Saturday, August 2, 2008

Returning and Rest

It’s early evening Friday, August 1st, and I’m waiting for my flight in Heathrow airport with a coffee and a pain au chocolat. I took the train over from Canterbury earlier today and had a lunch debrief with Christina Beardsley in London before making my way here.

As I sit here, I feel out of the loop after a week of being more immersed in Anglican Communion politics than I’ve ever been before. Sometimes the sheer intensity of the events and reactions to them got overwhelming, and in that sense it’s a relief to be away. I also found that it took some time to get a feel for the rhythm of the Conference, to figure out how to “plug into” it.

Within this single event, there were several parallel conferences — at least three -- unfolding at once. First, the Bishops had mandatory events — Provincial meetings, addresses by the Archbishop of Canterbury, small group (about 5 people) Bible Studies, larger (about 40 people) "Indaba Groups," and so on. A second track, optional for the bishops, was labeled “Bishop Self-Select,” and consisted of workshops by scholars, discussion sessions on particular topics, and so on. This track included some sessions related to the Anglican Communion’s official Listening Process on human sexuality, but none of those sessions involved listening to actual, living, breathing openly LGBT people. Only in the third track, the “Fringe Events,” was there opportunity for bishops to do that, and they had numerous chances. As already discussed here, the “Listening to Trans People” panel was one such event. There were also viewings of For the Bible Tells Me So, two previews of Voices of Witness: Africa, the previously discussed panel “African Voices,” the hilarious and insightful Peterson Toscano interspersing commentary with excerpts of his play, Doin’ Time in the Homo Nomo House: How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement, two separate Eucharists that witnessed to the lives and witnesses of LGBT people, afternoon forums at 4pm at St. Stephen’s Church featuring speakers from across the Communion, and a powerful play put on by students from Western Michigan University called Seven Passages, which I saw last night.

In addition, on several evenings some bishops hosted Bishop Gene Robinson (who was not invited to Lambeth and was forbidden from preaching or celebrating the Eucharist in Canterbury during the Conference) so that other bishops and their spouses could have a chance to meet with him. These events were open only to bishops. Bishop Gene was also present at some occasional events, dropping into the Lambeth Marketplace from time to time, signing copies of his book (as did several other authors at the conference), and talking to people. I had a nice conversation with him in the Marketplace on Thursday, during which he inscribed a copy of his book for my mom: “Thank you for loving your son.”

There were also events that took place beyond even the official Fringe, which ranged from gatherings at pubs to protests. I suspect that much important work — the bulk of which was in the building of relationships – took place in those forums.

All of this leaves me with the question of how the Listening Process, and indeed how the fate of the Anglican Communion, may have moved forward during these last three weeks. Certainly the press seems to want signs of definite progress or dissolution (and I suspect there is more interest in the possibility of the latter). But the best outcome, it seems to me, is for the various constituents of the Communion to return to their homes galvanized to take up the Listening Process in ways that emerge, as one speaker articulated it yesterday, from the ground up, and not via institutional fiat. It makes no sense to declare moratoria as a condition for listening. Our interconnections and the differences that come with them are not conditional upon one another’s approval; they take place, and can only truly be understood, in real time.

And yet, moratoria could still be declared. This Conference is not yet quite over: the official end day is Sunday, August 3rd. Many, many times, events like these have seemed to be headed in a helpful direction, with various sides talking with one another, trying to understand their differences without ultimatums, only to have groups sabotage the process at the last minute, when people are tired and vulnerable. That happened at General Convention in 2003 with the infamous B033 resolution which did call for a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops (the language was more annoyingly vague, but that’s what it amounted to). That happened at Dar Es Salaam in 2006. Examples are numerous. And so my prayer is that the spirit in which this Conference was designed and has largely unfolded, would complete its course.

May all of us, heading home from this intense time, and praying that the hopeful progress achieved thus far continues, recall the words of the Isaiah 30:15:

Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and trust shall be your strength.

CP

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