Monday, August 04, 2008

The Morning After: Lambeth Hangover

It’s the Monday morning after, and we’re all going to have something of a Lambeth hangover. I think that will be especially true for the bishops as they travel home, and for the many people who provided staff support (whether paid or volunteer). Still, to some extent it will also be true for us in that small but unique chattering class, the Anglican/Episcopal blogger.

I continue to have concerns, and will speak to those in detail as time goes on. However, I think what we can say about this Lambeth is that “it” didn’t happen. Indeed, it sort of doesn’t matter what “it” one expected; for there were several. But, as far as we can tell, “it” didn’t happen at Lambeth.

First and foremost, the Anglican Communion didn’t shatter. Granted, something like a quarter of the bishops of the Communion boycotted it, and a handful were un- or disinvited. However, matters didn’t become worse at Lambeth, and may not even have been made worse by Lambeth – at least by Lambeth solely or exclusively. If one expected this would be the end of the world as we know it, or at least of the Anglican world as we know it, “it” didn’t happen.

Bishops weren’t notable for their grandstanding. There were a few, as will surprise no one, as well as a few activists prowling the margins. However, they were few, and what grandstanding happened was kept out of official events. If one expected Lambeth to become a bully pulpit for the most strident voices, “it” didn’t happen.

The American church and the Canadian church weren’t expelled. True, because of the agenda and format few really expected that; but there were a few who hoped. Indeed, by and large American and Canadian bishops reported hearing and being heard beyond anything in previous experiences and for many beyond their expectations. If one expected a definitive purging of the “innovators” from the Communion, “it” didn’t happen.

Global South voices were heard, both in public and in private. Once again, that might have happened far beyond the expectations of those bishops. Yes, once again that quarter of the bishops boycotted. At the same time, there were many more who attended who agreed with the boycotters on virtually everything except the boycott. They certainly had their opportunities to share their concerns, both to other bishops and to the media. If one expected a “colonial” suppression of Global South voices by the mother churches, “it” didn’t happen.

Sadly, too, it appears that minds weren’t moved much on issues either of ordination of women or of full participation in the life of the Church of gay and lesbian Christians. Despite good efforts by American and Canadian bishops, and by events on the Fringe, gay and lesbian Christians weren’t listened to, even within the limited expectations one might expect considering Archbishop Williams’ commitment to Lambeth or the apparent continued acceptance of Lambeth 1.10 which called for listening explicitly. If one hoped for enough of a hearing to change some hearts, it looks like “it” didn’t happen.

No decisions were made, and no definitive statements were issued. Yes, there is a report; but it is largely a reiteration of “this is what various people said.” It wasn’t intended to express “the mind of the Communion,” but simply to note the breadth of agreement where there was agreement, and diversity of opinions where there wasn’t. If one expected clear statements on the current mind or the future decisions of the Communion, “it” didn’t happen.

Specifically, no Covenant was released, agreed by the majority of the bishops and prepared for the process of reception throughout the Communion. Two groups, the Covenant Design Group and the Windsor Continuation Group, got a lot of input and feedback; but even their final reports won’t be out until they’re considered next year by the Anglican Consultative Council. If one expected the Covenant would be produced, “it” didn’t happen.

What did happen, perhaps, was that the relational nature of the Communion was honored. Bishops have already written in many places that in the Indaba groups and in Bible study voices were heard, lives were shared, and relationships were built or rebuilt. I believe Archbishop Williams when he says there is a broad commitment to the Communion. It sounds like things were respectful, and that may result in more mutual respect.

It remains to be seen, however, whether this will result in a renewal of the Anglican-Communion-as-we-have-known- it, or will simply delay the restructuring of the Communion into several smaller bodies, more tightly linked within themselves and only loosely linked to one another. Personally, I find Archbishop Williams’ evident commitment to more centralized structures of authority troubling. However, I think the new and renewed relationships among bishops are valuable in and of themselves, and trust that God can use all of this for mission in our Anglican fields, and ultimately for union of the Body of Christ.

But if this becomes only a pause, only a gracious moment that doesn’t change the terms of the argument – not unlike that famous Christmas Day in World War I - we won’t be better off in the long run. We can’t be sanguine about meeting again in 2018; and as for Lambeth 2008, it will be as if “it” didn’t happen.

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