With the Great and the Good

Most of the time I make do with the trivial round and common task but sometimes other things break in

I’m on my way home from a second visit to London in less than a week

The first was for the Dinner which the Lord Mayor holds at the Mansion House for Anglican bishops from the British Isles – marking the General Synod of the Church of England. I feign a certain diffidence about these things. But it’s remarkable and there are lots of old friends. You’ll want to know that Alison had the most delicate expression of tartan – so we kept our end up.

Today I have been at a faith leaders’ gathering at Lambeth to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I suppose that had a little flavour of a ‘moment of history’ – and it was a remarkable inter-faith gathering. The Queen’s ability to shake hands and be interested in people is something which one can only admire

Meanwhile – as you know I like the juxtapositions of things. I was sitting in Waterloo Station this morning having a restorative cup of coffee and dictating e mails on my IPhone for Sharon – when a pigeon scored a direct hit on my Kindle. Ah well …

Ordinary Day 1

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.’

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.

Nothing new ..

Continuing to read .. and of course finding that Lambeth has constantly been in difficulties from the very beginning. I hadn’t thought, of course, how significant it is that many who attend the Lambeth Conference will do so for the first and only time. So it has always been difficult to order the Conference in such a way that it builds on the work of former Conferences – too tempting to treat it as a ‘one-off’ without reference to the past. That in turn seems to contribute to the relative ineffectiveness of Lambeth Resolutions – and probably makes the Lambeth Conference less significant as one of the instruments of unity in the Anglican Communion than it might otherwise be. Maybe it’s partly a factor of time scales. Ten years may just be too long in today’s world. But, to be honest, I wouldn’t be queuing up to go more often!

I’ve been reading the GAFCON material with a curious mixture of sympathy and disappointment. I don’t think it is helpful at this moment to do more than say that I find it difficult to recognise myself in it. Maybe that shows just how ‘compromised and enfeebled’ I am without realising it.

White-water blogging

Alison is a rare sighting on this blog. So partly in honour of her birthday – partly because the registration process for the spouses’ outing at the Lambeth Conference required it – we thought it was time for a photo. Readers of the Church Times will have noted Caroline Chartres’ concern about the – shall we say – domestic arrangements at the University of Kent. All rooms are single and ‘the organisers cannot guarantee that spouses will be accommodated in adjoining rooms to their husbands ..’ or words to that effect. Sounds like an event to savour! So the rapids and overfalls of the Falls of Dochart symbolise one’s feelings about Lambeth joys to come.