By Jim Naughton
The biggest Anglican news event in London yesterday transpired relatively unnoticed. Rosemary Makhulu, the wife of the Most Rev. Walter Makhulu was laid to rest from All Saints Church in Fullham, just across the Thames from St. Mary’s, Putney, where Bishop Gene Robinson preached on Sunday. Mrs. Makhulu grew up in Fullham, and she and her husband moved there after his retirement. Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana preached the sermon. The last I had heard, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, and Zanele Mbeki, wife of South African President Thabo Mbeki were expected to be among the mourners. In a sign of how sensitive feelings in the Communion are at the moment the fact that Bishop Mwamba had to beg out of a visit to Newcastle on Tyne, that was part of the pre-Lambeth hospitality initiative to preach at the funeral of his twins’ godmother was immediately seized on in some circles as evidence that he thought Newcastle was insufficiently exciting.
In another sign of the state of affairs in the Communion, consider that during his tenure at primate of the Province of Central Africa, Makhulu used his office to advance the cause of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in their struggle against apartheid while his successor the recently-retired Bernard Malango, hero to American conservatives, used his office to protect the interests of Robert Mugabe. The Province of Central Africa is currently without a primate because two diocesan sees are vacant, and an election cannot be held, a state of affairs that suits the interests of American conservatives who are afraid that Malango’s successor might be a bishop in the mold of Makhulu, but leaves many Africans without episcopal or primatial leadership.
My own day was less hectic than any since my arrival on Saturday morning. Ruth Gledhill of the Times was kind enough to come to Giles Fraser’s church, chat with Giles and me, and then drive me to Giles’ house. I picked up my bags and hopped back in Ruth’s car for the drive to my hotel. I realize that the notion that Ruth and I would speak kindly to (and of) one another may surprise some readers, but she’s an extremely knowledgeable observer of the Anglican scene, her coverage helps set the Communion’s agenda, and she doesn’t seem to me to be ideologically motivated, although I don’t think she would object to my saying that she has her enthusiasms, and that these shape her coverage. There is more room for this in the British press, she says, and she argues that there is greater transparency in being open about how you feel toward various folks and factions (as she does on her blog) than adopting the American stance of public objectivity. The only other details about our ride that I want to disclose is that if the whole journalism thing doesn’t work out for her after 20+ years on the job, she would make an exceedingly skilled taxi driver. I’ve never seen anyone move a car with a manual shift through city traffic while simultaneously consulting Google maps on a Blackberry.
Last night, Ruth Frey, the administrator of the Chicago Consultation and Herb Gunn, the diocesan newspaper editor from the Diocese of Michigan, who is also writing for the Episcopal Women’s Caucus, and I went to see King Lear at the Globe Theater. It was the first tourist-y moment of the trip. (They had gotten a bit of a head start on me, taking in evensong from seats in the choir at Westminster Abbey.) Afterwards we walked back along the Thames toward Westminster, crossed the pedestrian bridge, took pictures of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and planned the rest of our week.
I will be in London until Friday morning, meeting journalists and bloggers I’ve known only through our e-mail exchanges. The bishops have begun arriving in Canterbury, and those who didn’t come over for the hospitality initiative are a little cranky due to jet lag. Some journalists have gone down to the University of Kent, where the conference is being held, to pick up their credentials. Many aren’t sure what they will find to write about. They tend to see this as a failing on the part of the conference planners, but I am not certain that is right. If the press briefings are meaty, and feature bishops who can tell stories relevant to the themes assigned to each days, the Communion might make at least some headway in focusing attention on issues other than sexuality. If, however, the briefings are all bromides and boiler plate, then the media’s attention will focus on the various interest groups and the events on the so-called “Lambeth Fringe.” Conversation there will be freer and less focused, and the conference organizers will come off badly—very badly—if they attempt to control those exchanges.
In fact my principal concern about the conference, minted fresh this morning, is that people of influence who haven’t figured out how to make themselves heard by the general public will attempt to control the conversations of those who have. If that happens, it won’t end well.