Friday, 1 August 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (16)

… or more accurately today it’s news from the big white train, as I head back north and west ready for tomorrow’s Three Choirs Festival opening service.

We took photos in our bible study group this morning and I handed round Celtic style cards with knot patterns on like the ones I have at times designed and fabricated into rugs, cushion covers and jumpers. I inscribed in each a Franciscan tau cross and Latin greeting and then appended my email address. Put together that says quite a lot about my spiritual wells. Yesterday a colleague had given each member a copy of the TEC Book of Common Prayer which brought back happy memories of when I used the rite to say matins each morning whilst staying with a Texan priest in Peru.

The indaba groups are moving from direct discussion of sexuality to matters of covenant. I guess there’s a general recognition that we’re not, in two or three weeks, going to build levels of agreement (or agreement to differ) the whole way, but there’s a sense of having made enormous progress in terms of mutual understanding, love and (dare I say it) trust in each other and each other’s integrity. Whilst nothing will satisfy Orombi and Akinola, nor the shady figures from North American behind them, there’s been good solid evidence on campus that archiepiscopal bullying has its limits and that there is a more representative voice of southern conservatism which will listen to those of its neighbours who have been at Lambeth and are able to share the seriousness with which we are working at our unity and respond to such visible signs of progress as can be signed off by Sunday night.

Highlight of the day: (actually last night at the Old Palace reception) yet more conversations with amazing people such as Sebastian Bakare of Harare and Cardinal Walter Kasper.

Lowlight of the day: Train struck a tree so we limped to the next station before being decamped onto the following stopper. Reached Charing Cross 30 minutes late to find Bakerloo line closed.

Last word: Thanks everyone for your comments.

Posted by David Walker on Friday, 1 August 2008 at 8:58pm BST | Comments (3) | TrackBack
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Thursday, 31 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (15)

Today Anglicans circled prayerfully and slowly around, worked hard at not stepping on each others toes, and eventually all ended up in the centre admiring Canterbury. Yes, it was the official opening of the new University Labyrinth on the slope behind Eliot College and with wonderful views over both city and cathedral. I’m not sure whether the Conference simply coincided serendipitously with the labyrinth’s creation or not, but it made a fine late addition to the programme and afforded yet another way of holding all we are doing before God.

Our indaba group on sexuality was every bit as moving as I had hoped for. Emotionally I think the Conference has gone a long way towards endorsing what I would call responsible, accountable, contextual diversity. The tricky bit may be trying to capture that in a text that will survive the flights home, the determined shredders of the blogosphere and the efforts of some of our absent friends.

The morning video journal, before the dismissal at the end of the Eucharist, featured Tom Shaw from Massachusetts (thank you spell checker) and a Tanzanian bishop (whose name I didn’t catch) explaining how they keep up a warm and loving dialogue on human sexuality, that has now lasted several years, across their obvious and persisting theological differences. It was an example of the same graciousness that has been the hallmark of the last two weeks, but it shows it doesn’t have to end when Lambeth is over. The video introduction featured Rowan, who started by saying, “The 1998 Lambeth Conference spent a lot of energy discussing sexuality”, at which point the audio failed, whilst the picture jumped once or twice then stuck on a still of the Archbishop with his eyes closed (a blink stretched into eternity). Clearly this is where the energy finally ran out. The whole big blue tent roared with laughter, especially Rowan himself, and the mood, already buoyed up by a splendid sermon from the Archbishop of Burundi, rose even further. It was a good start to a good day.

Highlight of the day: I’m invited to supper at the Old Palace Canterbury tonight.

Lowlight of the day: when I get back I’m going to have to pack as tomorrow is my last day here before returning to Worcester for the Three Choirs Festival.

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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (14)

Tomorrow is sex day here at Canterbury, so tonight I’m missing any number of receptions being hosted by groups wanting to get the last word to bishops in advance. Meanwhile the work on the “conference document”, whatever that will turn out to be, continues apace; the listeners draft texts which we then meet each afternoon to critique. Today’s session was remarkable only for the fact that hardly any USA bishops spoke, otherwise we made the usual range of strengthening and clarifying amendments that 600 articulate adults are always going to be able to provide. We’re being told that a number of people have responded to Rowan’s question last night about what they might offer in generosity to those of an opposing view. There’ll be more discussion on that tomorrow.

The spouses fled the campus this morning, being taken on a range of day trips to different parts of Kent and its environs. It was suggested over breakfast that the group going to Rochester might pay a friendly call on the bishop; if he won’t come to Lambeth, Lambeth could come to him. In its wilder versions the idea involved large quantities of rainbow ribbon.

I’m clearly getting a reputation in my bible study group; one colleague was quite adamant that I wasn’t going to be allowed to go through a whole session without telling them a story about St Francis of Assisi.

Highlight of the day: a brilliant lecture on scriptural authority by Tom Wright, who combines immense scholarship with a highly engaging style. Unusually for a 4pm slot the room was packed.

Lowlight of the day: my debit card was jammed then swallowed by the ATM. Still, that solves the question as to whether I pay £22 for the official photo. In any case, Dave Walker’s cartoon version gives a far more complete picture of our time here.

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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (13)

Today we threw over the usual timetable and spent the morning as spouses and bishops together studying the story of the rape of Tamar as a way into seeing what societies, including our own, do to the powerless. To make safe space for all we were divided into male and female on separate halves of the Big Blue. Riding Lights Theatre Company provided some fascinating drama on the same theme from the New Testament, showing us how women are accepted as long as they are infantilised, useful or invisible. The story of how all the men around Tamar work to silence her voice was pretty salutary. Chaplains were available then and all afternoon to help people deal with the personal issues raised. This could have been trivial and corny but ultimately it was challenging and profound. I suspect the more paternalistic the home culture the more shocking the day was. And for many of us the read across to other minorities including LGBT who are invisible, allowed to participate only in as much as they prove particularly useful or blocked from seniority was pretty obvious. It will form part of the narrative we take forward.

Rowan spoke after Evening Prayer, but that’s heavily reported elsewhere so I won’t repeat it here. Conference organisers and insiders to the process seem upbeat about how it is going, the rest of us have to either trust that or make an uninformed decision (not that I’m suggesting bishops ever do make uninformed decisions).

A couple of blogs ago Leonel mentioned the Origins bar at Darwin (yes I know, that really is corny) so we fixed up to have a drink there this evening and I got introduced to some of the wonderful stewards who, for pocket money, look after us all the time. Two weeks in and they’re still smiling. I asked whether they had been put off bishops for life and were all about to become Baptists, but they seemed pretty happy at working with us.

Highlight of the day: the first cool breezes on campus for days

Lowlight of the day: the harrowing scenes of the aftermath of the winds and floods in Burma, shown as part of that province’s presentation of itself during Evensong.

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Monday, 28 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (12)

One of my hopes in writing this daily piece is that it helps those beyond the university campus to hold what is going on up here in prayer. Today I got to be part of that when I joined the Third Order Franciscan Praying Presence at Greyfriars in the city. Franciscan tertiaries from the UK and beyond are following a daily prayer routine for the conference in the place where the very first Franciscan house in England was founded, during the saint’s lifetime, in 1224.

The chapel is part of the original buildings and has miraculously survived the reformation and all that has happened since. My task was to preside at the noon Eucharist and then share lunch. It was a chance to preach on the day’s text (John 10.1-10; I am the door of the sheepfold) and relate it to the Franciscan charism. Prayer is being stepped up on campus too. From today on there is a vigil from 0900 to 2100.

This afternoon saw the second set of Windsor Continuation Hearings, the papers for which are now available on Thinking Anglicans. The pattern tended to be conservative TEC followed by liberal TEC with some good, and good natured, speeches on both sides. Most telling was the temperamentally conservative bishop who personally opposed the consecration of Gene Robinson but still has territorial invasions in his diocese. We need a tool that will allow these to be examined; maybe the WCG paper suggests something (though it needs some beefing up in my view). (By the way, thanks for all the comments and links readers have added, as I said, I’m not responding to each but am taking you with me on the journey.)

Tonight’s main speaker was Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, he’s well worth listening too, especially on religion and culture, but I’d accepted an invite from USPG who kindly support our work with Peru. Anyway, last time I invited Rabbi Sacks to something he sent apologies, so it felt fair enough. The USPG reception was humbling. In rapid succession I spoke with the Bishop of Harare and the Archbishop of Burma, amazing people living out Christian lives and ministries under appalling conditions. The Archbishop of Southern Africa spoke movingly to the assembled gathering. A wise friend from a conservative African province said to me, “If you disagree with your husband or wife, you don’t kick them out; you just carry on walking side by side and believe things can change in the future”.

This morning’s Eucharist was presided over by the Indian Ocean province. I was surprised to see my friend Graham Cray, bishop of Maidstone and suffragan of Rowan on the platform. For a moment I thought I had the media scoop of the conference: “Diocese of Canterbury goes for alternative provincial oversight”. Surely not even Rowan’s worst nightmares feature that eventuality. All was soon cleared up; the province had invited its three links to each put a bishop on the altar.

Highlight of the day: hearing the voices of children outside playing in the summer sun as we celebrated the Eucharist in the thirteenth century Franciscan chapel.

Lowlight of the day: the heat and humidity in the Spouses’ Venue for the Hearings session. Is God trying to tell us something about bishops and hot air?

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Sunday, 27 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (11)

Well, I did what I said I was going to do: took the train to Dover, bought a map and bottle of sun tan lotion, then walked along the cliffs to Samphire Hoe (the country park made out of the Eurotunnel spoil heap) read my book for a good three hours then retraced my steps slowly along the coast to catch the London Victoria service back to Canterbury. The sun has shone all day, but hazily enough for me not to burn and I now feel thoroughly into the plot of “Animal’s People”. I’ve had a good supper (before the queues), a cooling shower and made liberal use of the after sun spray.

So what to write about today? Perhaps it’s a chance to give a sense of where I feel I (personally as opposed to the conference as a whole) am at this instant on the Anglican Communion issues we’re going to be dealing with next week. I may well change; I have to be open to that if I’m taking the process seriously, but this is how it feels this middle Sunday evening.

I think it is possible to envisage some sort of covenant document, broadly along the lines that the Design Group have come up with, which uses the traditional Anglican formularies for the bulk of its text, recognises that as Anglicans our mission is to enculture the gospel along with evangelising the culture, and clearly avoids attempting to lay down the line on doctrinal issues that are not part of the historic creeds and on moral positions. A covenant will need to have some criteria for determining whether a particular church is adhering to it, and there have to be ways in which new areas of concern can be raised and addressed in a timely fashion where they are so grave, have so wide an impact or are sufficiently divisive not to be simply matters that provinces (or dioceses) can determine autonomously without being called to some form of account. My area of greatest scepticism is whether such a covenant can ever be used to deal with matters that have already become rancorous.

I’ve heard enough stories this last 10 days to know that even TEC bishops who voted against Gene Robinson are facing territorial incursions from parishes who think the game is now pick-a-bishop. That really will not do. We mustn’t let this particular issue off the hook again.

And so to bed! I read and study my bible habitually, prayerfully and hard, learning both from the insights the Holy Spirit provides me and from the long tradition of piety and scholarship within which I am continually formed and reformed. My personal conclusion is that what St Paul and the Old Testament are condemning are not faithful, loving and stable same sex relationships as we see them today but rather matters of cultic sex, sex as the expression of a particular power relationship, and promiscuity. The other main argument, that God didn’t create Adam and Adam, collapses into a narrow form of Thomism (in which every “thing” can have only one good and natural purpose) that is explicitly rejected in the Prayer Book (and its revisions) marriage service and therefore cannot be claimed as Anglican.

Nonetheless, if I ever thought this issue could be “adiaphora” (something a local church can determine without needing to heed others) I no longer do. The consecration of a bishop in an active same sex relationship has certainly helped some Christians in North America to feel more fully accepted by the church, official liturgies and blessings for such partnerships have done the same for the couples involved and their friends. But the price is being paid elsewhere, particularly in places where Christians are on the defensive or in a minority in relation to Islam, and are often seen as slack on topics such as the consumption of alcohol. In countries like these male homosexual activities are often still criminal. There is no way they can tackle these issues at present in their contexts nor could they defend themselves by saying that “it’s not us, it’s just the Americans”. Indeed the very fact that it is the USA (in many parts of the world I doubt Canada is adequately distinguished) leading that plays into the anti-imperialism and hatred of America that is so strong across the globe. Invasion by American cultural values is no more popular than invasion by its troops.

As a C of E bishop I recognise that were I to insist on carrying out the consequences of my own views on this subject rather than upholding what Synod and the House of Bishops have agreed then I would have to resign. But my Anglican ecclesiology and catholic spirituality teach me to be obedient to the collegial will, properly expressed, not least because I might well be wrong. Equally, I believe that any individual church that claims to be Anglican needs to have a polity which gives full weight to the whole communion. It’s here where I find I am looking over the next few days to my American brothers and sisters for reassurance.

Highlight of the day: a good long read.

Lowlight of the day: the campus shop had closed when I got back and there’s no beer in the fridge.

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Saturday, 26 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (10)

Thanks to those who are adding comments to this blog. I’ve taken a decision that my time is best spent writing the daily instalment than making individual responses, but do rest assured that you are all part of what I am carrying with me into the various sessions here.

Last night and today we’ve looked at environmental issues. The figures for how much the carbon dioxide level has gone up in recent years were, alongside plenty of other statistics, both frightening and compelling. And, given that Anglicans don’t subscribe to the “let’s use the world up so that Jesus will come back soon” heresy, we need to effect the moral leadership that is our only option for a problem market capitalism is singularly unfitted to deal with unaided. I spoke with a bishop from the Pacific region who has already seen five islands disappear under the water in recent years; one from Tanzania told us that the snows are melting from the summit of Kilimanjaro; a colleague from Zambia spoke of how the rainy season which should last from October to late April is now down to December-March. What bishops do in their bedrooms gets put into perspective when we recognise that those bedrooms may be uninhabitable or under water within a generation.

The conference process goes on and there were some deeply moving moments in my Bible Study Group this morning. The group of 15 or so listeners (one from each indaba) has now been chosen. These bishops will produce the draft documents that will eventually be processed by the conference into something that Rowan told us after Evensong today should not be a record of what was said but provide clear and prophetic direction to the communion. I don’t as yet have a full list but I do know two good friends; Michael Perham of Gloucester and Bill Godfrey of Peru are on it. These are people in whom I have confidence.

After lunch we had the Lambeth 08 photo. For forty minutes the staff painstakingly arranged all 670 or so of us in tiers whilst we sweated in the afternoon heat, close proximity and convocation dress, and regressed to schoolboy/girl status. At the point when the whole thing seemed to have completely bogged down we burst into a spontaneous rendition of Amazing Grace (a full four verses) which defused the situation.

The programme has been quiet since then; Evening Prayer was led by TEC. There were plenty of people there (except for a number of English bishops who have shot off home for a 24 hour break) and it was one further nail in the coffin of the rumour that significant numbers of TEC bishops are deficient in Christology (or other areas of doctrine). Tonight there are a handful of fringe events but I’ve bought a can of decent beer and am watching a favourite old film (Pleasantville) on my laptop. Tomorrow I’m skipping both the options of the cathedral and civic reception or a parish visit and will take a train to a decent beach where I can enjoy a long walk and a good novel.

Highlight of the day: the amazingly proficient choir of TEC bishops and spouses who helped lead Evening Prayer.

Lowlight of the day: discovering that the train I need tomorrow goes from the further away station.

Posted by David Walker on Saturday, 26 July 2008 at 9:24pm BST | Comments (15) | TrackBack
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Friday, 25 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (9)

It was the turn of the Church of North India to lead the Conference Eucharist this morning. It’s surely no coincidence that the Indian bishops have been more prominent participants in the various events I’ve attended since. Having presided at the breaking of the bread with us they have gone on, like an extended Ministry of the Word, to break open their stories and their lives through the rest of the day.

The conference theme for Friday has been Christian ecumenism. There are huge differences of context between a majority denomination in a majority Christian community and a small church in a land where some other faith dominates, but what all seemed to have in common is that ecumenism works best in places with natural shared boundaries (a town, an island, a nation) but it’s much harder going at intermediate levels where jurisdictions overlap and often make it hard to assemble meetings of the necessary people. It also appears easier to be ecumenical when there is an obvious shared task, particularly in response to a crisis. Someone offered us a lovely quote from Desmond Tutu, that apartheid was too big a problem for the churches to tackle it separately. What I’m increasingly feeling though is that much of what we do is an infantile form of ecumenism based on “what can we all do together?”, grown up ecumenism must lie in what we empower some to do on behalf of all.

It feels like we’re now close to being ready to tackle some of the Anglican Communion agenda items directly. Whilst they are certainly not more important than what we did in London yesterday they are matters for which the conference, as one of the Instruments of Communion, has a particular responsibility and locus. We’ve built relationships and allowed divisive issues to emerge where they have come up naturally and it has been OK. I even get a sense that for some the encounters (let the lobbyists shudder) have led to bishops reflecting on and maybe revising their positions.

I took my daily tour round the marketplace earlier, to honour the efforts of those who have come to Canterbury to be with us. I’m trying to let myself be drawn into conversations both with those whose positions I share and others whose viewpoints I find antithetical or even (in one or two instances) slightly disturbing. Partly, I think it’s important to be open to having my attitudes challenged and changed and partly, as my chaplain used to say when he’d invited the JWs in for a chat, when they’re talking to me they’re not talking to anyone else.

I’m writing somewhat earlier today in the hope of getting to sleep sooner, so I’ll blog something tomorrow about tonight’s plenary on the environment and climate change – another issue far too important to get pushed off the agenda.

Highlight of the day: Meeting Professor Grace Davie, whose work I’ve long admired and whose arguments I’ve written papers attacking. Her work in the sociology of religion has paved the way for humble empirical theologians like myself to do our work.

Lowlight of the day: writing this blog then the program crashing before I’d saved it, so I’ve had to type it all in again. But, dear reader, you’re worth it!

Posted by David Walker on Friday, 25 July 2008 at 7:11pm BST | Comments (7) | TrackBack
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Thursday, 24 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (8)

We haven’t been in the tent today, we’ve been in London.

I could write about the lunch that Rowan and Jane hosted for some 1500 friends and colleagues in their back garden, or the graciousness of Her Majesty who won the hearts of the conference and our guests with her legendary conversational gifts in another back garden a mile or so away. I could congratulate the staff, stewards and drivers who managed the logistics of decamping the entire conference a two hour journey up the road for a day. If you want a funny, it would be the line from a well-known hymn quoted by the bishop next to me as several hundred purple clad bishops headed in unison for the Embankment Station urinals, “All one body wee”. But the only real story today is of how we marched together to uphold the Millennium Development Goals and to call for a radical commitment to justice and mercy from (especially) the governments of the wealthy nations, and of how Gordon Brown pledged his commitment in person.

We marched not simply as well-fed bishops of the west but as bishops and spouses from (we were told) some 130 or so countries. Many of those marching live in places torn by war, depleted by poverty, threatened by climate change. They come from dioceses where children have no schools, curable diseases kill many and harvests fail. Physically it was a march of 1500 churchmen and women, symbolically it was a march of the 80 million Anglican worshippers we represent and a march for the sake of the billions in whose countries we live and work. Crowds lined the streets and applauded. Some stopped what they were doing and joined us as we journeyed past the great departments of state in Whitehall, past Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster, past the Abbey and over the river to Lambeth.

I’ve been in meetings before where Gordon Brown (UK Prime Minister) has spoken on the subject of poverty, so I knew it was a passion of his. But even for me, let alone for those hearing him for the first time, this was a speech to remember. It was an integrated effort of heart and mind. Without visible reading of notes he drew on both the macro-economic statistics of poverty and the individual, named, people he has met at the point of their deepest need. There was oratorical flourish in his comparison of the effects of the speeches of Socrates and Demosthenes on their audiences (was this a subtle contrast between himself and his predecessor?). He set everything within the great tradition of campaigning and action on behalf of the oppressed and excluded by Christians and other faiths. But the crux of the speech was in the specific commitments he made on behalf of his administration, and which he pledged to take to the United Nations debate in September. I must have spoken to dozens of people as the day rolled on; I didn’t find anyone who was less than full of admiration for what we had heard.

Can we take this on into the rest of the conference, as a reminder that the world and we have bigger issues to address than what bishops do in their bedrooms (in my case mostly sleep and blog)? I hope so. The next few days will tell.

Highlight of the day: that Prime Ministerial speech

Lowlight of the day: returning tired to the campus tonight to yet another huge queue at the one outlet and handful of overstretched staff distributing food. But unlike many around the world we did all (eventually) get fed.

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Wednesday, 23 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (7)

There was a game Sue and I used to play with the kids on long car journeys. Someone starts by saying, “My aunt went to Paris and brought me….” and names one item. Player two repeats exactly what player one has said, and adds one item at the end”. And so it continues (what we mathematicians call a process of iteration). Anyone who fails to correctly recite the entire list is eliminated. Take this as a metaphor for the Conference.

We began last Thursday with bible study; on Sunday we added plenary sessions; Indaba groups started on Monday; Tuesday saw the first self-select sessions; today we’ve had a double dose with the introduction of fringe events and hearings. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that the real conference process is that whoever, by sometime late next week, can recite in order, all the different types of event we’ve had on the timetable, will get to decide the Anglican Communion’s policy on sexuality. And actually, I can think of plenty of worse ways.

Tonight I was part of a group putting on a fringe event for bishops who are Visitors of Religious Communities. It was well attended, lively and constructive. The monastic orders (who are well represented in the chaplaincy team here) reflect the overall life of the Communion: in places where the church is growing they are typically growing, in other places they are seeking to develop fresh expressions of community life to reach out to those no longer attracted by past formulations. In England the concepts of poverty, chastity and obedience are about as counter-cultural as you can get - in fact the mere notion of making a lifetime commitment is pretty hard to grasp for those who have grown up in a culture where nothing, including the three traditional foci of career, locality and relationships is forever.

The Hearing was the hardest event I’ve been to yet. These broadly relate to the Covenant or Windsor processes. Bishops get three minutes to speak to whoever chooses to turn up. It’s not a forum for formal debate, there are certainly no motions, amendments or votes, but the platform (today they were the Windsor Continuation Group) take back all that is said, together with comments submitted in writing, and process it into a further statement to the conference. I reckon something like two thirds of the bishops attended today’s session. We heard at first hand the real anguish that the divisions are causing to people on all sides of the questions. Speeches were delivered with pain and passion, but with grace. It was pretty heart wrenching, but then that’s exactly how it should be.

Chaos reigns over the arrangements for London tomorrow. Many of us UK bishops had not spotted an advance notice telling us we’d need passports or driving licences for this. The details of what we are allowed to take or not take failed to get read out in some indaba groups. When I asked at the information desk I was told that I must take suntan lotion but cannot take any form of bag (except a lady’s handbag). “So, how do I carry the suntan lotion?” I asked. After a reflective silence one of the helpers suggested I carry it in my pocket. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to transport a part used container of lotion in my trousers, it sounds potentially very messy.

Highlight of the day: I visited the “Holy Socks” stall in the marketplace (www.holysocks.co.uk - believe it or not). Having not worn socks for thirty years I threatened to picket it, but the lady (who’s from Scotland) was so nice that I promised to give her a blog mention instead.

Lowlight of the day: the university failed to adjust the time settings on the air-conditioning to take account of evening meetings (clearly something students never have) so we sweltered in a packed lecture hall for our evening fringe event until the events people (hats off to them) brought in several large electric fans.

Posted by David Walker on Wednesday, 23 July 2008 at 10:18pm BST | Comments (6) | TrackBack
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Tuesday, 22 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (6)

Think of the conference as a body:

its head in Keynes where the indaba groups meet to reflect; its mouth in the big blue where we gather for worship and plenaries; its feet on the path between Park Wood and the Central Campus (personal best time 12 minutes so far); Its hands in the Marketplace where bishops fondle the latest selection of liturgical garments for all climes; its (rapidly extending) stomach in the Rutherford and Eliot dining halls. But its heart is in the Prayer Place.

Situated just behind Dave Walker’s cartoon tent the Prayer Place is a haven of godly silence amidst all the conversation and business of the programme. It’s a roughly octagonal space one floor above ground level with a large amount of window. There’s a prominent central cross (life size, or do I mean death size?), and several items (icons, an open bible) symmetrically around the walls. There are a few chairs and then an inner and outer circle of prayer stools. It can sit (or kneel) around 50 plus people and does so for early morning prayers (I haven’t made it as far as Night Prayer yet) at 0630 each day. The rest of the time there are no more than a handful of people there, sometimes nobody at all, but somehow it feels as though this is what holds it all together.

Here in the silence (Rowan on the retreat mentioned the ancient church father who believed that a good bishop was a silent bishop) I find God closer than anywhere else. The stools are just the right height to support me in the half lotus position that I find most sustainable for a prolonged period. There’s a board for prayer requests and nobody has filled the air with pseudo celtic rhythms - just silence! When I’ve been engaging with God by engaging at a human level for a few hours it’s wonderful to just go there and engage with him directly, on my own.

Highlight of the day: supper with yet another African bishop who is keen to establish links and not at all put off by the Gafcon stuff.

Lowlight of the day: walking back to Park Wood past a stream of bishops holding hands with their spouses and missing my wife. Maybe I should explore Riazat Butt’s story about the escorts being laid on for lonely bishops, with most requests being for young women at night!

Posted by David Walker on Tuesday, 22 July 2008 at 7:30pm BST | Comments (6) | TrackBack
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Monday, 21 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (5)

With the daily bible study groups and the first two rounds of indaba meetings adding up to something more than 5 hours, today has been a day of much active engagement in conversation. This complex system of study group, indaba, self-select sessions, hearings, listeners, rapporteurs, facilitators and (eventually) groups to draft texts for exposure is scary because it’s untested. But, as Rowan reminded us yesterday, the traditional method of resolutions, amendments and votes hasn’t exactly served us well in the past. Not least because virtually no resolution has ever led on into action! It seems like the great majority are prepared to trust the process, but recognise that we need to work it and own it to ensure that it delivers.

Indaba is not simply 40 people sitting in a circle and talking in plenary for two hours. Most of the time we have been working in smaller groups (of size 1,3,5,10 so far in mine) and then sharing the essence of the conversation with the wider group. The tricky issues are being flagged and discussed, but they are arising in a context and from a developing relationship of collegiality and charity rather than simply being hurled across a divide wrapped round large bricks. Indeed, the people who have most to fear from this relational and contextual method of working are the lobbyists and pressure groups who would dearly love to control the conference from outside. At some point I expect they will try to break the communion we are establishing. Will we be firm enough to resist it? Pray for us!

Today we completed our guests’ initiation into British culture. Having introduced them to the queue we have now added that quintessential, the blocked footpath and hole in the road with accompanying ear-piercing mechanical digger. Another conference has just arrived on site - a group of people doing a two week EFL course. Distinguishable by their lack of badges (with or without lanyards of appropriate colour) they are wandering about a campus full of bishops looking rather more perplexed than the ubiquitous and conference-hardened rabbits.

Highlight of the day: During the Eucharist a Japanese bishop came to the platform to apologise to his Korean colleagues for the past mistreatment of their country by his.

Lowlight of the day: Discovering that there was indeed to be a provincial meeting in the only gap in today’s schedule, and discovering too early to have an excuse to miss it.

Posted by David Walker on Monday, 21 July 2008 at 9:23pm BST | Comments (6) | TrackBack
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Sunday, 20 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (4)

Today we raised queueing to an art form. From joining the queue for the bus to the cathedral at nine o’clock this morning to getting back off the bus at half past two I calculate I spent two hours in worship, half an hour in coach travel and three hours in queues. We queued to get on the coach, queued to get into the cathedral, queued to get out of the cathedral, queued to leave the precincts and queued for the coach to campus. Mercifully the people serving lunch had kindly stayed on way beyond the scheduled time, so we all got fed. But the crux is that these are not like the queues of the desperate outside a shop in some command economy nor the queues of the frustrated praying that a bus will stop. These are the queues of people who know that they will get where they’re going, and, although it will take some while, there’s some fascinating conversation to be had along the way with the strange assortment of people we find stood beside us. Maybe that’s a metaphor for the conference.

The cathedral service itself was splendid, both expectedly and unexpectedly. It was always going to be something special but in two places it excelled itself. The gospel procession, featuring melanesian religious carrying the book in a model boat whilst singing and dancing, will no doubt feature in everyone’s list of images from Lambeth 08. It was stunning. I hope the TV reports have focussed on that rather than processions of prelates. But equally amazing was the sermon preached by the Bishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka. Hardly using notes he reflected on the day’s lectionary gospel (the parable of the wheat and tares) and called us to three things: rigorous self-scrutiny, unity in diversity and prophetic ministry.

Hardly had lunch digested when we assembled in the tent for an explanation of the conference process. It builds on what has been most appreciated in previous conferences - the small bible study groups - and drops what has been least effective. The western pattern of resolutions and amendments is replaced by the indaba groups (5 bible study groups working together) and a robust process for collating the indaba discussions. Its a recipe to allow everyone to speak and be heard, rather than one that favours the politically astute, the most articulate and the accomplished manipulators. When Rowan rose to give a Presidential Address he got no more than a few words out before conference stood spontaneously to give him a prolonged ovation. He was visibly moved. For that matter, so was I.

Highlight of the day: that sermon

Lowlight of the day: hot water supply was dodgy again this morning

Posted by David Walker on Sunday, 20 July 2008 at 7:34pm BST | Comments (3) | TrackBack
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Saturday, 19 July 2008

News from the big blue tent (3)

The retreat finished at lunchtime today after a fifth and final address from Rowan. Among the gems was a quotation from Alan Ecclestone (I did my curacy in the parish next door to where Alan spent many years; I always found his writing more complex than Rowan’s!) that “episcope is insight as well as oversight”. The main theme took us into Hebrews and the notion of Christ who clears a new and living way so that we can go where otherwise we could not. Christians (and bishops in particular) lead by following Jesus. Writing it down makes it sound simple and obvious, but there’s a huge depth in what we have heard and it sets the context within which we will turn to the conference part of Lambeth on Monday.

Various ecumenical guests joined us this afternoon. There is enormous support for us from orthodox, catholic, protestant and pentecostal denominations, mostly in presence but some with letters of greeting. Reading all the titles of the writers made me wonder whether the problem we have with Anglican authority is that we just don’t have impressive enough words in front of our names. If Rowan styled himself catholicos, supreme head, patriarch, holiness or beatitude who’d dare oppose him? Personally my vote is for “His beatitude”, there’s something about Rowan that encapsulates what Matthew 5 is all about. We had a reading from the works of the sixth century St Dorotheus. I’m starting a rumour that he/she is the patron of Changing Attitude.

It’s been humbling to eat and speak with bishops from Sudan and Zimbabwe. To hear stories of the faith lived out under persecution from bishops whose courage and humour are intact. As when I went to Peru three years ago, it has convinced me that the Anglican Communion may seem to make little difference in England, but to these leaders of small, young churches in difficult and hostile surroundings it matters hugely to be part of something global and steeped in history. The catholicity of Anglicanism is far more at stake here than it was at General Synod two weekends ago.

Highlight of the day: I met my namesake, the cartoonist, whose work I’ve admired since I first found it on a website. We had our photos taken together to prove we’re really not the same person.

Lowlight of the day: This is the only conference I can recall that doesn’t provide good quantities of tea and coffee at every meal and break. It took me 20 minutes to find a mid afternoon hot drink.

Posted by David Walker on Saturday, 19 July 2008 at 8:42pm BST | Comments (5) | TrackBack
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Friday, 18 July 2008

News from the big blue tent (2)

Friday has been like Thursday, only more so. Once again the bulk of the day has been spent at the cathedral, listening to Rowan, praying and quietly getting to know one another. In the Bible Study Groups we’re getting to a deeper level of engagement and beginning to touch on areas that we can’t simply agree as platitudes. It’s still early but the process seems to be doing what it was set up to do. As Rowan explained, we’re modelling what it is to be a cell of the Body of Christ; that doesn’t promise to resolve all disputes, but we won’t get far without it (what in my mathematician days we called a “necessary” as opposed to “sufficient” condition).

In the dining halls as well as the formal sessions there is a good mixing of traditions and stances - it doesn’t appear that many are seeking the comfort of the likeminded. Today I’ve talked with bishops from Tanzania, Canada, West Indies, USA, India, New Zealand, Eire and the UK.

The security looks big because to cordon off an outdoor area (the surrounds of the big blue) you need a lot of fencing, but it’s no more than I’m used to when I attend secular voluntary sector conferences for which participants have had to pay fees. Delegates get in, others don’t. We wouldn’t want the press in the bible studies or indabas either, but there it will be more discreet because it’s all indoors. The media have a pretty free run of much of the rest of the site. This is hardly going to be a conference that maintains a high level of secrecy, but we do have the right to do our business in a manner that allows (encourages) us all to feel able to open up to one another.

Highlight of the day: being given an invite to a drinks party hosted by Jack Iker tomorrow. Perhaps this really is engagement across the fault-lines. I felt touched, honoured, and minded to go listen.

Lowlight of the day: 2 minutes later being told the invites were only meant to be given to “sympathetic” bishops. But hey, I do sympathy really well, perhaps I am invited after all.

Posted by David Walker on Friday, 18 July 2008 at 6:20pm BST | Comments (5) | TrackBack
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Thursday, 17 July 2008

News from the big blue tent

Yesterday was a quick course in the essentials of British life for our guests (how to queue for registration, how to queue for supper, how to queue for an internet ID and password); today has seen Lambeth find its feet, with the first of three days of retreat.

Scripture, fellowship and worship are to the fore. Every day, even the retreat days, begins with Eucharist, breakfast and bible study. It’s quite something to hear people harmonising to hymns they’ve nver sung before in languages they don’t speak. Rowan has been superb. This is what he is at his very best at, weaving bible passages together in ways that draw out depths of insight into what being a bishop is about.

The cathedral and its precincts have been closed off for us today and tomorrow. As I arrived I heard one frustrated visitor to Canterbury complaining that she was going home Saturday and wouldn’t get to see the city’s main attraction. But frankly, it’s a working cathedral not a monument and we’re working it pretty hard.

Down in the crypt after lunch I found a quiet side chapel with some magnificent medieval wall-paintings and fell into prayer. About 20 minutes later I sensed someone cross my vision and opened my eyes. A nun had climbed over the altar rails and was stood in the sanctuary, arms stretching upwards towards one side of the ceiling, her hands obscured by a massive supporting pillar. What a lovely posture for praise I thought, then her flash bulb went off.

Highlight of the day: Rowan’s addresses.

Lowlight of the day: No hot water in the showers this morning. Conspiracy theorists will assume this is a plot by the organisers to stop bishops even thinking about sex, let alone talking about it.

[Editors’ note: David Walker is the Bishop of Dudley in the diocese of Worcester. He will be blogging for us regularly on Lambeth from a bishop’s perspective.]

Posted by David Walker on Thursday, 17 July 2008 at 9:27pm BST | Comments (6) | TrackBack
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