ministry contexts and facing very different challenges. Our experience of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion here in Southern New England is just a small part of a very large and rich quilt.
There is much more that unites us than divides us. The news reports about the conference were full of conflict narratives and quotes from outsiders claiming that the Anglican Communion was “over”. That was not at all what it was like at the Conference. Yes, there are deep divisions between us, but that is only a part of the truth. We have so much more in common. Not just the Gospel and the mission to proclaim it to all the World, but our common heritage, the shape of our liturgy and prayer books, the way we think about prayer and action and the affection we hold toward one another.
This was a very important meeting. I’m hesitant to share “hot takes” about events because I generally find that I don’t fully understand what has happened until time and distance give me more perspective. But I’m already just about certain that way the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other leaders of the Communion handled the last minute controversy regarding equal marriage for all in the Lambeth Call entitled “On Human Dignity” will give us space to grow into deeper relationships with other Anglicans around the World. (More on this later.) I teared up as the Archbishop spoke to the assembled bishops that Tuesday afternoon and insisted that voices of inclusion had “not ignored scripture or denied Jesus” – a common charge made by those opposed to the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the Church. As he said those words, a great weight lifted off all of us, those in favor and those opposed, and the character of the conference changed. Perhaps so too has the Communion.
There are many people around the World who need our help. Given the sometimes overwhelming challenges that we face here in Rhode Island, in the United States, it’s hard to imagine that the Church is facing even greater ones elsewhere. But it is. In parts of the World, Anglicans are actively persecuted, their buildings attacked and their lives threatened. Churches in South Sudan are trying to rebuild their communities after years of war and asking us to help provide farming implements, seeds and sewing equipment. I had a chance to meet the new bishop of Ezo – who is keen on rejuvenating our diocesan relationship, I met a young bishop from Sudan who is living in a refugee camp because his region has no basic services, and a bishop from a brand-new diocese in Kenya who is working to build up the basic structures he will need to start sharing the Good News with his region. Listening to their stories reminds me of how blessed we are both materially and spiritually, and what a blessing it is that we can share with others.
There’s so much more to tell. I want to tell you about the Anglican Communion Science Commission and my role with it, about the Communion Forest Initiative, about the work that I saw Della Wager Wells doing, about seeing Ivy Swinski and Kinte Howie on screen in front of all the other bishops and dignitaries, about the impact of the worship, the chance meetings, the stories of faithful ministry from around the Communion and … Well, you get the idea. I’ll be sharing more over the coming months, both online and during my visitations. For the moment, I’m glad to be home and working alongside people who I’ve so grateful to share ministry with. Stay tuned as they say…