Sunday, July 20, 2008
Where no one has gone before?
Via e-mail: John Howe's letter to his clergy in the Diocese of Central Florida
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Conference has officially begun...with an absolutely spectacular service in the packed Canterbury Cathedral. No greeting from the government this time. (Ten years ago Prince Charles was with us.)
Former Archbishop George and Eileen Carey were in the front row in the Nave.
Canterbury Cathedral is a rather strange building: very long and (proportionally) narrow. It is divided almost in half by a rood screen that is very solid, with a doorway in the middle of it. It is wide enough that the organ console is actually located on top of it! On the East side of the screen is the choir ("quire"), and on the West side is the nave, and the organist can look down, either way, and see what is happening on both sides of the building. Further to the East of the choir seating area is the High Altar of Canterbury, and then a set of steps going up to the ancient stone throne of St. Augustine (the Seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury), and still further to the East are two more chapels.
At great ceremonial services like today’s the preacher uses a pulpit in the middle of the choir area - which means that s/he cannot be seen by anyone in the Nave! (Another pulpit in the Nave cannot be seen by anyone in the choir!)
The acoustics, however, are excellent. Singing resounds without amplification, and the sound system for reading and speaking from lectern, pulpit and altar is excellent.
The sermon was exactly what you would expect on the weeds and wheat passage from Matthew's Gospel, so I will not try to recount it.
This afternoon we had our first plenary session, and once again, the Archbishop spoke to us; very differently from the meditations in retreat. He outlined four possible futures for the Communion:
1) that we become a loose federation of churches, sharing a common heritage, but increasingly autonomous.
2) that we become a collection of even less connected national churches, each going its own way.
3) that we develop a strong centralized authority that will dictate uniformity in ethics and practice.
He rejected all of these as being "less than a Communion," and put his hope in the fourth:
4) that we become a Communion of "counsel and consent," held together by the bonds of affection and an Anglican Covenant.
There will be at least five opportunities during the next two weeks for us to consider the various sections of the proposed Covenant. These will be in "self select" optional sessions, alongside dozens of other options (everything from "Jews and Christians: Are we still getting it wrong?" to "Never Say 'No' to Media" to "Microfinance" to "Ethical Issues of Climate Change" to “The Response of Church Leaders to HIV Stigma and Discrimination" to "Towards Peace in Korea" - and those are just a few of the possibilities from the first two
It is, as I said earlier, only at the end of the Conference will the Covenant will be discussed in Plenary.
But for me, and for many of us, I think, the several sessions devoted to it over the next two weeks will be extremely important.
My sense is that the Archbishop totally underestimates how myopically focused the American House of Bishops is on "the full inclusion of LGBT persons” as a "Gospel imperative." This is not just a significant PART of the Gospel for most of our Bishops; this IS the Gospel - it is THE great issue of our time: as abolition and civil rights and women's rights were in their times.
I don't think our House is prepared to be limited by counsel, consent, or Covenant.
But, to quote him again, "A failure in leadership is a failure to hope in Christ."
So, we shall see what emerges in the next two weeks.
He spent a fair amount of time defending a very different approach in this Conference from that of any of its antecedents. In previous Conferences there have been heavy-duty scholarly papers produced and distributed for study beforehand, and the Conferences themselves have produced reports and resolutions- hundreds of them.
He commented wryly, that most of the resolutions have never been enforced. (He cited a request from the very first Lambeth Conference in 1867 that an international court be established to settle disputes of doctrine. We are still waiting.)
So, the next two weeks will consist of Bible Studies every morning in groups of eight (these have already been happening every day), and then the "Indaba" groups which will be composed of five Bible Study groups being joined together (in larger groups of 40), where we will talk about such things as "The Bishop and Anglican Identity," "The Bishop and Evangelism," "The Bishop and Social Justice, "The Bishop and...Other Churches...the Environment...Human Sexuality...etc."
This is billed as "an opportunity for every voice to be heard." How it will all be drawn together as an expression of the "Mind" of the Conference is quite unclear at this point.
And then, in the evenings, all that multiplicity of options I mentioned above.
So, I think we are at a hinge moment in the life of the Communion. No one knows where we will be two weeks from now, but I'm pretty sure that, like Star
Trek, we are headed to some place "where no one has gone before." Your prayers continue to be much needed and very much appreciated.
Warmest regards to all of you,
The Right Rev. John W. Howe
Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida