This is the prepared text for the maiden speech given by Brian Lewis in the General Synod debate on the Windsor Report last Thursday. Brian is Rector of St Michael & All Angels, Little Ilford (Manor Park)in the Diocese of Chelmsford.
I felt very disappointed when I read the House of Bishops report on the Windsor Report. In his Advent Pastoral letter the Archbishop had written that one of the deepest challenges of the Windsor Report is about repentance. And in the Church we can never call on others to repent without ourselves acknowledging that we too in all sorts of ways are sinners in need of grace. We all need to be involved in this repentance, and it seems to me that this recognition that we all need to repent is missing from the Bishops’ report.
The current crisis in the Anglican Communion and the need for the Windsor report is apparently because of the different ways that different parts of the Communion approach the subject of homosexuality. For nearly thirty years now, successive Lambeth Conferences have addressed the question of homosexuality and called on us as the Anglican Communion to engage in a process of dialogue, study and listening. For nearly thirty years we have largely ignored that call, and we have totally ignored the way that other parts of the communion, specifically those parts of the Communion who have had most difficulty coming to terms with what has happened in New Hampshire, have refused to engage in that process. We do need to be repentant of how we have handled that. We have failed the wider communion when we have not used opportunities to share the dialogues we have been able to have in this country simply because it is legal to have those dialogues. You may have heard about a radio station in Nigeria broadcasting a programme which had three gay Nigerians talking about their lives. That programme was against the law. The radio station was fined for simply allowing gay people, in a secular context, to talk about their lives. We need to take account of how difficult it is for people to share their experiences in other parts of the communion and we might have done much more to help.
Working in East London odd opportunities arise. One Sunday morning, unannounced, five Kenyan priests arrived in church for the Sunday Eucharist – they were travelling through on the way back from a conference. It was just before the Archbishop’s enthronement, they had heard that he had ordained a gay man, so we talked about what that meant in our culture. About the place of gay people in our society, about what it means to be gay in our culture. I talked about my pastoral experience, about a bereavement visit where the widow quite naturally introduced her son and his partner as her second son. My visitors were astounded, it was a revelation to them that such a thing could happen. As I talked about the place gay people have in our culture, they talked about Kenyan society, about marriage and what it is to be unmarried in Kenyan culture. They learnt from me, and I learnt from them, we learnt from each other. An isolated story – but it needn’t have been, how often might we have learnt from each other if we had used, for example, link diocesan visits and exchanges to really learn what each others cultures are about and what it is to minister in them. Perhaps we need to repent of being too frightened, or just not caring enough, to talk about the difficult issues, the things we would disagree about.
You may have heard about a retired bishop in Uganda who has tried to begin the process of dialogue and pastoral support for gay Ugandan Christians. He faced tremendous opposition from his church. He was forbidden to preach and officiate, and even told at one point he would be refused a Christian burial. Perhaps we should have more visibly offered support and encouragement, after all he is doing what successive Lambeth conferences have been asking for. When he was suspended by the Ugandan church perhaps we should have been more overt and public in our support of him and our bishops might have intervened on his behalf. Calling one another to account is part of what the Archbishop was talking about in his pastoral letter when he spoke of living in the full interdependence of love.
The Bishop of Durham has spoken to us being in a desperate state of emergency, but that ignores the fact things are still happening, our communion is still functioning – things may not be as dire as he would have us believe. On the feast of Epiphany in the Diocese of Kajo Keji in the Sudan, there was a great occasion, an ordination of thirty-four deacons and three priests. Bishop Paul Marshall of ECUSA had been due to visit the diocese but in the light of the Windsor Report had offered to cancel his visit not wanting his presence to be a cause for embarrassment. But with the support of his Primate the Diocesan Bishop not only renewed his invitation, he rescheduled the ordinations so that Bishop Marshall could ordain the thirty-four deacons and with him the three priests. It also seems to me that we are too ready to hear the stories of broken relationships and not where the communion is strong.
And a story from me, I was born in New Zealand and ordained priest there twenty five years ago, and even longer ago than that I remember a debate in my diocesan synod on the subject of homosexuality. The synod resolved not to discriminate in employment on the grounds of sexual orientation. The debate was certainly about clergy and presumably that included bishops. The sky did not fall in, no African prelates imploded. It may have been because we were all concerned about something that seemed much more controversial – rugby. Should the Allblacks play the Springboks? We were engaged with supporting the Church in South Africa’s battle with apartheid. Throughout New Zealand society and the churches were deeply divided about the sporting boycott of South Africa. Rugby is what threatened to split the church not homosexuality. How have we come to this point today?
If the Anglican Communion falls apart in the next few months, might – just might – it not be because of something that happened in New Hampshire but because for twenty five years we have ignored the call of three Lambeth conferences to talk, to listen, to study, to learn.