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.