Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The 14th Lambeth Conference seems to have begun shifting its attention, as of the Archbishop’s Second Presidential Address last night. We are increasingly focused on the question of what this Conference will say to the churches of the Communion, to the wider ecumenical community, and to the world at large.
Perhaps that in itself is a problem! Perhaps the attempt to address all of these constituencies simultaneously is a mistake.
As of this point, we have seen two preliminary drafts of a Statement from the Conference. The first was in the form of “bullet points” derived from the Indaba group discussions. The second, distributed today, is already a thirteen page single-spaced document that reflects, almost like the minutes of a much-too- long-meeting, virtually everything we have discussed and done – even with four more days to go!
If that is what we end up issuing, of course, no one will read it! My plea to those on the “Reflections Committee” today was: give us a one page Statement that the whole world will read!
We have had what (I think) have been a couple of downright silly exercises! Today, for instance, in our Indaba groups we were each asked to prepare a sermon outline of any Biblical passage of our choosing, no longer than 300 words in length. Several people in our group were then asked to summarize orally (no longer than three minutes) what their sermon would be about, and how they would present it. So far so good.
Then we were asked to identify the “particularly Anglican” elements of approach, style and content!
As if there is any such thing!
In our Bible Study today, on John 11:1-44 (“I am the resurrection and the life”) we were asked almost the identical question: “Having heard each other’s interpretations of this text, what would we as a group say is Anglican about these interpretations?” (Our group unanimously agreed this was the “dumbest” question in the prepared materials, so far.)
Nevertheless, I think that for nearly everyone the best part of the Conference has been, precisely, the Bible Studies. The groups of eight have gotten to know each other, have learned from each other, have shared a bit about our families, ministries, very different social and cultural situations, prayed with and for each other. For instance, one of the Bishops in my group, from North India, is Vinod Malaviya, from the Diocese of Gujarat, where the series of bombings took place yesterday. Twenty-five people killed and 175 injured. It was incredibly poignant and moving to have him lead our noon-day prayers today.
This afternoon we had another meeting of the Communion Partners Bishops, and one of the concerns we plan to share in the closing days of the Conference is the absolute necessity of having ratification of the Anglican Covenant take place at the DIOCESAN level, and not (just) the Provincial level.
We plan to remind our fellow Bishops of what the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to me last October:
“I would repeat what I’ve said several times before – that any diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in TEC. The organ of union with the wider Church is the bishop and the diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such….
“I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the US showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the bishop and the diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the ‘national church.'”
Please pray for those who are charged with trying to pull together the strands of the Conference and make a coherent Statement regarding it. And pray that all of us will be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as we move into the final phase of our time together.
With warmest regards to all of you,
–(The Right Rev.) John W. Howe is Bishop of Central Florida