News from around the diocese of St Albans
The Bishop's letter
A pastoral letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his capacity as President of the Lambeth Conference, has just been published, and he asks that it be read in all congregations of the Anglican Communion on Sunday 27th September. This, then, seems an appropriate opportunity for some pastoral reflections about the Conference.
It was an amazing experience. Forget all you have read in the press or seen on television - so much of that did not represent what really happened. Do not let the radical divisions, which there undoubtedly were over human sexuality, seduce you into thinking that it was a one-issue conference. In a Communion so rich in cultural diversity, there are bound to be deeply divided views on such personal and emotive issues. No, overriding all was the privilege of living together for three whole weeks with sisters and brothers from all over the world, many of them people of remarkable faith, called to witness in the most adverse circumstances. That was thrilling.
As I look back, three things stand out. The first is the Sacred Space. At the heart of the campus of the University of Kent is the Senate House. This, a kind of octagonal upper room, had been converted by the Chaplaincy Team with great imagination into a space for private prayer and meditation. It was a holy place indeed (most people who went in, I noticed, took off their shoes) and there, morning by morning, and throughout the day, I have no doubt, people would gather for silent prayer and come forth renewed. Worship was at the very centre of the Conference; the silence of the Sacred Space and the colourful variety of the corporate worship were tangible reminders that God and Gods will were the focus of all our deliberations.
The second lively memory is the meeting together every morning for an hour and a half of prayer and reflection on our rôle as Christian leaders. There were ten of us in our small group - people from five continents, including Margaret from Rwanda and Kodi-Kodi from Sudan and speaking and listening about leadership under pressure, the theme of Pauls second letter to Corinth, with those who had witnessed genocide and whose people are even now suffering persecution, was a deeply humbling experience. I shall never be the same again.
That leads me on to the third impression of Lambeth 98. Here we were, 750 bishops from hugely different racial and cultural backgrounds, with varied experience of living out our Christian faith, but bound together by our conviction, right at the heart of Anglicanism, that our very diversity is but a reflection of the infinite variety within God, the Holy Trinity. That though it is costly (and to the world an enigma), yet it is possible and, indeed, imperative to accept one another in our difference, and to hold together in love. The vital importance of the Lambeth Conference was this: it enabled the bishops, as representative leaders of the Communion, to meet face to face; and when we could look each other in the eye, and face the pain of our difference in background and in theological approach, then our dependence on Christs love for us and our determination to hold together in His love was strengthened. This, for me, is what being Anglican is all about. In that, too, I believe we have something of inestimable value to offer to the whole Church, and so to the world.
The Bishop of Hertford