Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Encounters with Sudan

I did meet a Sudanese Bishop yesterday.

I went to a Round table discussion about the Sudan, and listened to the heart wrenching accounts of Darfur and all of the incredible human needs in that country. The Archbishop made a strong plea for help from the world community; as I listened I thought: no matter what happens to the Anglican Communion I will do what ever I can to help the situation in Sudan. It is not about what the Sudanese bishops say or don’t say; the situation in Sudan is about me and God. There is a group called “Zero Church” (named after their street address, not a theological statement) which sings a song which says in effect, if people mock you for being honest, be honest anyway, if people reject you for the truth, tell the truth anyway, if people accuse you of profligacy, be generous anyway, because it’s not between you and them, but between you and God.

Feeling a bit more confident as I remembered my obligation to give my life over to the care and keeping of God, I knew I had to do my part and stick out my hand. So I approached a Bishop and introduced myself. I was feeling vulnerable and still angry about the things I’d read in the paper about the Archbishop of the Sudan calling for Gene Robinson to resign and suggesting, if not threatening, to break communion with the Episcopal Church. We shared a few home truths about the situation from our different perspectives and I was beginning to feel dismayed by the whole conversation, when the bishop told me to pray about it. I seized his hand and said: “Let’s pray now!” And so we did. I can’t actually remember what I said or what he said, but the effect of holding his hand and praying as sincerely as I am capable had a big impact on me. He had very gentle hands, and I suddenly had an image of him celebrating Mass. As we ended he described the “acronym” on all the doors: “p.u.s.h.”: pray until something happens, he said.

Today at lunch I happened to sit with a woman who is the Assistant to the Archbishop of the Sudan. She has been a fairly regular participant in our prayer services, so I felt well disposed towards her without knowing who she was. When I learned who she was, I asked her about the Archbishop’s comments. She replied that he had deviated from the text of an agreed statement, the part about Gene Robinson and breaking communion was ad-libbed. They had come to Lambeth in a spirit of peace and looking for fruitful conversations; the resulting furor over his comments had left them somewhat bewildered. She reiterated the comments I had already heard about the liberal attitudes towards homosexuality inhibiting the interfaith work of the Church of the Sudan with Islam. I responded that if the Episcopal Church forced Gene Robinson to resign or rejected gay people it would lose a great measure of credibility in the USA. She said she hadn’t thought about that. The longer we talked the lighter I felt. I wasn’t solving the Church’s problem, but I was solving a huge personal problem, the burden of hating the Church of the Sudan. I offered her coffee, she offered to share a piece of cake. We talked of our respective seminaries, the exigencies of a nearly three week conference. I learned her name: Joanna. I look forward to seeing her at night prayer.

I don’t know how things are going to resolve themselves, but there is another group of people who have put their lives on the line for honesty and inclusiveness. Pictured here is a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people mostly from Nigeria and Uganda. They danced on the campus today and then held a meeting at which they told their stories of persecution and the difficulties of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in their countries. They also talked about the gay movement gathering strength in South Africa and some other countries as well. They all seem committed to living openly, even if in exile, and helping their brothers and sisters. They are at Lambeth to meet with bishops: they exist and they are most of them people of faith (two Anglicans spoke). A retired bishop from Uganda was also in the room, and he spoke about his work with LGBT people and his efforts to educate the other bishops in Uganda.

Providing an interesting background to all of this was a fantastic speech Monday night by Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. His main task was to talk about covenants. Covenants of Fate, he said, (meaning among other things a shared fate on the planet as living creatures) provide a deep place of connection and a fruitful starting place for divided people. I thought about his comments later as I remembered the situation in Darfur before I went to bed. The tears of Africa have a claim on me. I have no control over what bishops or other world leaders do, but I can reach out in small ways, creating relationships, channeling resources and getting beyond my personal sense of grievance into a place of service and freedom.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Tea and Strawberries

Sunday afternoon there was a gathering of all “Franciscan connected” bishops at Greyfriars (the SSF friary) in Canterbury. The protector General of the Order, Bishop George Connor of Dunedin, New Zealand sent out sixty or so invitations. We got about 15 Bishops and their spouses (percentage-wise not so bad, considering the other alluring events on offer at the same time), and were joined by the Third Order members and First Order Brothers and Sisters attending the Prayer Witness that the Third Order has organized, and the First Order Brothers serving with me on the Lambeth Chaplaincy team.

We began in the small chapel, built by the brothers who came to England in 1224, arriving in the same week St. Francis was receiving the Stigmata at la Verna. Bishop George, Sr. Joyce, the MG of the Sisters of the Community of St. Francis, me, and Dorothy Brooker, the MG of the Third Order spoke about the life and work of each order, and we also heard a bit about the Poor Clare Sisters at Freeland. Br. Colin Wilfred spoke briefly of the history of Greyfriars. Then Sister Jean, the Minster Provincial of the Province of the Americas said a prayer. It was a very casual event, full of good humor and a desire to get better acquainted: exactly the kind of Franciscan event I love.

Then we walked across the garden for tea. Of course there was great food! We ate heaps of strawberries, scones with clotted cream, and drank tea or coffee, all fixed by the Third Order. They also bought the huge tent or marquee as they call it, because it will also come in handy in the future. It was a wonderful oasis of Franciscan hospitality, and connecting as family. Many thanks to the brothers at Greyfriars and the Tertiaries who worked so hard on the event!!

Imagination is Evidence of the Divine

Br. Jon Bankert had a puppet theatre with “Imagination is Evidence of the Divine” inscribed on the proscenium. It is engraved on my memory, and I use it as a helpful criterion as I seek to serve God and proclaim the Gospel. So I have been looking around for signs of imagination here at Lambeth.

Most significantly for the Conference as a whole, I think the indaba process is a perfect example of the use of imagination. As the design group tells it, they wanted to take people into a fresh place of relating and doing the work of the conference in a way that allows the voices of all the bishops to be heard, not just the former high school debating champions. People in African communities come together for “indaba” when their community faces a crises of some kind. The only big difference between some rural African community and Lambeth is that in Africa the process might take days and days, and at Lambeth they meet for two hours in the morning and an hour and three quarters in the afternoon—with different topics slated for discussion. Western impatience aside, it is a huge step towards NOT doing business as usual. Most gratifyingly, it is driving some of the Western princes of the Church nuts. God is in the details, as others have said before.

Saturday The Episcopal Church led Evensong. It was an explosion of imagination: the bishops and their spouses formed a choir. The Bishop of Chicago played the drums, other bishops sang jazz and R and B Gospel solos. Confronted with the first chapter of Genesis as the reading for “The Environment” Bishop Cathy Roskam and Bishop Michael Curry read it in parts, and interpreter for the deaf provided a mesmerizing translation which had the Melanesians on the edge of their seats; the first lesson was greeted with applause. When was the last time that ever happened in Church? Watching the five minute DVD during the Evensong which highlighted the life and Ministry of The Episcopal Church, I was struck by the enormous vitality and breadth of experience and love for all kinds of people evident in the DVD. It showed men and women sharing in leadership,;black and white and Asian, Hispanic and Native American were shown baptizing, feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, and singing their hearts out, in churches majestic and humble. The sound track was terrific. I had a strong feeling of homesickness and deep pride. One Melanesian Brotherhood Brother said to me: “This is amazing, brother.” I replied, “This is my Church; now you see there are others like me!” (they say I am very ‘different’). TEC made a sweet pitcher of lemonade out of what could have been a pretty sour, tense situation. We are getting some pretty heavy criticism and are the focus of negative remarks I hear everyday. But the Bishops imagined it differently. They laughed, sang and celebrated a Gospel life in American harmonies.

Following the Evensong I went to the Inclusive Church Network Holy Eucharist. My friend the Archbishop of Mexico, Carlos Touche Porter celebrated, and the Rev. Canon Lucy Winkett from St. Paul’s Cathedral, London preached. She talked about prophetic imagination. Her gripping introductory example was about taking the St. Paul’s Cathedral Boys’ Choir to the London Stock Exchange on the anniversary of 9/11. The Chairman told the brokers they were free to continue trading, but that the singing was in honor of their colleagues who had died in the Twin Towers. Initially the young stockbrokers continued to shout into their phones, but as the choirs sang “Dona Nobis Pacem” in haunting polyphony gradually the men (and they were men, Lucy told us) started to listen. By the time they stopped singing the room was dead silent she said. The message of peace penetrated the noisiest corner of capitalism. It would never have happened if she’d simply tried to out shout them. It took a radical re-imagining of the opportunity. How does one proclaim the gospel of peace in a two minute time slot on the stock exchange? It struck me as so simple yet so daring as to outclass the efforts of most of us who might have to speak in similar circumstances. Of course she wasn’t speaking on Saturday night to a room or screaming stockbrokers, but a humble group of men and women who imagine Christ’s radical message of love and grace is for everyone, not just straight people. But the message was clear to me: we’ll get nowhere if we don’t stop doing business as usual and “choosing sides” and demon-izing our enemies.

I decided, on my run on Sunday, I need to meet one of these African Bishops and pray with him. I find myself thinking a thousand times a day how glad I’d be if they all disappeared. Magical thinking never solved anything. Imagination will.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tea with the Queen

Here it is Saturday and we are just getting our bearings after a huge day Thursday. We left Canterbury and headed to London for a Walk of Witness with the Archbishop of Canterbury. We walked a mile through central London, waving placards: “Halve Poverty by 2015.” It was a gorgeous sunny day and the hundreds of bishops and spouses all seemed united in the effort. As with all of the other protest marches I have participated in, the atmosphere was light hearted, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The best part, however was getting to Lambeth Palace (toilets and cold water), where we heard a fantastic speech by Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister. He spoke very passionately and with no notes. It was very inspiring, and heartening to think that he and presumably the party in power are 100 percent behind the Millennium Development Goals: no waffling, either! Nor did he make any terrible gaffes in his grammar. Hard to believe…

Lunch was served in a vast tent behind Lambeth Palace: delicious chicken, bean salad and asparagus. Then we had ice cream and a tart for dessert.

Lunch was followed by a walk in the garden. We do a lot of “meet and greet” work! Then we were bussed to Buckingham Palace. It was just like TV. I kept clear of any place I might be confronted by a royal, so I could relax in the shade, enjoy the world class people watching. The whole day was unbelievably gracious and welcoming and thoughtful.

Friday we were back in Canterbury at the Prayer Place at 6:00 a.m. The theme of the day was the environment, and we heard some excellent presentations on global warming and how to cut down our carbon foot print. SSF and I need to re-think the amount of traveling I do; I feel like a menace to the world.

Today the Episcopal Church is leading Evensong, and I believe we will hear from the House of Bishops Choir, under the direction of my friend Dent Davidson.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“A Traveling Mind-set”

Today the conference looked at issues stemming from the Gospel statement: “I am the bread of life.” At the Eucharist, in the small Bible study groups and the larger indaba groups and conference plenary sessions there were references to Christ being the Life of the World: “aliveness” somebody suggested as a good understanding of the phrase. We ended the day listening to a Vatican nuncio talk on ecumenical relations with the Roman Catholic Church.

My current favorite author Alain de Botton would have been a great speaker on the topic of aliveness (the Vatican representative was not). In his book The Art of Travel he talks about “A Travelling mind-set [British spelling].” “Receptivity might be said to be its chief characteristic. Receptive, we approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is or is not interesting. We irritate locals because we stand in traffic islands and narrow streets and admire what they take to be unremarkable small details [like flower borders along a river and rabbits on the campus grounds]…home by contrast finds us more settled in our expectations. We feel assured that we have discovered everything interesting about our neighborhood, primarily by virtue of our having lived there a long time. It seems inconceivable that there could anything new to find in a place where we have been living for a decade or more. We have become habituated and therefore blind to it.”

O that we could be receptive to one another! Learning to see beauty in our surroundings and in the people around us, holding all life sacred, respecting the dignity of every human being; these are Baptismal things and they are essential to being fully alive in Christ. Life is an adventure.

Sometimes the adventure feels like a roller coaster ride. One friend today commented he was tired of the roller coaster: up and down, faster and faster: people saying “Although we may never do what you have done in New Hampshire, we would never break communion with you.” Others approach him and say: “Don’t take it personally but there is no way we can stay in communion with a church like yours” (That must be the episcopal version of telling the truth with love).

None of us is really sure where we are going on this trip, and I have decided to stop feeling miserable about what might happen. I keep reminding myself that I can only live in the present moment, the past is passed and the future hasn’t happened. Jesus said consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air…we’ve got English border gardens and rabbits: God’s love is surely sufficient for today.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Vibrant Gospel Message

The Lambeth Conference opened today with a terrific liturgy in the Canterbury Cathedral. It was marked by upbeat musical offerings (The Missa Luba, a Mass in Congolese style), and the Franciscan and Melanesian Brotherhood brothers and Sisters of the Church and Sisters of Melanesia dancing the Gospel to the center of the Cathedral, with music performed on bamboo pan pipes. The hymns were beautiful, with an inclusive message. The sermon, preached by The Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo (Sri Lanka) was a show stopper: warmly delivered and emphasizing peace, justice, inclusiveness. It was one of the most beautiful Cathedral services I have ever attended.

The Procession was nearly half an hour, with hundreds of people filing into the Cathedral, two by two. We were representative of everybody, and the vast nave soon was a bit like Noah’s Ark.

Sitting in the midst of that crowd I felt a strong feeling of hope that we will be able to come to a new understanding about what it means to be Anglican, what it means to be a person of faith in the world today. That feeling of hope was a surprise to me. I’ve been feeling pessimistic and sometimes cynical.

The Liturgy set a positive tone and framework for the rest of the day, which was spent back at the Big Top listening to speeches outlining the process of the conference. The Bishops will meet everyday in Bible study, and “Indaba” groups, a Zulu word for a gathering of people meeting to work out a problem facing a community. There are people trained to “animate” each group, people set apart as recorders, and other teams of people meeting to pull all the different strands into documents which will reflect the voices and thoughts of every bishop attending the conference, as long as he or she participates. Best of all, the process is planned to go beyond the Lambeth Conference. They are avoiding trying to force some kind of quick decisions on the conference, but seeking constructive input into the groups working on the Windsor Response Group, and the group working on the Anglican Covenant. Even the covenant sounded different to me today, at least the possibilities the Archbishop outlined for it. We’ll see where it all goes. There have been a few dissenters, and I’ve heard about Bishops avoiding the Bible Study groups, some who chose not to come to the Archbishop’s retreat, and even a few who thought the sermon was “appalling.” Bless their hearts.

Here’s the text to a hymn we sang today, we also sang it at my Installation as Minister General November 1:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
And all can safely life,
A place where saints and children
Tell how hearts learn to forgive;
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome,
All are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Rule of Life

Today in his retreat addresses to the Bishops, Rowan Williams really seemed to put his cards on the table. He spoke about how important it is to listen to each other and to God, noting that obedience is to listen closely or attentively. [The sisters are taking their prayer time in the garden at Canterbury in this picture.] This connection between listening and obedience is one I make whenever I lead a drum circle, that community life, be it drumming or religious life or any kind of community requires that we listen carefully to each other. Every voice is important and if we are pounding too hard, shouting our opinions, we don’t hear most of the most interesting stuff around us and don’t know how to contribute most effectively. Living obediently, living and acting as a part of a larger whole, listening for and pointing to Jesus Christ in all things were the themes of his retreat address today. He suggested that the Bishops do a couple of things. One was to seek out a Bishop they were most unhappy to see at the conference and ask to pray with them, and another was to find two or three others around the Anglican Communion with whom they could agree with for a common rule of life.

It was very interesting to hear him talk about a common rule of life. I live under a Rule, along with the other 178 First Order Brothers, plus the Sisters. The Rule of Life for the Third Order is very, very similar. Our rule includes the Principles and an outline of the expectations for our life, providing for, among other things: regular prayer, study, work, rest, retreat and recreation and builds in accountability to the Guardian in matters such as fasting, so nobody endangers their health. It is intriguing to think this might be a way forward for the bishops. It certainly is more exciting than a covenant-cum-treaty. “Are you okay?” we ask each other if we miss a prayer service. “Here’s a book I think you’ll love,” we say to encourage each other to take time to study in the midst of other duties. “And when are you taking your vacation this year?” I used to ask the brothers when I was Guardian of Little Portion Friary. I learned to take care of myself spiritually, physically and socially: my prayer life has grown deeper, I take better care of myself physically and I grow more and more grateful for the other brothers in my life. The longer I live with them I find their foibles which used to enrage me still enrage me, and yet when I am on the road I think of the quirkiest with the most longing.

My brothers give me different perspectives on life and this is a good thing for me. In his book The Art of Travel (a topic of consuming interest to me!) Alain de Botton makes an arresting observation: [speaking about William Wordsworth’s convictions about the salutary effects of appreciating landscapes] “he invited his readers to abandon their usual perspectives and to shuttle between the human and he natural perspective. Why might this be interesting, or even inspiring? Perhaps because unhappiness can stem from having only one perspective to play with.” These different perspectives are surely a consequence of living with a Rule of Life in community with others.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Gathering Begins

Today the bishops arrived and we all gathered in the Big Top for welcomes and housekeeping details. Rowan Williams made a terrific speech, though, in which he said that the people who are not here are deeply missed. And he called on us all to work seriously at building relationships of love and respect. No photos with the blog today because they said no photos from inside the Big Top (and wouldn’t you know it those were my best pictures today!)

I met a friend who attended the last Lambeth Conference in 1998, who says that the atmosphere at this conference is in marked contrast to the atmosphere on the opening day last time. “Different, how?” I asked. To paraphrase the reply my friend said it is obvious in civility, peacefulness, a sense of prayerfulness and common purpose. That bodes well for the next three weeks!!!

Our Night Prayer service in the Prayer place was packed. People were sitting on the floor, the singing and prayers seemed especially fervent. All of our tweaking and fussing the past few days has paid off: the space is simply decorated, beautiful, and welcoming. The chaplains gathered on our knees on our prayer stools around the cross and sang the evening service.

Keep your prayers coming; together great things can be one, of this I am sure.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Blessing the Archbishop

Today Rowan Williams came to meet the Chaplaincy team. We’d been having a Bible study and sharing some of the prayers we’ve written for some of the liturgies in the next few days for which we are to lead the intercessions. At about 11:30 Rowan came into the room and we all scrambled to our feet.

He isn’t as tall as I thought he’d be, and his face was completely animated: his eyes made contact with each of us as we were introduced and he smiled and said something to each of us. I could barely squeak out “Hello Archbishop.” After meeting us, we presented him with gifts from the Solomon Islands and Tanzania. Then Br. Sam asked if we could offer a blessing for him. He nodded and looked at all of us “I’d like that very much,” he said. He sank to his knees and we all knelt around him. The Head Brother, George Siosi, offered the traditional Melanesian Brotherhood blessing they give to a brother before he goes out on mission. (The Archbishop is a Companion of The Melanesian Brotherhood.) Then the group sang the litany of the saints.

Feeling tears stinging my eyes, I looked up and noticed tears streaming down the face of every face I could see.

It was a moment of great holiness, and deep connection. I believe it was a moment graced by and filled with the Holy Spirit. Who knows what the next few days and weeks hold for us?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Getting Ready: Come Holy Spirit

Arriving in Canterbury last Friday, we have spent the past few days getting familiarized with the University of Kent and Canterbury Cathedral, meeting and making friendships with the young stewards who have come from all over the world to serve the Conference, and figuring out the incredibly complicated “programme” (96 pages long).

Our “Prayer Place” (as it is called) is the University Senate building, and it is an octagonal building. Br. Colin Wilfred SSF has helped design the worship space in this building and today we pitched in setting it up. At the door, a large glass bowl of water and a huge reproduction of a medieval depiction of God creating Adam. Across from this is an icon of Mary with Jesus, the Incarnation. In the center of the room is a large, empty, wooden cross. Flanking the central panel of the room are a Bible and a Tabernacle. In the center panel is the icon of the Trinity. Against the back wall is a digitalized image of a painting done by one of the stewards, a young Brazilian man. It is vivid and alive with colors. It reads: I AM, the theme of the daily bible studies the Bishops will have. I am entranced by the Bible Br. Colin found to display. It is one of the original Bibles authorized at the time of the Reformation to be put in parish churches across England so that the people would have Bibles available to read, in English. I found it a real thrill to hold this 450 year old book. It is called the “treacle” version since in Chapter 8 of Jeremiah it refers to the treacle of Gilead, not the “balm” of Gilead.

All the plenary sessions and most of the large Eucharistic liturgies will take place in a huge blue tent erected on the university grounds. It is called “The Big Top”. “We’ll soon weary of the obvious comments about that,” Colin moaned as we passed it going into the dining hall.

Several of us are really concerned about what “counseling” a Bishop might involve, having never done more than shake a hand before this, and so we have had fairly detailed hypothetical conversations. Always we are reminded that we are to pray with people: listen carefully and respond warmly to the person in front of us and lead the conversation to prayer. People coming to speak with us have reminded us that the Bishops are hurting, many feel deeply sad, some are angry, some even feel they have failed themselves or others and need encouragement. We point to Christ and God’s love.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Blessing the Lambeth Chaplains

Tonight we blessed the Lambeth Chaplaincy team. The liturgy began with a beautiful hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing;” familiar words but Melanesian tune, sung in four part harmony at a fast pace. Then four brothers in grass skirts catapulted up the aisle singing the Gloria. It was as if an electric current shot into the room: joy, passion for mission, love of God and all creation. The liturgy swept on, filled with clapping, radiant smiles and at one point tears as we remembered the seven young Melanesian Brothers who died during the civil tension which shook the Islands eight years ago. They had been working for peace, trying to reconcile hurting, angry people. We are going on a mission to Canterbury, we are going to pray with the people we meet, we have committed ourselves to listening to all who seek us out. We too are working for peace, offering our lives. After receiving communion we approached the Altar, singing “Nearer my God to Thee” in Swahili (Karibu na Wewe) as we learned it from our Sisters Dorothy and Martha from the Community of St. Mary in Tanzania. We knelt down, all 21 of us, and were blessed: “…bless these our Brothers and Sisters who are going as your servants to the Lambeth Conference; be always with them to keep them safe in all dangers and temptations; make them strong in prayer and faith that they may overcome all difficulties an fears…And so fill them with the fire of your love and the light of your truth that those to whom they minister may come to love you more and to serve you better…” As Br. Benedict came to the point in the blessing: “May our lady Mary pray for you…” the chaplains burst into the most heartfelt rendition of the Litany of the Saints I have every heard, petitioning the saints to pray for us. Blessed, we sang to the rest of the assembled brothers and friends at Hilfield Friary: “…Heave out your boat and come on board/ They say there’s plenty room;/ The Captain says your welcome now/ Make no delay but come./ Come join our happy crew/ We’re bound for Canaan’s shore/ The Captain says there’s room for you/ And room for millions more.

After a dinner of baked potatoes, we gathered to continue our celebration of our 10 day retreat here at Hilfield Friary with more singing and dancing, ending with Gooseberry Fool made from berries we picked this morning.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Talk

This morning we had “the talk” with the Lambeth Chaplains. Over the past few weeks it had become increasingly clear to me that there was basic incomprehension among some of the chaplains about homosexuality. They were not familiar with the tem “gay” nor were they at all clear why the issue was controversial for the Anglican Communion. Richard Carter and Brother Sam did a brilliant job describing both sides of the issue. They particularly took time with the Scriptural arguments used by both sides in the controversy. The follow up questions were: “What do gay people look like?” “What do they do?” “Are they born that way, or do they choose it?” “Can people change and stop being gay?” Finally one asked the crucial question: “What does the Church teach about this?”

We were very careful to simply present the arguments and introduce some of the key vocabulary. We did not want them to think there was an “official” position of the Chaplaincy team; we stressed that we were committed to praying with and for everybody attending the conference and indeed to intercede for Anglicans and people everywhere. The members of the team from the Solomon Islands have been specifically invited to be Chaplains because they worked so effectively with the people of their own country when they were locked in civil conflict. Speaking about this experience, one of the sisters said, “We were free to pray with everybody because we were neutral.”

Is being neutral in this conflict the same as closing the closet door?

Obviously we can’t take sides in the Bishops’ discussions. We have to be open to meeting with everybody for prayer. Nor can we impute evil motives to people with whom we disagree. But I feel it is very important for gay Christians to speak up and be recognized. I was very uncomfortable when the chaplains were talking about “them.” Yet it is a long way to go from “What is gay?” to any kind of sympathetic conversation. Remarkably I did not detect any animosity or rejection. Bewilderment is the best term.

Actually “homosexuality” is not a problem for me, and patience may be the best tactic in service of greater acceptance than confrontation.

My experience in Melanesia is that there will be a time for conversation; today was only the first airing, the questions have only just begun.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Building links of love

What is the life of a Minister General, Superior or Head Brother or Head Sister of an Anglican Religious Order like? Here we are, yesterday, weeding on a dull English morning. Sr. Catherine Rosa, Head Sister of the Sisters of Melanesia (on the right) and I have memories of digging a water supply trench in 1996 (in pouring rain and 90 degree heat) and preparations for many feasts involving cutting up pigs and chickens, chopping, grating, squeezing, baking food over roaring fires on all night cooking marathons. The Headquarters for the Sisters of Melanesia is next door to the Society of St. Francis training house in the Solomon Islands. Br George, Head Brother of the Melanesian Brotherhood (the largest Anglican religious order) and Br. Commins were also part of the weeding detail. The ulterior motive behind the work in the gardens is bonding and friendship. Our goal is to bring the group of Chaplains together into a working unit, demonstrating our Christian commitment and joy, to “be a praying heart” at the Conference. Sitting down in discussion is part of our time together on this 10 day preparatory retreat; we have daily Bible Study, and time for conversation. Yet these don’t quite get us over the hump of finding connection and solidarity since our cultural contexts make our statements virtually opaque. But questions surface as we work side by side. I think I know what we are talking about, then a brother will ask as we weed or shovel manure (today’s task): “What is homosexual?”

We are finding it hard to talk about these things, but we keep reaching across the cultural impasse as best as we can.

Obviously we are not being asked to lead the discussions at Lambeth, but we will lead much of the worship and offer prayers during the Eucharists, as well as offer a ministry of presence each day.

The brothers and sisters from the Church of Melanesia will be leading the Eucharist one day during the Conference, and they have sent an enormous box of traditional costumes and instruments. The box arrived today and we will begin serious rehearsals tomorrow, I think (all made it through customs, made of shells, wood, feathers and leather: who says miracles never happen!). At Mass today, the Hilfield Friary rang with the melodies of the South Pacific: ancient, polyphonic, fast paced.

Prayer, work, conversation, laughter and song: a humble recipe for gospel life.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


There is much in the news about GAFCON and the gathering in Jerusalem. Many of those Bishops are expected to arrive in London today. The Archbishop of Canterbury has challenged the Bishops who participated in the conference. My heart sinks at the prospect of several weeks of trying to establish lines of authority and how to foster a sense of cohesion in the face of so many people with such strongly held views opposing each other.

Our visit to Rome last week made me think about the authority of the Pope and the claims of the Roman Catholic Church.

Francis was very clear about recognizing the authority of the Church, from the Lord Pope all the way down to the lowliest curate because of their connection with the celebration of the sacraments. There were other groups around in his days which advocated radical poverty and criticized the Church for her wealth. These people were persecuted as heretics. Francis, most emphatically, did not wish to be considered a heretic. But this did not stop Francis from speaking strongly to the Church about the beauty of poverty, the joy of the Gospel life and his desire to live it in the company of his brothers with the blessing of the Church. So Francis went to Rome to get the Pope’s approval of his Rule. After a first hearing the Pope sent Francis away; the next day he had Francis summoned because during the night he had a dream of a young man holding up a crumbling Church. He believed the man was Francis and gave his blessing for the Franciscan way of life. So Francis and his brothers walked a fine line: loyal to the Church while living according to their consciences which caused certain discomfort among the hierarchy.

To live the Gospel, simply and joyfully: this is the authoritative Franciscan ideal; our gift to the Church and challenge to ourselves.

There are real limits to the exercise of authority in any context. If people want to go their own way, they will. There can be negotiations about property, but it is hard to negotiate about beliefs. Francis resigned leadership of the order because he could not agree with the direction the brothers wanted to take it in. Not many years after his death the Franciscan Order began to splinter. In Assisi we encountered several groups of Friars: Conventuals, Capuchins, Order of Friars Minor, and Third Order Regular. We, as Anglicans, were perhaps the oddest of the lot! (From their point of view.) And yet the Franciscan ideal has survived, even flourished. In spite of their historical differences I kept seeing the brothers of different orders working together, sharing Assisi and keeping Francis’ memory and genius alive.

My challenge these next few weeks will be to honor the dignity of all that I meet and not sacrifice the integrity of my witness to love, compassion, joy, honesty. I don’t want to come home from Lambeth bearing permanent scars from hasty retorts and contemptuous thinking. Even if different groups have to go their separate ways, we can part as Christians, in a Christian way, or we can trash the whole Gospel enterprise and become a universal laughingstock mired in recrimination, hatred, intolerance.