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

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