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LAMBETH THOUGHTS

I have no more access to the events happening in Canterbury than anyone else. I rely on news reports, which are largely dramatic and those blogs available to us all. Thus the following is more of an impression than a statement of fact.

I am delighted that it was decided to forgo the legislative pattern of meeting. It is so easy for those who participate in such events to imagine themselves as members of parliament or of Congress. The format invites self-selection into groups and lobbies and to indulge in the intricacies of rules of order which typify the modern legislative process. At a time when the general public seems less than enamored with those who represent them in legislative bodies, it is perhaps salutary for the church to step away from such models.

I am sure that it is no easy thing for bishops to walk away from such a mode of doing business. Rather like the old Fuller Brush sales people, the American bishops arrived with position papers which attempted to control or inform the line they would take in their groups. Goodness knows which bright spark came up with that daft idea.

The whole purpose of the Indaba groups, at least as I see it, is to encourage bishops to listen to each other, in the context of the Bible Study engaged in each day, in the context of Eucharist and Daily Prayers and in such a process be willing to offer up their hopes and fears, their programs and local resolutions in the hope and prayer that God will speak to them as individuals and as a corporate body.

We’ve already heard grumbles and groans from those who have entrenched positions and are in a defensive mode. One only has to read the statements of a few, a very few of the traditionalist bishops who are at the Conference or of some of the liberal American bishops to hear just how difficult it is for those whose minds are made up to hear and evaluate what others are saying.

It seems obvious to me that our Communion needs to find ways to bring the bishops of the Communion together more often. Perhaps it would not be necessary for them all to attend every meeting. Yet if we are to live both into the global reality of the Communion and the cultural, theological, political and social contexts of Provinces, meeting once a decade doesn’t hack it. Many bishops only attend one Lambeth Conference in their active episcopate. It is so easy for bishops to remain provincial and local in their thinking and experience.

As I write the Windsor Continuation Group is issuing its report. It calls for a pan-Anglican Pastoral Council the task of which would be to inject its influence and advice into those actions of Provinces which have caused or cause division and discord in the whole Communion. Obviously like all Instruments of Communion, such a council would not enjoy legal rights to interfere in autonomous Provinces. How it would then deal with those Provinces which continue to tolerate or endorse controversial rites and ceremonies or inject themselves in the territory of other Provinces remains to be seen. It would seem to be a step in the right direction. One awaits squeals of pain from American liberals and huffing and puffing from those Gafcon Provinces who have set up shop in the United States and Canada. But of course what is sauce for the goose…

It would take an extraordinary act of God to get those liberal and conservative Provinces, oddly alike in their pretensions if far apart in their theology to heed a call for moratoria and self-discipline. Yet surely we are called to expect God to act. If the retreat section of the Conference, the Bible Studies, corporate worship and interpersonal relationships established at the Lambeth Conference have not provided space and time for reflection, repentance and newness of life for all, one can scarcely imagine what other context could have such an effect.

To take all that one holds dear and nail it to the Cross and wait for God to redeem and renew and change is not easy for any of us at the best of times and even harder when things seem to be falling beyond our control. God works when we surrender and sacrifice. He may even work through a Lambeth Conference.

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