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

1 comment:

Luiz Coelho said...

Bishop, thank you for your kind words!

I hope the final indaba work goes smoothly.

Blessings in Christ