Transcribed from TriAngle, issue #7 (Michaelmas Term 1998),
newsletter of the Humphrys Chaplaincy of Trinity College in the University of Toronto.
by the Rt Revd Ann Tottenham
Area Bishop of the Credit Valley
Diocese of Toronto
At the last meeting of our Bible Study group, when we were talking about what the three weeks had meant to each of us, the Bishop of Cuernavaca said, "I am not a rich man and cannot afford to travel; being at Lambeth has been a journey around the world." Our group all nodded in agreement as we recollected our many experiences of other cultures during the three weeks of the conference. Whether it was stewed tomatoes and baked beans for English breakfast, rubbing noses and saying "kiaora" in the Maori version of passing the peace, or watching Panamanian dancers in a spectacular Gospel procession, we certainly experienced multi-culturalism.
As a great supporter and promoter of multiculturalism, I was thrilled by the diversity of the Lambeth experience. The Archbishop of Canterbury greeted us all in Swahili at the opening service in Canterbury Cathedral, and the ancient stones echoed with the vigorous Swahili response of more than two thousand Anglicans. Each morning the bishops of a different province celebrated the Eucharist according to their own rite; and this was for me one of the most enriching aspects of the conference. Each rite was familiar enough so that I knew what was going on no matter what language was used. At the same time, differences of emphasis, of metaphor and of liturgical practice brought a fresh awareness of what it means to celebrate the Eucharist.
So, on one level, Lambeth was a feast of multi-culturalism but there was another level to that experience which I hadn't expected. In my North American naiveté, I wasn't prepared for the depth of cultural differences which ran beneath the conference and which emerged from time to time in shocking ways. This was particularly obvious with regard to the issue of homosexuality, and the plenary sessions and media interviews which caused such pain. When someone asks if homosexuality is contagious; when statements are made that "there are no people like that in our country," and when a speaker compares homosexuality to bestiality, you realize that there is "a great gulf fixed" between different cultural understandings and experiences. This is not an excuse for what went on, nor is the outcome a reason to relax our efforts to see that justice is done to our homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ. It does give us a clearer understanding of the context within which future decisions will be made. For a powerful, first-hand description of what went on in the Lambeth section which worked on the report on human sexuality, I commend Bishop Finlay's letter in the September issue of the diocesan newspaper, The Anglican.
The final cultural issue that I want to say a word about is the influence of women bishops on the Lambeth conference. We were warmly welcomed and well-treated by bishops from all over the world, and those who are strongly opposed to women in the episcopacy avoided us. Thanks to the support of the conference leaders, the eleven women bishops had a higher profile than our numbers might have warranted. We were involved in leading discussions, as part of various videos, and in daily worship. This was very gratifying but, nevertheless, it is true to say that eleven in a gathering of seven hundred and fifty bishops can have only a very limited influence. In another ten years I am sure there will be more women and some of the ways Lambeth does business will change.
My priority for changing the conference would be to eliminate the passing of resolutions during the final week. In the first two weeks of Lambeth, bishops encountered one another mainly in small groups. We discussed, we listened, we learned. We prayed and read the Bible and, as we came to know each other better, we laughed and cried together. We came to respect and understand those with whom we disagreed. Then came the third week and the passing of resolutions. Suddenly the whole tone of the conference changed; sides were taken, arcane rules of order were invoked, and a week was spent emphasizing our differences. It was notable that the English bishops who had maintained quite a low profile in the first two weeks of the conference sprang into prominence during the final week. This is probably because they alone understood the rules of order well enough to be comfortable manipulating them. Culturally, this is a very first world and masculine way of doing business and I would hope that the increasing influence of the third world and of women might bring about a more productive finale to Lambeth 2008.