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

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I am

The Lambeth Conference that is occurring here is most certainly for the bishops, but we spouses are having a conference also. Many of the themes and activities overlap. At times we worship together or meet together and at times, we are in separate places.

The spouses meet daily with a plenary session. The general topic is ''Who am I?'' Who am I as a person, as a partner, as a Christian? Each day a new topic is presented to us for consideration and time is allowed to share our own experiences.

After the plenary, the spouses meet for bible study in small groups. The lessons are all based on the gospel of John, particularly on the ''I am'' statements. The bishops are using the same series of lessons but in groups separate from the spouses. These lessons were developed especially for Lambeth and are particularly rich.

My group consists of spouses from Central America, South America and the United States. We are mostly a Spanish speaking group with a translator available. I think it is surprising to most of us, including the translator, that most of her work is from Spanish to English. I certainly did not come to England expecting to speak Spanish!! In our group we use both Spanish and English translations of scripture as well as the text of the lessons. Especially interesting to us is how the scripture has been translated into English and Spanish with different nuances and meanings. All of us have benefited from the diversity of culture and language.

The weaving of the personal ''I am'' and the ''I am'' of Jesus is an interesting perspective for all of us and one that is sure to carry on with us long after Lambeth itself is over.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

From Central Africa to the Vatican

Greetings to one and all! Today has been an interesting spectacle. I just read the summaries of the media reports from Lambeth and many of them make me wonder if I've been to the same meeting. I cannot believe some of the twisting and turning of the day's events I've been reading about!

As always, we began with a Eucharist celebrated according to the tradition of the Anglican Church in Central Africa. The music was wonderful and we were blessed by a stirring sermon from Bishop James Tengatenga of Southern Malawi. Bishop James and I have known each other for some time and it was a wonderful gift to the Conference to hear him preach. Our morning continued with our daily Bible study and prayer, today focusing on the bread of life passages in John 6.

Today's Indaba group engaged us in conversation about mission issues that have impact upon the whole Communion: ministry with youth, migrant workers, immigrants and displaced persons, HIV/AIDS, racial reconciliation, etc. (This is only part of the list, but you get the idea.). We will be returning to many of these matters because they are important "on the ground" concerns for many of our people around the world.

Over lunch I met with the bishops of New York and Bishop Mhogolo of the Diocese of Central Tanganyika to discuss our continuing partnership in mission and ministry. It was wonderful to be able to talk about the work that the Cathedral of St. Philip is engaged in to help finish a parish church in Tanzania to meet the needs of its congregation! Way to go, St. Philip's! I am proud of the work you are doing. I was also able to spend some good time with Bishop Mhogolo talking about my next visit to the Diocese of Central Tanganyika and his next visit later this year to the Diocese of Atlanta.

Later in the afternoon I had good conversation with Bishop Filadelfo, the bishop coadjutor of the our companion diocese in Brazil, Rio de Janiero. I have invited him to be with us for annual council this year to "re-launch" our companionship in mission and ministry with the Diocese of Rio. His presence among us will be a blessing. Evening prayer was also led by our good friends in the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil. The church in Brazil, as in much of Central and South America, is a result of the mission work of The Episcopal Church in the United States. As one Brazilian bishop regularly reminds me, "You are our mother church!" It is always a special joy for me to be with our friends and colleagues from Brazil.

This evening Ivan Cardinal Dias, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, addressed the Conference on Mission, Social Justice, and Evangelization. While I can easily imagine hearing myself say almost everything he said, what I would mean with those same words would differ substantially in meaning. But such is the nature of "official" communiques: many folks can agree on the words but everyone has a slightly (or sometimes substantially) different understanding of what's being said. Nonetheless, it was good to be pleasantly and substantively "greeted and encouraged" by the Vatican.

There are lots of folks around the edges who are spending time, effort, and significant amounts of money to attempt to disrupt the Lambeth Conference. Although there is no one reason to blame for the mess we're in the Anglican Communion, the largest single fracture in the fabric occurred at the Lambeth Conference 1998 because of those who rebelled and hijacked the carefully thought out agenda that had been proposed by Archbishop Carey. I believe that this meeting can go a long way toward mending the broken fences and restoring trust if we can resist the pressure from outside the Conference and work with care and deliberateness through the agenda as Archbishop Rowan has set it out. Pray for us.


Bishop Neil

July 22, 2008

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Another beautiful day at The University of Kent, all that is good about English summers. Today was the first day of what will be the "normal" for the rest of the conference (except Thursday, which is the queen's tea.)

This morning we began with worship led by the Church of Central Africa. Our bible study theme for today was from the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, "I am the bread of Life." We were asked to consider the relationship between the bread for life and the bread of life in our context. The we were asked to consider "How does the Eucharist bring life, both in worship and in ordinary life?" In my group, we were blessed with some wonderful insights into African culture and how it differs from our own. In our culture, the Eucharist is a place where relationships are reconciled. We set aside differences, if only for a time, and celebrate our commonality. In the African cultures described in my group that is not possible. Two parties at emnity cannot share the Eucharistic meal or any meal until the conflict is resolved. This certainly helped me understand much of the behavior toward the American Church after the 2003 General Convention.

The rest of the morning was spent in Indaba groups. Our topic today was "The Bishop and Evangelism." Our conversations were organized around two questions: "As a bishop, how am I encouraging evangelism in my diocese?" and "What are the challenges I face in being a leader in Mission?" My group was only three, a bishop from Spain, a bishop from Ireland, and myself. What difference in the situations we face concerning growth in the church.

The afternoon was scheduled to be "self-select" groups, opportunities to meet with other bishops to have conversation around limited subjects. My choice was, from necessity, laundry. Imagine 580 people in a building - 2 working washing machines, no working dryers. Talk about scheduling.

This evening we gathered in the Big Top to hear Cardinal Ivan Dias [Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples at the Vatican] speak to us about the role of the bishop in evangelizing the world. He reminded us of the role of social ministry in carrying out the mission of Christ. Though the cardinal's style was quite different from last night's program with Brian McClaren, his message was powerful.

At the end of another long day of many, many conversations, I reflect and see the Church of Christ in all its glory and in all its broken humanity as we struggle for wholeness. I think it is a struggle most of us endure willingly for the sake of the Gospel because we know that the Risen Lord dwells with us, in us, and through us and that finally He will lead us to His purpose.

God's good blessing on you,

Bishop Keith

Monday, July 21, 2008

From Seoul, to Indaba, to MacClaren

Greetings from Canterbury!

Today began with a Holy Eucharist offered according to the Korean Anglican tradition. A special treat was music by the Seoul Mother's Union Choir. Then came our morning time of Bible study and prayer. Today we studied a portion of John 6 about Jesus walking on the water. In that passage Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid. The conversation became quite deep and intense when we thought about what it might mean if we took Jesus' admonition seriously and set out to do God's mission without fear.

Today was also the first two meetings of our Indaba groups. Indaba is a Zulu word that means deep, intentional conversation. This morning's session focused on Anglican identity and the particular role(s) that bishops play in that. This afternoon we turned to good conversation on the four "signposts" of the Anglican tradition: scripture, liturgy and sacraments, the "ordering" of ministry, and God's mission in the world. Both conversations were rich and stimulating. It is such a gift to be with bishops from all around the world where we do "the same things in very different ways," according to local culture, local priorities, and local needs. One bishop in my group said that after listening to his sister and brother bishops talk all day about being a bishop in their context, that the only thing we might have in common is a love for Jesus and purple shirts! In spite of what we sometimes like to think, there is nothing "uniform" about Anglicanism. Instead it is a colorful tapestry of enormous depth held together by a love for Jesus, faithfulness to common prayer (but not a particular prayer book!), and strong commitment to engaging God's mission. "Diversity is no cause for division; unity is not uniformity," was echoed over and over through the day in a thousand different ways.

This evening we listened to a presentation from Brian MacLaren, a pastor and well-known writer from Maryland. He talked about the challenges of evangelism in our current contexts. He explained in very clear terms why European churches are largely empty, American churches are half full, and African churches are full . . . and it has nothing to do with doctrine or discipline! If you've not read it already, I heartily commend (among several good books by him) A Generous Orthodoxy. During the question and answer period, someone asked him about the sexuality quagmire the church finds itself in. He gave a very thoughtful response by suggesting that we might be trying to respond to a missiological question with a theological answer. I think he's on to something.

Let me commend to your prayers, in particular, Bishop and Irene Mhogolo and their youngest son, Wendo. Word reached us today that Wendo is quite ill and in the hospital in Australia. As a result, Irene will be departing Canterbury tomorrow to be with him. Please pray for Wendo's healing, for Irene's safe travel, and for Bishop Mdimi who will continue to be here, but will no doubt be very concerned about his son's well-being.

To God be the glory!

Bishop Neil

Sunday, July 20, 2008

June 20, 2008

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Today was a bright, sunny day in Canterbury as over 650 bishops of the Anglican Communion and their spouses walked the main street to the Cathedral to spend a Sunday morning worshiping God. The liturgy was what you would expect from Anglicans -- well done and orderly. Yet it brought together voices from all over our world in word and song. (The procession of bishops was 28 minutes long for those of you who think 60 minutes is a maximum service length.) The liturgy, in at least eight languages, was both moving and traditional, yet accessible and contemporary. The gospel procession featured Melanesian dancers in native dress with drums beating and the gospel carried in a canoe to be proclaimed in French. The homily from a bishop from Sri Lanka called us to become a church with no barriers. We made Eucharist together as one voice. It was a truly glorious time and easy to imagine how it must be around the heavenly throne. And yet there were sobering reminders that much hard work lies ahead for us at this Lambeth Conference.

The streets of Canterbury were not only filled with Bishops and spouses but also demonstrators, those who would encourage us to treat some as less than fully human. While they demonstrated in a very reserved and restricted English way, their message to me was clear. We have work to do.

Following the service we bused backed to the University of Kent for a short respite before the orientation for the week ahead. That was a testament to the work ahead of us to help foster healing in our Communion. We are being asked to set aside our expectations of the old way of working together (adversarial, legislative) and give our selves over to a new process (listening and reflecting, giving space for every voice.) It will be both a challenge and an opportunity.

Tomorrow we will begin again. Our first Indaba groups meet around the theme "The Bishop and Anglican Identity." Keep us in your prayers as we now begin our work together. Till now we have only focused on ourselves. Now it is no longer about "me" but about "us."

God's good blessing to all of you,

Bishop Keith

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Between Retreat and Conference

This morning the bishops completed two-and-a-half days of retreat in preparation for the Lambeth Conference. Using images from the Letter to the Hebrews, Archbishop Rowan talked about various elements of leadership with particular reference to the manner in which bishops provide leadership that is somewhat different from other kinds of leaders. Not better, to be sure, but different.

Particularly engaging were the Archbishop's ideas about our role in God's mission. He reminded us that "mission is not taking Jesus where he is not." Jesus goes before us and we walk where Jesus leads. His words were very reminiscent of the writings on mission of Bishop Stephen Bayne, the first General Secretary of the Anglican Communion. It was a thoughtful way of bringing our retreat to a close.

Except for daily worship, we have the remainder of today (Saturday) free. This evening Lynn and I will be joining bishops and spouses from around the world who have in common a relationship with The General Seminary in New York. Not only have many bishops of our church studied there, but many from across the Anglican Communion are part of the GTS family.

The Lambeth Conference formally begins on Sunday morning with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral. In the afternoon Archbishop Rowan will give the opening address of the Conference, and the formal agenda commences first thing Monday morning. We'll have a review of the major events of opening day Sunday evening.

Love and blessings to all!

Bishop Neil

Friday, July 18, 2008

July 18, 2008

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Another day of meditations by the Archbishop and much time contemplating their content. Lots of conversations with bishops from other parts of the world. My bible study group is made up of two bishops from Zimbabwe, one from England, and three from the US. We are still awaiting the arrival of three others. It is amazing how the bible study has helped us to see that in spite of very differing contexts we have a great deal in common in our ministry as bishops. Today we looked at the figure of John the Baptist in the first chapter of the Gospel according to John and discovered snapshots of our own ministries. One question even asked "Do you ever feel like a 'voice crying in the wilderness?'" Different settings, same answer. Yes!

The Archbishop is leading us slowly through insights into our own ministry of missionary leadership as bishops and how that relates to our need to be in communion. He reminded us that it was Tertullian who said "A single Christian is no Christian." We are in communion as God's gift to us even though that communion might be impaired by our human divisions. We are called to stay together while we work to heal those divisions.

I also spent much of the day meeting and hearing from bishops around the world -- Canada, Ireland, Australia, Sudan, England, South America. I listened with grateful ears as they shared the stories of their life in Christ, and then I was able to share with joy the small part of the Diocese of Atlanta that is mine to give.

Though it, at times, seems like we are not getting to the business at hand, especially after hours of sitting in a beautiful but cold cathedral, I know we are doing what must come first. We are preparing our souls so that we can meet Christ in the sometimes difficult conversations ahead. It is not always easy to remember that all this is not about us. We serve the living, risen Lord who is leading us into all truth.

God's great blessing on you. You continue in our prayers.

Bishop Keith

PS thought you might like some visuals.

St. Paul's Church, Wordsworth Ave., Sheffield

Thursday, July 17, 2008

July 17, 2008

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We are settled in at Canterbury and survived the first day of the conference-more later. After some time we were able to get the computer up and running so communication should improve. Prior to the conference we sprent time in the Diocese of Sheffield. Sheffield is an industrial city in the east midlands of England. It was the leading steel producer until the 1980's. As in the US, the steel business has gone elsewhere and the city was left trying to adjust to developing a new economy. It is a struggle which still continues.

We stayed with the Vicar of St. Paul's, Wordsworth, a smallish parish in the highest crime area thus poorest area of Sheffield. Their priest, Fr. Ian Smith, is a bright, committed pastor of a small but dedicated congregation. I asked him if he had ever thought about living in the Southern US -- no luck. They are working hard to reach out into their community and make a difference and they are succeeding -- Praise God! We worshiped together; I preached. We were able to visit and share with the members of the congregation and see a number of programs. These people are living the Gospel in their neighborhood. We even were invited to the Strawberry Tea sponsored by the St. Paul's chapter of the Mother's Union (ECW). Real strawberries and cream English style.

We also visited Sheffield Cathedral built in the early 15th century, a small but beautiful Cathedral. (It would fit into the nave of St. Philip's with lots of leftover space.) I had the privilege of preaching at the service there for World Mission. We shared the evening with Bishops from Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Primate of the Southern Cone.

Suzie and I were given a tour of the Cathedral Homeless Shelter, a well-equipped, well-designed building that provides support for many seeking asylum in England as well as the unemployed and mentally ill. It is the principal referral agency in Sheffield as well as a food pantry and feeding program. They feed 175 a day. Again people making a difference in their community.

We had a delightful train ride to London followed by an awful taxi ride through London traffic followed by a great train ride to Canterbury.

Bishop Neil has already given the highlights of our first day but I would like to add one personal note. during the second meditation I was overwhelmed as I looked around and realized I had the privilege of sitting in this historic setting not as a tourist or visitor but as one of the Cathedral's own. I was sitting where many famous characters in the History of England, our Church, and our world had sat before. St. Augustine of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, Michael Ramsey, Desmond Tutu and many others were all there with me as I listened to the Archbishop lead his bishops in mission. I lifted my heart and mind in prayer, remembering you, here with me in Spirit. It was a great moment. I suspect there will be more.

God's great blessings,

Bishop Keith

Thursday, July 17

After a very early morning celebration of the Eucharist and breakfast, bishops and spouses met in their respective Bible study groups to begin our study of the "I am" passages of John's gospel. In my group, there is another Episcopal Church bishop, +Don Taylor, presently one of the assistant bishops of the Diocese of New York. Some Atlantans will remember when Bishop Taylor was the Rector of the Church of the Holy Cross in Decatur before becoming bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands. The other bishops in my group include three bishops from the Church of South India, a bishop of the Church of England, a bishop from Kenya, and an ecumenical guest from the World Council of Churches. Our conversations were lively and it was very interesting to hear bishops from different parts of the world discuss how they "heard" and understood today's passage from quite different perspectives. I came away from our first morning conversation rejoicing again in the international and theological diversity of the Anglican Communion. Context makes an enormous difference.

After Bible study we boarded buses that took the bishops to Canterbury Cathedral in the heart of the old city. Late in the morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave the first of two outstanding retreat addresses. In his first address, Archbishop Rowan called our attention to St. Paul's letter to the Galatians (1:15-16) and suggested to us that many English translations miss an important point that Paul is making. Paul writes: But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles. Archbishop Rowan believes (as do I) that a more accurate reading of Paul is, in fact, was pleased to reveal his Son in me that.... Much of the remainder of the address was a thoughtful and wide-ranging journey about those things this little difference in translation makes, not only in the lives of bishops, but in the life of the whole church.

After lunch on the Cathedral grounds, Archbishop Rowan gave a second address that began with consideration of two further passages from St. Paul: 2 Corinthians 11:28, 29, and Philippians 3:12. Again, the Archbishop asked us to delve into various aspects of episcopal ministry and lay those thoughts and prayers against the backdrop of the whole ministry of the church. After each address, the entire cathedral and all its precincts were open to the bishops for silence, reading, contemplation, and prayer.

Our day closed with Evensong. The Canterbury Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys sang the psalm and the Magnificat to fine settings and a great anthem in the Anglican choral tradition, Edward Bairstow's Jesus, the very thought of thee resounded through the cathedral space. The resonance of the treble voices through the great space was spiritually (and musically!) powerful. Sadly, the congregational singing was comprised of brief repetitive choruses of no textual or musical substance.

After dinner we enjoyed a wine and chocolate reception in honor of Dr. Jane Williams, the spouse of the Archbishop of Canterbury and quite a fine theologian in her own right. The event celebrated the launching of her latest book, Mitres, Marriage, and Me and is a compilation of of stories from the wives and husbands of Anglican bishops from around the world. I haven't read it yet, but it is already in its third printing and is selling well here in England not just in religious book stores, but in the large stores that cater to everyone's interests. Seems odd to me that so many folks would like to read about what it's like to be married to a bishop, but I'm sure I don't see that as others do!

Tomorrow, Friday, July 18, is another day of retreat for the bishops at Canterbury Cathedral and in schedule and offering will be much like today. Lynn will be online tomorrow to say a few words about the Spouses' Conference and Bishop Whitmore will be weighing in as the week progresses.

Pray for us. We're praying for you.


Bishop Neil

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Visit to the Diocese of Portsmouth

Beginning on Friday (July 11), Lynn and I enjoyed a wonderful visit to the Diocese of Portsmouth in Southern England. Together with Bishop Henry and Jan Louttit of Georgia, we were the guests of Bishop Kenneth and Sarah Stevenson. We stayed at Bishopsgrove, the "see residence" the the diocese. Their hospitality was nothing short of fantastic (they would make great Southerners!) and I second the declaration of Lord Runcie who once declared Sarah to be the greatest cook in the Anglican Communion!

On Saturday, there was an all day gathering at Portsmouth Cathedral in the heart of old Portsmouth near the harbor. The cathedral was built in several stages over hundreds of years, the last part being finished in the last fifteen years. During the day we were greeted by diocesan and public officials, enjoyed a wonderful lunch in Cathedral House, and celebrated the Eucharist together with members from across the Diocese of Portsmouth. We enjoyed informative displays by various mission initiatives of the diocese. Because of number of the parishes in the diocese are linked with dioceses in the Anglican Church of Ghana, West Africa, we were delighted to share the festivities with about eight Ghanaian bishops and their wives. It was a joyful celebration!

On Sunday, we spent the day in the Gosport Deanery. In the morning, I presided and preached at St. Faith's Parish in Lee-on-the-Solent. After a fabulous meal with new friends at the home of the Vicar, I spoke to members from across the deanery about the Lambeth Conference and answered questions. This wonderful exchange was followed by a delightful tea in the parish centre and Evensong. It was quite a day.

On Monday we took a day trip to the Isle of Wight off the southern shore of mainland England. I've rarely seen such breathtaking views of the ocean. I can't think of anything along our shore line that begins to compare with it. A major feature of the day was a visit to Osborne House, the summer retreat of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Their "cabin in the woods" is simpler when compared to Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace, but compared to the homes in which most of us reside, well, you get the point.

Tuesday we enjoyed a marvelous tour of the naval museums at the Portsmouth dockyards and visited the HMS Victory, the flagship of the British fleet under the command of Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Sailors were evidently shorter in those days! I bumped my head numerous times as I toured the ship.

Today we made the journey to Canterbury and the University of Kent for the retreat that leads up to the beginning of the Lambeth Conference. Once settled into our rooms, we gathered in "the big top" for an orientation, lots of introductions, brief words from the Archbishop, and "music practice" for tomorrow's liturgies. As people gathered, it was very much like a grand family reunion. Bishops and spouses from around the Communion who know each other well and who haven't seen each other for months, years (or in some cases a decade) could be seen kissing, hugging, high-fiveing, and delighting in each other's presence. Although we have much to do -- hours of conversation -- in the next two-plus weeks, there is great joy and a high spirit of expectation to say the least. It was a wonderful picture of the diversity of our Anglican family.

In his opening remarks, Archbishop Rowan, with great clarity, named the pain that many of us feel because some are not here. We know, of course, that some are not here simply of their own choosing and their absence should not be understood as any sort of statement. Others are not here due to illness, a few because of visa problems, and a host of other reasons. Of course, there are those who are not here because they want their absence to "send a message." Whatever their reason, we are wounded because of their absence. But the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us that if we are to be the Body of Christ in the world, then we must recognize and embrace our woundedness and continue to embrace the life that is to be found only in the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Tomorrow, Thursday, July 17, the bishops will gather in Canterbury Cathedral for two days of retreat -- silence, prayer, and reflection -- as continuing preparation for the Lambeth Conference that begins formally on Sunday. Archbishop Rowan is a great teacher of scripture and one of his many gifts is being a thoughtful retreat master. I trust, and trust deeply, that hearing his reflections on scripture and mission in the precincts of the "mother church" of the Anglican tradition will have a "centering" effect on all of us, preparing our hearts and minds for the continuing conversations of the Lambeth Conference. The spouses program also gets underway tomorrow. Lynn is a small group facilitator and Bible study leader and will be working in both English and Spanish. Pray for us. As we gather in these final days of preparation, you will be very much in our thoughts and prayers.


Bishop Neil

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On our way!

Our bags are packed. We're ready to go. Lambeth here we come!

First stop will be one day in London where we will be the guests of St. Matthew's, Westminster. This will give us a day to deal with jet lag, get acclimated, and make some preparations that can only be accomplished when we get to the United Kingdom.

On Friday, we'll be on our way to the Diocese of Portsmouth in Southern England. Along with a number of other bishops and spouses from around the Anglican Communion (including Henry and Jan Louttit of the Diocese of Georgia!), we'll be the guests of Bishop Kenneth and Sarah Stevenson. I have known Bishop Stevenson for many years when we were both seminary liturgy professors. It will be good to see him again and trade "bishop stories" like we used to trade "professor stories."

On Sunday morning, I'll be preaching and presiding at St. Faith's Church on the coast. If you'd like to check out their website, it is In the afternoon, there will be a diocesan-wide gathering to welcome folks from around the Communion.

Early in the week we'll be making our way to the University of Kent in Canterbury for the opening of the Lambeth Conference.

We're not sure we'll have email access while in Portsmouth, but once we arrive in Canterbury we hope to give you a daily update, some days from Bishop Whitmore, some days from me, and perhaps on some days some reflections from both of us.


Bishop Neil

Monday, July 7, 2008

As I sit at my desk this morning preparing for the trip to England, I feel the excitement of the coming days. There are many tedious details to be worked out. Packing to do -- what will I forget? Some final travel arrangements to make. Who knows where St. Paul's Wordsworth is? Two sermons to prepare for this weekend. And yet, I know, at some deeper level, that I may in fact be getting ready to participate in an historic event, not unlike the first council in Jerusalem described in the acts of the Apostles. The Church was struggling mightily around issues of inclusion, interpretation, culture - sound familiar? As the Christians from various viewpoints gathered there, they were able to hear the voice of the Lord calling them into new and different relationships. The fledgling Church not only survived its first crisis, this event became the launching point for the first great missional era in Christianity. the Church not only went on, it thrived.

My prayer as I busy myself with the business of travel is that the Spirit will fill my heart and open my ears as I engage in this holy and wonderful enterprise for the sake of the Mission of Christ. Please keep Bishop Neil and me in your prayers as we go to add our voices and our ears to the Lambeth Conference 2008.

Bishop Keith