Thursday, August 7, 2008
Every 10 years the bishops of the Anglican Communion meet in England at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. All bishops who are presently serving (and not retired) are invited to the Lambeth Conference named after the palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Actually it is held on the campus of the University of Kent. This body has no power to legislate for the Episcopal Church because it is only the bishops who meet. But it has always been a group that felt as though it was doing something important for the Church.
For Lutherans, such a meeting must seem rather bizarre. Bishops in the Lutheran tradition serve at the will of those who elect them. Most of the bishops of the Anglican Communion are not elected—they are appointed by other bishops and serve for life. This is not true of Episcopal bishops who are elected by the clergy and laity of their dioceses, but then have tenure until they retire or are 72.
But for all in Christendom, the Lambeth conference seems like an anachronistic exercise of pomp and circumstance that may be more window dressing but does not enter into reality of the living out of the Gospel. I don’t know if there is a meeting of the bishops of the various Lutheran synods of the world like this, but I am sure that it does not have the amount of pomp. Anglicans do pomp so well!
I must admit that for the past 2 weeks I have been staying glued to the various reports on line from Lambeth. I have been wearing my Anglican hat with a sense of rakish abandon even to going to an Episcopal Sunday service while I was on vacation. I have allowed myself to drink deeply of the angst that permeates us Anglicans when bishops meet and gnash my teeth with the rest of Episcopalandia at the comments of world-wide Anglican bishops because schism has been on every one’s lips for the past 10 years.
What we heard was that bishops were listening to each other! They were sharing at very important levels not only the Scripture but the hope of the Gospel for them and the Church. They did not agree. They didn’t try to agree but they listened.
Well, the schism didn’t happen! We who do pomp so well cannot bring ourselves to split. It just isn’t in us. We can’t even divide into different synods when the going gets rough. Standing in the middle of the road is what we Anglicans do and we do that well, too. We are tepid as a Church. We have the soul of prophets but we not the stomach for it. But I wonder if we don’t just need a tepid voice in the voices of Christianity in this present age. The violence in the Church has just been too much to tolerate and still hear the message of hope that the Gospel is.
The Episcopal Church appealed to me when I left Rome, as a church which allowed for differences. It also allowed for a broad inclusion of opinions and understandings of what faith meant. It was diffuse in its articulation of what it believed hoping that what was common for each believer out weighed what was different. And over the past two weeks I have watched my denomination get clearer about being diffuse. I am not happy about the continued work that needs to be done to welcome LGBT persons in their midst and into the councils of the Church. I am not happy that there seems to be a spinelessness to the leadership of my denomination. But at the same time, I am at peace with the fact that we would rather stay present to the possibility of newness rather than split.