How many really good sermons have you heard in your life? Not all that many, I suspect. I added one to my list this morning at the Eucharist when James, Bishop of Southern Malawi, preached on the reading from John – Jesus explaining the feeding of the 5000 – a nightmare for preachers. He wove a spell of reflection on people’s appetite for Wonder Bread and their desire for signs – and drew it back to the possibility that we ourselves might be the sign … ‘Kiss this frog and you may find your Prince Charming’
If I can say so without being patronising, I think the revelation of this Conference for me has been the quality of the new generation of leadership emerging in the African Churches. They are sophisticated, clear and powerful – clearly have leadership to offer to the whole Communion.
Which brings me back to the session last night on Models for Evangelism from Brian McLaren – polished communication and thought-provoking too. It seemed to me compelling to suggest that some at least of the success of the church in Africa is to do with the move from pre-modern to modern society. He suggested that people cannot bring their old religion with them – Christianity suits modern society exceptionally well. But it can’t cope so easily with the move from modern to post-modern society.
I’ve also been looking at diocesan links and have signed up for some kind of Communion-wide dating agency. Listening to people describing long term and successful links, it seemed to me that the challenge is to get beyond ecclesiastical tourism. The best have been exploring shared training and evangelism and approach it all in a very strategic and intentional way. I have promised not to come back with a link fixed up – rather to try at best to gather up a number of possibilities which we might subsequently explore. Yes – the bishop-to-bishop chemistry does matter. But these are diocesan links above all.
And finally … still early days for the Indaba Groups. That’s the diffused talking process through which the Conference is trying to get to grips with ‘the issues.’ Yes we have to commit ourselves to this – plenaries simply marginalise the centre ground. But …
But … I think that it is difficult to see the roadmap which will lead us towards a conclusion. I am part of an Indaba Group which contains some of the most respected and skilled thinkers in the whole Anglican Communion. But the process is at best undemanding. It certainly is not drawing out the resources in the group which are there for the benefit of all. I think that, to use the dreadful phrase, we need to be sure by the end of this week that it is ‘fit for purpose’
We’ve been experiencing what the Lambeth Conference Programme enticingly calls ‘Ordinary Day 1’ This is without prejudice to the fact that we arrived here last Tuesday and will not leave until Sunday week. Ordinary Day 1 has been long.
For me, even if nothing else happened here, it would be worth it for the Bible Study Group. As we get to know one another better, we edge closer to the difficult stuff. Given that we have another two weeks, I look forwardwith anticipation to where we may get to.
The press – not that I have time to read it – seems to have been treating the Conference fairly harshly. Inside the wire, it remains an extraordinary meeting place of the world church. And as bishops and their spouses begin to loom up in front of one for the second or third time, the conversations become more substantial. I made a particular effort today to talk to one or two traditionalist bishops from The Episcopal Church [that means the USA] We talked about dioceses seeking to move themselves to affiliate to other provinces and the difficulties which this creates. For them the issue of Gene Robinson is merely symptomatic of a whole range of issues – most of which are about theological formulations. ‘If people cross theological boundaries, the result is that others will have to cross physical boundaries.’
Themes wrap around one another. Eucharist this morning was led by the South Koreans – the Gospel about frightened disciples in the boat in the storm seeing Jesus walking on the water. The Korean Archbishop preached about experiencing fear as ‘the absence of God.’ They invited the Japanese Primate to say prayers of reconciliation. Our Bible Study pondered the fact that the disciples were in one boat – like the gospel book carried in a boat by the Melanesian Dancers in the Cathedral on Sunday. They didn’t try to throw each other out ..
Today also saw the start of the Indaba Groups – groups of about 40 in which we shall attempt to deal with ‘the issues’. Doubters? Yes – probably most of us on some levels. But, as Rowan Williams said, the former ways of doing things weren’t notably successful either.
But in the end, the extraordinary thing about this Conference is that – even though 200 bishops have stayed away – it is all here. Everywhere one goes, the Anglican Communion and its issues are there in microcosm. I sat in the Cathedral just across from the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and the Bishop of Pittsburg and tried to wrap my prayers around them. All over the Cathedral, I am sure the same thing was happening.
Saying of the day? An American bishop who described the low-church culture of some of the congregations in his diocese as ‘snake-belly low.’