Good Sermon Vicar!

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’

The Conference wot I am attending

This programme is what some call packly tight.  So I haven’t had more than a moment to find out from the blogs and websites about the Conference which I am supposed to be experiencing.

It seems to me that the atmosphere is warm and friendly.  I can do gregarious when I need to.  But by the end of yesterday, I was contemplating the tee-shirt which said, ‘No more networking today.’   The encounters are fascinating.  The journalists who are looking for stories could stop almost any participant here at random and find that they have an extraordinary story to tell.  I have a feeling that the spouses may well be even more diverse and interesting than the bishops.  After all, they chose a partner but perhaps not this extraordinary way of life.  Yes there clearly is a need to ensure that the Conference addresses difficult issues – but most conferences are a sprint.  This is a marathon.

I look at the bishops – out of their context and, in many cases, casually dressed.  I wonder if I can discern something which this strange breed of people has in common.  They are all hard workers.  Many of them are tired.  They are idealists but they spend a lot of time managing conflicting demands with limited resources.  In many cases, they face extraordinary and dangerous situations.  They can be isolated to the point of lonely.

But they are not the area managers of some global conglomerate coming to Head Office for a pep talk.  They are faith leaders of autonomous churches.  And that is why this Conference is beginning by investing time in the inward spiritual journey and in relationships.  What we need to do demands more than politics and votes.

Two other things ..

The Lord’s Prayer said by each in their own language is unbearably moving.

The bedroom furniture situation continues to be a matter of some interest.  We have now received two billets doux on our pillows from the management.  The beds may have moved but they are unmoved.