By Jim Naughton
Today felt a bit like a Saturday for those of us who did not accompany the bishops into London for their walk through the streets to call attention to the plight of the world’s poor. My house mates and I had lunch in a village pub near the house where we are staying about 10 miles east of Canterbury. Afterwards I drove to the town of Sandwich where I spent half an hour exploring its narrow streets in search of a dry cleaners shop. Turns out he’s on vacation. Now I am sitting in the Sandwich Library, availing myself of its Wi-fi to file a few random notes.
I would be remiss were I not to confess my inability to get to the bottom of one of the stories I heard being chased in the press room yesterday. The women of the Lambeth Conference were told that hats were mandatory for today’s tea at Buckingham Palace with the Queen. So women who didn’t own hats bought hats, only to learn yesterday that hats were optional. But if one had bought a hat and decided to wear it, what of hat pins? The question addressed to one of my colleagues was whether a hat pin might be seized as a security threat by Palace Guards. In which case one would not want to wear a hat pin one truly cared about. In which case one’s hat might blow away. I didn’t get to the bottom of this, and I apologize. As you can see, it isn’t all battling bishops here.
I had dinner last night with Brian McLaren who gave the Conference’s first plenary address on Monday night. Brian had given the keynote speech at our diocesan evangelism conference in early June, and I was intrigued by how he tailored this address to a global audience, by painting a bold picture of the different cultural and historical contexts in which the Churches of the Anglican Communion went about the work of making disciples for Christ. Brian made several points that gave hardline conservatives in the press corps fits. One, that Western churches will be significantly handicapped in their efforts if the Communion forces them to abandon the inclusive theology that makes them attractive to the unchurched—particularly the young; second that the success of evangelism in Africa is influenced not simply by deep faith and effective preaching, but by particular historical circumstances. Throughout history, Christianity has flourished in regions passing from pre-modern cultures into modern culture, as is currently happening in much of the developing world. What Western churches are learning is that the transition from modernity into post-modernity is a much more difficult circumstance in which to woo disciples. I hope to write more about Brian’s presentation later, but perhaps not until after the Conference.
It was good to see Bishop David Beetge of the Diocese of Highvelt in South Africa, who was one of the presenters at yesterday’s press conference. We first got to know one another when he came to Washington in 2003 to help initiate the companion program between our diocese and the Church of Southern Africa, and met again when he returned to participate in our successful efforts to earn his Province a $10 million grant from President’ Bush’s PEPFAR program, which aims to combat AIDS in Africa. The bishop has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments, but looks none the worse for wear at the moment. His graciousness, eloquence and diplomat’s tact remain undiminished.
Helen Wangusa, the Ugandan woman who is the communion’s observer at the United Nations, also spoke at yesterday’s press conference. She provided a factual background and a sense of perspective on the bishop’s march today on behalf of the Millennium Development Goals. I hadn’t seen her speak before, and came away trying to think of ways to create some speaking opportunities for her in our diocese.
Some of the blogging bishops whom the Café is following have written about yesterday’s hearings on the “impressions” handed out by the Windsor Continuation Group. A few things I haven’t heard said:
Every Episcopal bishop is aware that this group contains not a single member open to the idea of same-sex blessings and gay ordination. Every Episcopal bishop also knows that this group, like the Covenant design group is chaired by a primate (a former primate in the case of Bishop Clive Hanford of the Windsor group) who has endorsed either border incursions or the creation of a separate theologically conservative province within the boundaries of the Episcopal Church. So, unsurprisingly, the bishops are somewhat skeptical about these groups’ intentions.
Bishop Alan Scarf of Iowa gave an impassioned defense of gay Christians early in the hearing.
Bishop John Chane questioned whether the Primates had claimed too much power in the current controversy. He was followed to the microphone by Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, the primate who chairs the Covenant Design group. Gomez blamed the continuing crisis on the Episcopal Church for not assenting to the creation of a church within a church, led by the so-called Windsor bishops. This recommendation, which called upon the Episcopal Church to surrender some of its authority to a panel of foreign primates was made by the Primates. However, according to Gomez, a Primate, it was not an indication that the Primates, whose authority extends only to the borders of their own provinces, were exercising undue influence.
The recommendation was overwhelmingly rejected by the bishops of the Episcopal Church, including the so-called Windsor bishops (a group of no fixed membership) whom it sought to empower.
I suspect this issue will surface again.