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!