Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dear friends in Christ,

We have nearly finished the business of Lambeth 2008. It will take much time to unpack all that happened here. In our last Indaba group we will be asked "What are you taking home from Lambeth?" It is not as simple a question to answer as it might appear. Obviously, some new relationships, especially from the Bible Study group. Having spent nearly three weeks opening ourselves to one another through Scripture, we have formed a wonderful bond of friendship and collegiality. I have met and conversed with bishops and spouses, volunteers and staff from around the world. They have given me a much broader understanding of what it means to be an Anglican in the 21st century. I have to admit, I have been surprised how much we have in common despite our widely divergent backgrounds. And yet there is that wonderful diversity, the shadings of Anglican expression and experience that gives vibrancy to our life together.

I do have to admit that it appears the Archbishop's bold plan to have no legislation may be working. I was wondering how we would be able to pull all this together without taking a vote. But I do think we are more together than we were on July 15. We still have many conversations to hold, many separating barriers to overcome, many divisions to bridge, and many hurts to heal. It will be hard work to stay in Communion with one another. But the light of hope is shining.

Our plenary session tonight was listening to four young persons who served as stewards for the conference. They were from different backgrounds and countries, all under 30 years old. They shared with us their perspective on all that had gone on the past three weeks. They invited us to hear the young adult perspective, another perspective on the Lambeth conversations. I was most impressed by a young women from the UK who is hoping to enter preparation and training for Holy Orders in the Church of England. She was asked why she thought there would be an Anglican Communion thirty years from now. Her response was to point to the caliber of the young leadership who were present at the conference. They will lead beyond outdated structures and they will also have their own set of problems but their love for the Lord and one another will sustain them and keep the Communion together.

August 3, 2008

The final day of the conference and we all anxiously look forward to heading home. One last Bible study. We will miss our time together and appreciate the new friendships. The Archbishop concludes the afternoon with his third address. Though not all are pleased, we manage to survive without any resolutions. Thanks to the hard work of a small but industrious group of listeners and writers, including the leadership of your very own bishop, Neil Alexander, we are given a set of reflections which sums up the conversations of the past three weeks. I think we have had a break through, a serious time together without winners and losers, only brothers and sisters in Christ. In his closing sermon at the Cathedral, the Archbishop challenged us to take our reflections home and put some flesh on them as in "The Word became flesh." He called us to make this a living document; to continue to work with the same collegiality that marked this conference. Pray God will give us the will and the ability to carry that out.

And now its time to pack the computer and everything else, get some sleep, schlep bags and hat boxes up the hill in the morning to catch the train. Atlanta, here we come!

God's good blessing on you,

Bishop Keith

Friday, August 1, 2008

August 2, 2008

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Well the end is in sight. Two more days to go. Yesterday was a full day. We began, as usual with worship, led by the Church of Pakistan. The morning was pretty much the norm, Bible Study and Indaba. We looked at John 15:1-17 "I am the true vine ..." The first of two Indaba sessions on the Covenant was a lively, heated discussion on the concept of covenant and what exactly that would involve. As you might guess, the opinions were all over the map. After a quick lunch it was off to the day's reflections hearings. We looked at the gathered reflections from the previous day on human sexuality. Again, much discussion, some word smithing, and every variety of opinion. Then is was back for Indaba #2 of the day. More conversation on the Covenant proposal, specifically on the St. Andrew's draft of the proposed covenant. We seemed to universally dislike the appendix to the draft and its decidedly legalistic approach. At one point the conversation swirled around the 4 Instruments of Unity and various thoughts about them. Another 1-1/2 hours of work.

Evening Prayer and off to a reception hosted by Affirming Catholicism US and Affirming Catholicism UK and giving a short speech. I got an interesting perspective on the day from a young seminarian from the US who is the recorder for my Indaba group. While I found the day exhausting, He was invigorated. He shared a paragraph he had journaled for the day describing his thoughts. He said, "It was like sitting and watching at Nicea, Constantinople, or Chalcedon. The Church working out its history."

Perhaps we are living in the middle of an historic moment in the life of the Church. One that will be seen as at least approaching the great councils of antiquity. I pray he might be right.

God good blessing on you,

Bishop Keith

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The View from my room at Kent University (almost)

July 30, 2008

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Another warm humid day in Canterbury, 26C=79ยบ Fahrenheit (cool by Atlanta standards). Our worship this morning was led by the Church of Hong Kong. A very interesting reading from John 11:1-44 was done in parts by several readers, all in Cantonese. Then it was the usual day. Breakfast, hot or cold, followed by Bible Study. Today we had an enlightening and engaging conversation around John 11:1-44, "I am the resurrection and the life..." Our perspectives were much different as were our contexts. We had home work for today which was to prepare an outline or notes, no more than 300 words, to use this passage as a sermon in our context. We shared our outlooks and then were asked the question "what made for an Anglican interpretation of Scripture?" We decided it was in the communal nature of interpretation that it finds its Anglican identity. For us Scripture in not interpreted by a hierarchical body or by the individual but by the conversation of the whole community. As I put it, "The community embraces the text and makes it a living expression."

As usual, it was off to Indaba group. Today's topic, "The Bishop and the Bible in Mission." It wasn't long before that topic went out the window as we engaged in some very passionate and heated discussion of how the text of Scripture should be interpreted. Our opinions were widely different and the conversation shortly turned to one of human sexuality. Lots of opinions, and I want to underline the word "opinions." It was not a deeply theological conversation, but it certainly exposed the emotional hyperbole in the room. My hope is that this will set the stage for the next few days as we engage issues of sexuality as well as the concept of covenant for the Anglican Communion.

Following a quick lunch, it was back at 2:00 p.m. to hear the next set of reflections on the conference to date. Bishop Neil serves on the group that is working toward writing a summary of the conversations at Lambeth, so today we looked at their latest effort. There were many opinions as to what should have been included, how it should be presented, and what the final report should look like. The discussion did not rise to the level of the report itself. I have to confess, I had had enough when we got to debating the content of one of the footnotes. I took myself to the exhibit hall, bought a diet Coke (help support the local economy), and shopped at the vestment dealers. Note: Suzie doesn't allow me in there with a credit card since it's mostly books and vestments.

The day came to a close with evening prayers led by the chaplaincy staff of the conference. This evening was free for the first time in the conference. I wish I could tell you I did something wonderfully spectacular but laundry called.

God's good blessing on you, we miss Atlanta,

Bishop Keith

Monday, July 28, 2008

More on Windsor

Greetings dear friends in Christ! It's been warm (hot by English standards!) and humid here in Canterbury today.

The day began with the regular schedule of Holy Eucharist, Bible study and prayer, and Indaba groups. Today's theme focused on interfaith relationships.

In the afternoon the second of two hearings was held by the Windsor (Report) Continuation Group (WCG). About twenty speakers from around the Communion spoke to the third part of the group's proposals following up on the Windsor Report. As you may remember, the Windsor Report called for three moratoria: (1) on same-sex blessings; (2) on the ordination of partnered gay priests to the episcopate; and (3) on the incursion of foreign bishops into territories outside of their jurisdiction. In the Windsor Report, the first two of these moratoria are to last until such time as the Communion as a whole reaches consensus. You can pretty much imagine, I suspect, how the conversation proceeded: very strong opinions expressed on all sides of the matter. The comments will feed into the WCG who will issue a report in anticipation of the meeting of the Anglican Consultation Council in May 2009.

It was particularly striking for me to hear the witness of two bishops in particular. The first was Bishop Michael Ingham. He reminded the hearing that the Windsor Report is exactly that, a report. It was requested by a body with no jurisdiction and one that has no authority to impose its positions on any of the 38 self-governing churches (or provinces) of the Anglican Communion. Unfortunately, Bishop Ingham reminded us, the Windsor Report has been elevated to be the standard by which Anglicans are to live together and has become such without our input or consent, and its interpretation seems to get more rigid by the day. Some suggest that the Windsor Report is the only way to save the Anglican Communion. Others suggest that it's having the opposite effect and that the increasing dogmatism toward the proposals of the Windsor Report will kill the generous spirit of historic Anglicanism even if the Communion holds together structurally. The all-or-nothing manner in which the Windsor proposals are being embraced might well hold the Anglican Communion together, but we will be a faint shadow of the great missionary movement for Christ we have cherished through the centuries.

The other bishop whose words were particularly inspiring was Duncan Gray, the Bishop of Mississippi. Bishop Gray spoke powerfully about his own journey of "discovering church" among those with whom he disagrees on issues and how important it is to him to stay in fellowship and communion with them. He witnessed to the fact that he has "discovered church" in lots of surprising places in the Episcopal Church and is deeply grateful for all that means. I can say, without qualification, that I have "discovered church" in the life and witness of Bishop Gray. Thank you, +Duncan, for taking your part in making the Episcopal Church the oasis of grace that it is for so many.

In listening to Bishop Gray I was reminded again of one of the things I am most grateful for in being an Episcopalian. In much of the Anglican Communion the churches are deeply divided, perhaps stratified, over issues of churchmanship, ecclesiastical pedigree, and Anglomania (or the lack of it). Fortunately, the Episcopal Church throughout our history has largely dodged that sort of division. We have our evangelicals and our Anglo-Catholics, our latitudinarians and our traditionalists, and a generous helping of the broad church. But at no time in our history have these factions been as entrenched or as entitled as in many provinces of the Communion. The American prayer book tradition and our generous episcopal polity are largely responsible for saving us from such internal factionalism. Of course we fight about issues from time to time, we take sides and squabble for a season, but entrenched camps are not in our ecclesiastical DNA as they are in some parts of the Anglican Communion. Even here at the Lambeth Conference, it is easy to observe bishops from other parts of the world treat each other with suspicion because of high church-low church histories, USPG or CMS legacies, and how and when they broke the chains of colonialism. In the Episcopal Church we fight when we disagree; in some other parts of the Communion there is infighting and suspicion even when everything is fine. I'll take our problems any day. Perhaps I'm just used to doing business out in the open for the whole church (and world) to see.

The highlight of today was a barn-burner of a speech from Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. It's going to take a bit more reflection to begin to sort out his address, but I'll be thinking about it and reflecting on it for some time to come. I hope to get a copy of it to read and re-read both for insight and inspiration. More to come on this, but in the meantime, let me suggest to you two of Rabbi Sacks' books: The Dignity of Difference and The Home We Build Together. Both are thought-provoking books, but let me warn you: a thoughtful engagement with the writings of Rabbi Sacks could have life-changing consequences for you! (It has for me!)

Keep the faith, be gentle, love one another.


Bishop Neil

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sabbath Rest and Sunday Worship

Grace to you and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord!

On Saturday afternoon before we took a much needed break in the conference schedule, the bishops donned convocation dress (as they call it here; we call it choir dress) and took our places on a huge set of bleachers for the official photo. It was quite something to watch the photographers position over seven hundred bishops and ecumenical guests for the perfect photo. The old adage about trying to get a bunch of bishops to cooperate is like trying to herd cats has perhaps never been more true!

Late Saturday afternoon, the Episcopal Church House of Bishops hosted an informal reception for the bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Sudan as well as for bishops from Congo and Liberia. It was a wonderful opportunity to be together in fellowship and conversation and to talk about joint mission partnerships. Although we may be divided on some issues of importance, the mission of Jesus to a hurting and troubled world is something we all agree on very strongly and have a deep desire to work together for the building up of God's reign on earth.

This was followed by evening prayer led by our church. Gayle Harris, Bishop Suffragan II of the Diocese of Massachusetts, was the officiant. (Some may remember that Bishop Harris was the preacher for our great celebration of Absalom Jones earlier this year.) Music was provided by Dent Davidson and the choir of bishops and spouses from our church that always enjoys singing together. I was so proud of their fine renditions of music that reflected the diversity of our history and tradition in The Episcopal Church. They were even able to get the oft-reserved Archbishop of Canterbury to clap along with some gospel music! During many of our conference liturgies there is a short video from one of the provinces. The video about The Episcopal Church was quite moving and I was pleased to see several "slides" from the work of the Diocese of Atlanta!

In the evening we were delighted to attend a reception and dinner sponsored by Trinity Church, New York, to renew the relationships that were made at the Walking-to-Emmaus Conference held in Spain in the summer of 2007. That conference brought together bishops from our church and our counterparts with whom we have strong ties in Africa. Although most of us had seen each other and "re-connected" since arriving in Canterbury, it was good to reflect and share with each other the progress we have made together in mission partnerships since last summer. The ties between many dioceses in our church with dioceses all over Africa are strong and getting stronger and for this we are grateful to the Holy Spirit for constantly nudging us toward each other.

This morning we attended the Sunday Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral. The Archbishop presided and Robert Willis, the Dean of Canterbury, was the preacher. He spoke of the "snapshots" of the kingdom of heaven from today's gospel and encouraged us to look and listen for other such snapshots of God's kingdom in our own lives, in those we meet in conversation and prayer at the Lambeth Conference, and particularly to seek glimpses of the work that God is doing in the varied contexts of the church's ministry in every corner of the world. His words spoke powerfully to me and I am grateful for his witness.

After the liturgy, the Atlanta bishops and spouses hosted lunch with two of our companion bishops. Bishop Mdimi from Central Tanganyika joined us. Sadly, his wife Irene had to depart the conference early due to an emergency and remains daily in our prayers. We also enjoyed the company of Bishop Filadelfo Oliveira Neto and his wife, Dulcy. Bishop Filadelfo is the Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and will be soon be taking over the reins of that diocese from Bishop Celso. We rejoice that both Bishop Mdimi and Bishop Filadelfo will be joining us this November at Annual Council! What a gift to us that will be!

Speaking of gifts to us, also at table was Luiz Coelho. Luiz is a 26 year old pursuing holy orders in the church in Brazil, but is presently spending a good portion of each year in Atlanta as a student at SCAD. In his vocation he wants to join together in his priesthood his love and expertise in art with his commitment to Jesus and the church. During the conference, Luiz has created artistic reflections on the "I am" sayings of Jesus that are the focus of our daily Bible studies. He is a gifted man with a deep love and God and God's church. I am glad he's spending time among us in Atlanta.

Later in the afternoon, the "listening and reflection" group of the conference began work on the report of the Lambeth Conference to the Communion. I am privileged to be one of the eighteen or so bishops from around the world asked to help shape the conference report. Archbishop Rowan and the Lambeth Design Group decided that this conference would not spend its time in long parliamentary debate and legislative process, but would work in smaller units so that every bishop around the world could get a word in edgewise. We cannot listen to each other in a room filled with hundreds of people where a small group would inevitably hog the microphones. There are those who are finding this process difficult, but I suspect they are mostly the ones who would have done all the talking, and not much listening, in a large forum. I believe that the process we're engaged in is working well and that every bishop will be able to leave the conference feeling as though he or she has made a worthy contribution to the conversation. There is no intention to have resolutions or formal communiques at the end of the conference, but simply a rather full-some report that tries to capture the spirit of the conversations here in Canterbury so that the clergy and people of the Communion throughout the world can carry that reflection forward in their own contexts.

This is a good time to remind us all to be careful what you read in the press during this final week of the Lambeth Conference. The report I referred to above will come out in small chunks for conversation, further reflection, and response from the bishops present. It will be revised, amended, shortened, lengthened, retuned, reframed, and edited multiple times in the next week. I have great confidence in the process. Please wait and make your judgments when a final report is available next weekend. Until then you might be reading a story that hasn't yet been written, at least fully. In fact, I saw one press report that seems to indicate already what the report will say. That is creative writing of the first order since we have not yet put pen to paper on the first draft!

You are in our prayers every day. Pray for us.


Bishop Neil

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The past few days at Lambeth have been a blur. Friday night we heard a chilling (no pun intended) presentation on global climate change. It reminded us that the environment is a responsibilty to be addressed by the Church. That theme was carried out Saturday in Bible study and Indaba groups under the theme of "The Bishop and the Environment." We shared what is happening in our dioceses around environmental issues and what we as Christian leaders might do to further the cause of environmentalism in our own contexts.

The afternoon saw us arranging nearly 700 bishops for the official Lambeth photo; talk about herding cats! But even that was accomplished in due time, all on the warmest afternoon so far. The day came to a close with Evening Prayer led by our own Episcopal Church. One of the highlights was a choir of bishops and spouses who lead us in the singing. American gospel. It was wonderful.

Then Suzie and I were off to Canterbury to the Old Palace, the Archbishop's residence in Canterbury, for an evening garden party. A group of around 50 bishops and spouses enjoyed a pleasant evening of conversation. We were able to share with the Archbishop and Mrs. Williams some of the exciting things about the Diocese of Atlanta. The Archbishop is familiar with the academic world of Atlanta and spoke with great respect.

Then it was off to sleep to rest for Sunday in Canterbury.

God's good blessing to you all,

Bishop Keith

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ready for the Ball!

London Day at Lambeth and Buckingham Palaces was the stuff from which fairy tales are made: the blur of purple worn by the bishops; the silks, satins, and feathers bedecking the ladies; the gentlemen in top hat and tails; the delicious luncheon served to over fifteen hundred people with precision, grace, and flair; flowers so beautiful you had to touch them to be sure they were real; the Queen’s guards dressed in their majestic costumes of black, gold, and red; two bands playing familiar music and then the grand entrance by the Queen and Prince Philip to “God Save the Queen.” I was Alice and I had fallen down the rabbit hatch into the Queen’s garden and I was struck by the great privilege I had been given to be a part of something so overwhelming – something so grand.

Excitement and grandeur aside, the beauty of the day came from people. Archbishop Williams’ and Prime Minister Brown’s stirring speeches reaffirming and recommitting themselves and us to the MDG’s; reminding all of us of the millions of people who will suffer and die if we do not keep the promises made by ourselves and our governments; the bishop from central Kenya who shared the poverty, starvation, illiteracy, and disease of his diocese and his fears for their future; the three young men from the Queen’s Boys Brigade who had served since they were very small and were now in their first years of college – one a Methodist who attended an evangelical church, one a Presbyterian, and one who no longer attended church at all – each proud of their place in this event; each searching for a new and better way for themselves, the world, and the church.

Events like this are always a canvas of contrast. With one brush the color of material wealth is painted and with another, poverty. One quick splash or drip and there is the question of food for the world or energy. The palette includes Christian values and morals; personal decisions of conscience; governmental influences. Our canvas is global. Our canvas is beautiful with all of its colors. Our canvas is God’s. Today I – we – were a part of making this canvas stronger and more beautiful. Thanks be to God.

Suzie Whitmore