|Reproduced from the October/November 1998 issue of Pacific Church News, a bimonthly publication of the Diocese of California|
A Swing Through the Diocese
By the Rt. Rev. William E Swing, Bishop of California
I come home from the Lambeth Conference 1998 with the same impression that I had when I came home from the Lambeth Conference 1988. The Anglican Communion is held together by trust. We have no pope, no unifying confession, just a worldwide network of 38 autonomous provinces bound by a confidence that in each place the church will be doing the best it knows to be loyal to the Good News of God shown in Jesus Christ and experienced in a spiritual body. Everything in the Church depends on being trustworthy and extending trust to those in various parts of the world. This comes clear in the most important parts of a Lambeth Conference: 1) in the Bible Study groups which meet each day for three weeks and 2) in casual conversations around the campus of the University of Kent, Canterbury.
What was most distinctive about this Lambeth was obvious in the first great liturgy at Canterbury Cathedral. Instead of all 800 bishops and their spouses getting an English fix (proper language, proper liturgy, proper music), England surrendered to the world. Latino dancing, American spirituals, African preaching, drums, vast arrays of costume. The stage was set. Later on when it was time to vote, whatever Africa wanted, Africa got because they represented the heart, the style, and the most votes of Anglicanism. Since Africa is the product of evangelical missionaries, the theology took a noticeable swing to the right and the prevailing mode of biblical pursuit tended toward literalism.
Liturgies have to be mentioned: the Maori getting us to touch noses in the Passing of the Peace; the Japanese bishops confessing to the congregation their role in World War II and asking for forgiveness; the gentle Sudanese; the Pidgin English-talking Papua New Guineans; the solemn Brazilians; almost every country of the world worshipping in their distinct way.
Yes, the big headline-grabber was sexuality. After two and a half weeks, a fragile, thoughtful compromise resolution was obtained. Then the amendments started! The difficult one "rejected homosexual practice as being incompatible with Scripture." Here the house went beyond compromise, and the prevailing numbers demanded a victory and got it. The feeling level around this debate and vote was wrenching. The West got clobbered.
There was also an eye-opening plenary on the relationship of Christianity and Islam. Here the horrific stories of persecution and harassment came pouring wt: classrooms of children murdered; congregations sliced up with machetes; Christian churches set ablaze; economic intimidation, imprisonments, tortures. It is impossible to understand the vote on sexuality without understanding what the Christians are up against in their confrontation by Islam. To vote in favor of homosexuality would mean giving away more ground to the militant fundamentalists of Islam.
A great deal of energy was given to the Third World Debt and the possibility of forgiving it and proclaiming the year 2000 to be a biblical jubilee Year. The Chairman of the World Bank flew in to try to disabuse us of this idea.
Yes, there was Buckingham Palace and tea with the Royal Family; lunch at Lambeth Palace; a cricket match for bishops as well as a golf tournament (smile); greeting California pilgrims at Canterbury Cathedral. Prime Minister Tony Blair came by and gave us a stirring talk. I gave the Sir Francis Younghusband Lecture at Covent Garden in London. And, I worked daily in the section on ecumenism and interfaith. It was a great swirl and a marathon of living in a college dorm and walking a mile and a half for each meal and meeting. Queuing up endlessly.
Where does the Diocese of California fit in the larger Anglican picture? When I'm home, the Diocese is so large and vital while the Anglican Communion seems almost ethereal. But at Lambeth Conference we lag far, far behind in the pecking order, just another name on a badge. just a place farther on the edge, away from 815, away from England and now Africa. Yet I know that we are faithful and special and have an honorable place in the Anglican scheme of things. It is hard to assess the few impressionistic strokes of California until you step back from the large canvas and see the entire picture. Truly it is beautiful. We are part of a work of staggering dimensions and incalculable worth. We are an offering of genuine life to God. Amen.