Friday, July 18, 2008

The Teaching Continues

Archbishop Rowan Williams may not be the best leader the Anglican Communion has ever had, but he is turning out to be one of its best teachers. During the initial retreat of the bishops assembled at Lambeth, he is giving them two daily meditations in Coventry Cathedral, following their group Bible studies. In an earlier post I wrote about his meditations given yesterday, in which he taught that "bishops can never, however much they'd like to be, become the spokesperson of a single nation, or cause, or group, however worthy they may be."

Today (Friday) he continued with his theme. The Bishop of New Jersey shares his account here:
He began his third address on the role of the bishop as both friend and stranger. A bishop is at home among the people and yet stands apart. A bishop speaks the language of the people, but speaks the word of God.
Here is how the Rt. Rev. David Rossdale, Bishop of Grimsby, recounts the meditation:
……and so to Canterbury Cathedral for the second day of the retreat. The Archbishop began with the observation that a Bishop is bound to be both a friend and a stranger. Someone who is traveling and adapting their language to the conext in which they find themselves. Never quite belonging, but coming as a Christlike stranger with the humility to address the needs of the local community.
The Archbishop also offered us a reflection from William Stringfellow, the American lay theologian, who suggests a difference between a religious person and a biblical person. A biblical person is someone caught in the spotlight of God’s attention and call - a fearful place to be, but as Archbishop Rowan reminded us, we hear in the gospel “Do not be afraid”. The Bishops as a biblical persons know that they are never going to satisfy the demands and expectations, but hear the words “Do not be afraid”.
In his second meditation of the day, the Archbishop of Canterbury developed his theme further. First, from the Bishop of Grimsby:
In the afternoon, the Archbishop addressed the theme that bishops are called to live in community not only with their congregations, but also with each other. We model what the life of the church is like.
Next, from the young Bishop of Qu'Appelle:
The second address of the day focused on the exercise of Episcopal ministry as a collegial one. We exercise it in community, both locally and globally. The ministry of a bishop is not an individual task, but exercised by all bishops together, and in concert with the community. He spoke candidly about our situation in the Anglican Communion during this section. Gently, but clearly challenging us to see our differences, not as simple diversity, nor as an excuse to go silent or walk away, but as a sign that there is work to do in our common life - and we need to get at doing it. Leadership in the Church, we were reminded, is by definition leadership in Communion.
And here is the Bishop of New Jersey again:
The fourth address began by quoting an early Christian theologian who said, a single Christian is no Christian. Our need as bishops is to be in council with other bishops. We’re called to live in community and to live in communion.

He also said the Gospel is only truthfully spread by those who are in communion.
Bishop Porter Taylor of Western North Carolina gives his impression of the talks:
The Archbishop talked about communion and about the Anglican Communion. He said that faithfulness to an Anglican identity involves faithfulness to one another as much as to a standard of teaching.

I interpreted that to mean that we must not just talk about church, but we must be the Church in the talking. We are to model what this ideal of the Church looks like even as we are praying and working our way towards it. My sense is that we have to check our inclination to make "those other people" agree with us and look at ourselves to see if we are treating them as our brother and sister Christians.
The Bishop of Arizona summarizes the afternoon talk this way (he also includes a video of its opening thirty seconds, so you can see how the bishops are gathered to listen---in two long rows, facing each other across the nave of the Cathedral):
The ABC's address this afternoon was the most interesting of the four we have heard so far. He noted that we were a wounded church and that healing would come not through legalities but through fellowship. He implied that just as "a disciple without a community is no disciple", so a bishop with out a communion is no bishop. This was an impassioned plea to get on with our work of praying for and with each other.
At the end of this fourth meditation, the Archbishop then invited the gathered bishops to put these ideas into practice:
The very challenging suggestion the Archbishop made was to identify one other bishop about whom one feels nervous, and ask that person to pray with you. It was a very powerful challenge to us to work to restore wounded communion.

I wonder whether we will ever hear about the choices made by those who followed this suggestion. Would Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori feel nervous about Archbishop Drexel Gomez? Would Bishop Dorsey Henderson feel nervous about Bishop Robert Duncan? Would Bishop Stacy Sauls feel nervous about Bishop Jack Iker?

There is much to do "to restore wounded communion" at Canterbury.

[UPDATE 07/19/2008]: Bishop Wayne Smith of Missouri gives an excellent summary of the Archbishop's third and final day of teaching:
The bishops' retreat continued yesterday and ended at noon. For me the most compelling idea from Archbishop Rowan came from his expanding on a quotation from Tertullian: "A single Christian is no Christian," a principle that brilliantly summarizes core teachings of the New Testament, but one which is sometimes at variance with popular expressions of Christianity in Western cultures. The Archbishop went on to apply that communal norm to the life of bishops--within the communal life of their own dioceses, yes, but in their life together with other bishops. He challenged us to deepen that sense of belonging, both at home and in the whole world, during a time of profound tension within our communion. He did not put it this way but I will: A single bishop is no bishop.

He described two particular resources from the tradition for the work ahead, and I think that the resources have bearing for all Christians, not just bishops. Archbishop Rowan first cited the Desert Christians, those ancient ascetics who fled the cities and populated the deserts of Egypt and Syria beginning in the third century. He noticed something about them I had never before recognized, that while they were absolutely rigourous about their own lives, both spiritual and material, vigilant never to give in to false fantasies about themselves, they resisted the impulse to apply that same rigor to the lives of others. They held themselves under continual judgment and at the same time practiced the principled suspension of judgment toward anyone else. What a concept! In conflict made toxic by the immediacy of communication, when judging the other is as quick as a few key strokes, what if we practiced another discipline? What if we were to scrutinize self without reserve but refuse to confess the sins of anyone else? These wildly excentric Christians from the past did just that, and their devotion to prayer without ceasing made it possible.

The Archbishop cited the Rule of Benedict as a second resource, especially appropriate as we were gathered in a cathedral whose very existence grew from the work of Benedictines. And in particular he talked about obedience, a hard word for moderns to hear, but one that can be oddly liberating. He encouraged us to hear Benedict's idea of obedience not as a hierarchical one but one that is radically inclusive. The word of every monastic, according to the Rule, may become the word to be obeyed--and that includes even the young and inexperienced. In a community, theirs might be the true word of wisdom. Transposing that insight to the Anglican Communion, he encouraged the bishops to attend to the small Churches, and the newer ones, the marginalized ones--and to expect wisdom to emerge from unlikely quarters. Again, it is the life of prayer which undergirds such life-giving obedience.

Finally, today Archbishop Rowan expounded on Hebrews 10:19-25, to describe a style of leadership that might be called Christian and to state the obvious: The only way for a Christian to lead is to follow where Jesus has gone before. Hebrews suggests that there is a way cleared for us already, and Jesus is the one who has done the clearing.
Bishop Christopher Epting, the Presiding Bishop's deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations, gives a summary of the entire three days of teaching at his blog; it is too long to reproduce here, but is well worth reading. Bishop Porter Taylor, Diocese of Western North Carolina, gives a brief account of the last day's teaching here. Bishop Marc Andrus, of the Diocese of California, offers no summaries, but has some interesting reflections that manifest the impact of ++Rowan's meditations. 

We will leave the last word to the Bishop of Grimsby, the Rt. Rev. David Rossdale, who sums up the final day with these words:
In the last session of the retreat, Archbishop Rowan picks up from the theme he left us with yesterday about bishops being in communion and prompts the question “What is Christian leadership like”?

The simple answer he offers us is that Christian leadership is not about commands or making decisions, but about following the example of Jesus in “clearing the way and going before”. The quality of such leadership depends on the ability to discern the way which lies ahead. So he picks up on Alan Ecclestone’s paper to the 1978 Lambeth Conference which suggests that a bishop’s leadership has to be both insight and oversight.

We need courage to be set free for some institutional risk-taking and be prepared to ask whether what is being suggested or promoted is part of the new way of God. When we fail in leadership it is because we have been too much about command and not about being part of the new living way.

In conclusion he asserted that it is essential for us to know that their is a new way - to know what God has done, is doing, will do. The Archbishop then asked us to keep silence together and let that soak through us.

It was a very profound silence - 650 bishop at one in silence. Thus ended our days of retreat during which we had experienced some very profound and accessible teaching from the Archbishop in his role as a focus for unity in the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Rossdale also gives us his overall impression of Archbishop Rowan's teaching:
There are many critics of the Archbishop, but, as I hear them, they want to judge him by measures of leadership which are wholly inappropriate for the leader of a worldwide communion of Christians. In the meditations which he offered us over this time of retreat, Rowan has given us a different tool for discerning and exercising leadership. The impact on those who have come from around the globe appears to be profound. When we come to discuss the difficult issues which lie before us, I hope that our engagement will be enriched by a very different understanding of the quality of leadership lying at the heart of the Anglican Communion - a quality vastly at variance to the distorted caricature that has been promoted by the media and by those who use negative criticism to promote their own agenda.
There can be no question but that Archbishop Rowan has struck exactly the right note in his teaching over the last three days. It is just what a healer would prescribe for such a broken Communion. But if the bishops are to profit from its wisdom, they cannot allow themselves to fall back into the old machinations and schemes of power, and the championing of "causes". The question I think the bishops in TEC and the ACoC should be asking themselves is this: 
If we had attended this conference in July 2003 instead of July 2008, would it have made any difference to how we proceeded afterwards?


  1. It almost sounds like the AoC wants a Saturday night wrestling smackdown without any of the physical tossing around. "In this corner the Masked Miter, and in this corner the the Pretty Peacock." Put them in the center of the ring and make them love each other.
    Too bad the smackdown did not invite Gorgeous George.
    Seriously, it sounds like the Lambeth theme which is more about "understanding" and "getting to know you" than truly living in communion.

  2. Without trying to sound overly cynical, the ABC's efforts would be exactly right if he were dealing with a population of sincere Christians. But the TEC bishops, for the most part, are bureaucrats and politicians who talk in God-language; Mrs. Schori is not unique, she's just an extreme case.

    So: Would this have made a difference in 2003? No.