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.