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Archive of Bishop Beckwith's reflections of the 2008 Lambeth Conference

The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of Newark

Saturday, July 19, 2008

This morning, we finished a two-and-a-half day retreat, led by Archbishop Rowan Williams.  The Canterbury Cathedral was completely closed off to the public so 700 plus bishops could be together in communion and prayer together.  It was an enormous honor to have this ancient holy space all to ourselves.
The Archbishop invited us to lead by embodying hope and meaning.  He made a strong case that our binding reality is not anxiety -- it is the hope that God opens a new and living way in Jesus.  Archbishop Williams acknowledged that his own leadership falls down whenever there is a failure to hope in Christ; moments when he has not been able to identify a new and living way.
His reflections seemed to have strong resonance with the bishops in attendance.  I was particularly engaged by his attention to hope and by the image of leader as follower; that to be out in front, one needs to be a disciple of the living Christ who has paved the way for the rest of us.
There has been general acknowledgement of the number of bishops who have chosen not to be here.  Prayers have been offered for them -- and for the hope of reconciliation.  For the 1500 or so bishops and spouses who are here, there seems to be a strong desire to be in relationship.
People from across the world have greeted one another with a spirit of welcome and openness.  The retreat served to remind us all that whatever differences emerge among us -- we are brought together in the oneness in Christ.
And there have been some opportunities to talk about differences.  I have had some informal conversations with bishops whose context is vastly different from northern New Jersey.  We have said that we want to better understand each other's contexts - to honor the differences between us -- and to commit to the issues that we deal with in common -- economic injustice, inadequate health care, lack of educational opportunity, the challenges of leadership and helping to deepen people's passion for the living Christ.
I am hopeful.
Tomorrow, the full array of bishops will process into Canterbury Cathedral.  With spouses, administrators of and visitors to the Conference, we will again take over the place.  On Sunday afternoon, I will attend a service at a parish church which will be a witness for full inclusion in the church of lesbian and gay Christians.  New Hampshire's Bishop Gene Robinson (who was pointedly not invited to the Lambeth Conference) will be present, and several of us have shared our hope that the ache we feel at his enforced absence will be softened by seeing him.
With the Bishop of Rio de Janeiro and a retired bishop from Uganda, I will co-lead a workshop on Tuesday which is designed to train bishops to engage in disciplined listening with one another.  Our hope is to develop a process that enables us to listen to each other's passions and concerns -- and to build community on the basis of what we hear from each other.
On Wednesday evening, several American bishops will be hosting a reception for other bishops to meet Gene Robinson, to explain how bishops are elected in the Episcopal Church -- and to hear from several American bishops (from across a theological perspective) how Gene's presence in the House of Bishops has changed the American church.
Marilyn and I are grateful to be here -- and are grateful that our dorm rooms are next to each other rather than across the campus (one scenario for which we were preparing).  And my gratitude for the Diocese of Newark -- and its commitment, support and witness -- continues to be a wellspring for me.
In peace,


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Last Sunday’s worship service (July 20th) at Canterbury Cathedral represented almost all the full diversity of Anglicanism.  The very English men and boys' choir from the Cathedral was in wonderful voice -- and for the worship service music they used a Mass setting from Burundi.  Drummers and dancers from Melanesia carried the Gospel book to the center of the nave -- in a small canoe.  Prayers and Lessons were read in different languages and for every service that we have had here -- the Lord's Prayer is said in about 35 languages at once.  It gives a vision – and  the sound, of Pentecost.
The sermon, by the Bishop of Sri Lanka, was clear -- and bold in its claim for inclusiveness in the church.  That desire and feeling of inclusion and oneness was muted for some of us when we sang "All Are Welcome" -- which, in fact, was not the case for one of our bishops.
That Sunday service provided a transition moment in the life of the conference, as we switched from retreat to consultation.  We began our "Indaba" groups on Monday morning, in which five Bible study groups of eight bishops meet to sort through the issues facing the church.  There are 16 or 17 Indaba groups of 40 bishops each.  Indaba is a Zulu word for a gathering for purposeful discussion.  Trust levels have certainly been developed in each Bible study group -- and that trust has been brought into the larger group.  There is a real desire to honor and hear different contexts.  The Indaba process has challenged the Western linear way of proceeding -- and I think it has opened up creativity.  It certainly has exposed a deep desire that I have heard from others that we hold together as a unique body of Christ, while acknowledging that we are indeed being buffeted about by serious difference and disagreement.
I am seeing the genius of the Anglican movement, which has as its foundation the desire -- and a nearly 500 year history, to live in unity while experiencing diversity.
The Indaba process seems to enable us to express our disagreements about theology and sexuality openly and honestly.  I have not heard of any threats or polarizing conversation within the Conference itself, but there are many hovering about the Conference -- and a very few within the Conference -- who are looking for moments and metaphors that they take out of context and present as unbalanced stories to a very hungry media.  "Battle of the Bishops" was a recent headline in an English newspaper.  Given my very positive experience here, I thought perhaps it referred to the release of a new video game.
This evening (Wednesday), several of us hosted a reception for Gene Robinson.  We were all -- the American hosts, the bishops and spouses who were our guests -- and Gene himself, at our best in terms of hospitality, openness and reflecting God's grace.  It was a gift.  My prayer has been, and continues to be -- that we can draw on that abundant grace -- and be led beyond the distinctions between liberal and conservative; black, white, yellow, brown and mixed;  first world and third world; high church and low church; male and female; gay and straight -- to the place where we are all one in Christ.
In peace,
+Mark Beckwith


July 27, 2008

Thursday was a day of witness highlighted by a clarion call to action. On July 23rd, all the bishops, spouses, Lambeth staff people and ecumenical partners gathered in the center of London for a "walk of witness". We witnessed to the Anglican Communion's deep commitment to the Millenium Development Goals -- and specifically to "halve poverty in the world by 2015” (I love English turns of phrase). We marched from near Trafalgar Square, past Number 10 Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey -- to the home and office of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace. Many carried pre-printed placards -- "Halve poverty by 2015" and "Help eradicate poverty" were the two most prominent.

When we arrived at Lambeth Palace, our march turned into a rally. The Archbishop stood on the dais with several interfaith leaders -- including the Roman Catholic Cardinal, the chief Rabbi of the Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, the leader of Theravada Buddhism in England and others. Having eloquently voiced his own commitment to the "halving" of poverty, the Archbishop then introduced Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. For the next fifteen minutes, my soul was stirred by his passion and eloquence. He thanked the Anglican Communion for its "leadership work" in reducing third world debt -- and challenged us to start a religious movement to eradicate poverty. The numbers, he said, are not encouraging. At present rates of initiative, he said it will take one hundred years for all children across the globe to have the opportunity to go to school. Malaria and diphtheria -- not to mention HIV/AIDS -- are on the rise, and it will take more initiative, money and energy to change the trajectory. Our children, he said, don't have one hundred years to wait.

There was no doubt in my mind or heart that the Prime Minister meant what he said. The son of a Presbyterian Minister in his native Scotland, Brown preached more than spoke. If he had asked for an altar call, my guess is that most of the people who were listening in the hot sun would have stepped forward. He asked us to join him in a similar march of witness in New York City on September 25, when the UN General Assembly will take up the issue of "halving poverty" in emergency session.

The Anglican Observer to the UN, Helen Wangusa, also spoke at the rally. Ms. Wangusa’s new staff person, Martha Gardner, a member of our Standing Committee, attended and told me that work has already started to provide opportunity for people in the five dioceses that surround New York City to join in the witness.

Prime Minister Brown said that this issue requires moral leadership -- and he indicated that through its track record, work and its network, the Anglican Communion is poised to provide it. I agree with him.

I learned much from the witness of Gordon Brown.

At a debriefing session for American Bishops, I said that I felt that I was in a kind of time-warp. I haven't heard that sort of passion for justice expressed at a rally in nearly forty years. And the passion from the dais seems to be met by those who heard it. I am discovering -- in conversations at meals, in our Bible study and Indaba groups -- and waiting in line at the ever- present "queues", that there is a deep consensus that we bishops need to redouble our efforts in creating partnerships in dealing with poverty. I am learning that I -- and that we in the West, have much to learn from other parts of the church that have been dealing with poverty directly, effectively and systemically for a long time. We need to work together on this.

I pray that this common commitment to "halve poverty" will rise up out of our dialogue and debate about Covenant and theology and sexuality -- and lead us forward. I pray that. And I hope for it. But it does need to be said that after ten days together, the trust and honesty is growing to the extent that the organizational, theological and sexuality differences are beginning to emerge and are being expressed, for the most part with respect.

This is a good thing.

Monday, July 28, we will begin to sort through what we have done so far -- and begin working to create a statement that reflects the mind and heart of the different Indaba groups. Sixteen representatives have been selected, one from each Indaba group – representation which is meant to reflect the full diversity of the Communion and they have set aside off-program hours to be about their work. It is a daunting task.

I am hopeful that we can carry the spirit of our rally of Thursday into this next week -- so that our vision and commitment guides our organizational and ecclesiastical life -- rather than the other way around. And that our unity is not in theological statements -- important as they are, but in Christ.

I continue to give thanks for the privilege you have given me to be part of this extraordinary enterprise.


+Mark Beckwith


July 31, 2008

And a Rabbi shall lead them...
On Monday evening (July 28th), the bishops and spouses were addressed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.  A scholar and a passionate man of faith, Rabbi Sacks talked about a Covenant being a commitment of cooperation between parties of difference.  He indicated that the pressure of globalization is setting up an unhealthy dynamic of competition for wealth and power throughout the world -- including and perhaps especially among religious communities.  Having been educated in Anglican schools, the Rabbi has a deep appreciation for our heritage and witness -- and he hoped that we would hold together for the sake and health of the rest of the religious world.  The hardest task in the world, he said, is to hold adherents of a religious faith together.
We needed to hear his challenge -- and his hope.  Up to that point, it had been a rather rough day.  At a gathering earlier on Monday, the Windsor Continuation Committee had issued a follow-up statement which, to many of us, felt unnecessarily legalistic and confining.  Few, if any, of us were sure what authority the Windsor Continuation Committee officially has in relation to the ongoing work and organization of the Anglican Communion (it was created in the wake of Gene Robinson's consecration in 2003). Nevertheless, the Committee presents itself as having jurisdiction over what dioceses and provinces in the Communion can and cannot do. Eight people sitting on a dais in front of 800 people can easily convey that.
The Rabbi's presentation opened up considerable spiritual space -- and to my mind, allowed the breath of the Spirit to reframe and refresh our souls.  That openness of space was given more support on Tuesday evening when Archbishop Rowan Williams invited each of us to treat the strong differences in points of view with a "generosity of spirit".  He took an admitted risk by describing the two ends of the continuum in regards to sexuality.  He then invited us to listen to each other, to really hear each other -- and all the while, to journey to the center (not the political center, he quickly added, but the spiritual center) where all difference can hold together in Christ.
There is a desire to do that.  In a sermon this morning (Thursday), the Archbishop of Burundi, quoting the "I am" passages in the Gospel of John, emphasized the chronological order:  "I am" ... and then an Anglican Communion.  Christ came first; Christ is first -- and Christ binds us all into a new creation.
But as fatigue deepens, and as the lines are beginning to be drawn in ecclesiastical sand -- and as the pressure of having something to say or report before we leave mounts, some old angers are surfacing -- and deep hurts are being expressed.  In some ways, this is a good thing because it speaks of a level of honesty and trust.  But in other ways, it is draining.
My prayer -- and sense, is that the sense of community that has been created through worship and conversations and commitment to engage together in God's mission will be gathered up by the wonderful and rather unpredictable presence of the Holy Spirit and will guide us into an exciting future.  That may be a lot to ask or expect in the next few days, but one of my deepest convictions is that God's future is in fact full of abundant promise.  Whether we fully and officially recognize it or not during these last three days remains to be seen.
Please continue to hold our work in your prayers, as I hold your lives and ministry in mine.
+Mark Beckwith


August 3, 2008

This morning, Sunday, we held our final Indaba group.  This afternoon, we were given a document entitled "Lambeth Indaba:  Capturing Conversations and Reflections from the Lambeth Conference 2008".  This fifth and final draft was developed by the listening group, the members of which served as scribes in the Indaba groups.  The listening group took the two-page summary which each Indaba group produced every day -- and synthesized it into a final compilation.  That represents some thirteen two-page summaries from 16 Indaba groups.  It became relatively easy to identify the members of the listening group:  they were the ones who appeared to have had little or no sleep.
After each draft of the “Lambeth Indaba …” document was presented this past week, a hearing was held and the listening group received 25 or so comments and suggestions from the 200 or 300 bishops who gathered.

This document is not a report.  We did not vote on it.  It is a description of conversations.  As one listening group member said, "We were not poets.  We did not interpret."
I mention all of this because some have already tried to "spin" the document – indicating that it represents the decisions of Lambeth and, on some matters, holds the church accountable to certain practices.

Admittedly, there was some confusion and frustration about how the process finally unfolded.  Some bishops wanted to have clear decisions rendered; others did not.  Most of us found it difficult to capture in words this sense of hope and desire that so many of us have felt.  Again, what we ended up with is not a report.  It is a description of conversations. (I don't think I can emphasize this enough).  And not all the conversations were remembered adequately or accurately.  It was a flawed process in terms of recording our work, but it was a very effective process in terms of listening to one another and building relationships.
During our 15 Indaba meetings, we shared opinions and fears, hopes and challenges.  Although a bit unwieldy, we began to trust the Indaba insofar as it enabled us to build trust and even create community.  That certainly was the case this morning.  Each of the 35 - 40 bishops in the Indaba group talked about the hope they are carrying back with them, along with images of personal communion and shared Christian desire to remain in fellowship and partnership.  There was a deep honoring of one another in our integrity and ministry -- as well as an honoring of our differences.  We were from the Provinces of North India, South India, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Southern Cone, Australia, South Africa, England, Canada, Japan and the U.S. and we now return home to our various points of the compass.
There are, however, two groups (formed before the Lambeth Conference) which will continue their work beyond the Conference: the Covenant Design Group and the Continuing Windsor Group.  Each of these continuing groups has concrete proposals and an accountability dimension to their work that many of us find confining and troubling.   In his final address this afternoon, the Archbishop of Canterbury clearly indicated his desire for the Communion to have an Anglican Covenant and a continuing Windsor Process.
There is much to sort out -- with myself and with all of you.  As has already been announced, I will be leading two report-back sessions this Thursday, August 7, at St. Agnes, Little Falls.  The first will be from 10-12, and the second will be from 7-9 pm.  The format will be the same at each session.  I will present my impressions, my hopes and concerns and there will be ample time for questions.  Other members of the Diocese of Newark who were here at Lambeth will be invited to offer their perspectives: Martha Gardner from St. George's, Maplewood (working with the Anglican Observer to the United Nations), the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, Rector of St. Paul's, Chatham and Jon Richardson, a Candidate for Holy Orders and serving as Director of Youth & Family Ministries at St. Peter's, Morristown (both of whom were working with the Integrity staff).  The Rev. Michael Sniffen, serving as an Assistant in a parish on Long Island but canonically resident in our diocese (one of the 50 Stewards at the Conference), and the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, canonically resident in our diocese (a staff person for Episcopal News Service), will still be in England and therefore unable to join us.
I am glad I came.  I am very glad to be coming home.  I have been deeply enriched by the conversations and encounters I have had with many people from across the Church.  We have eagerly, and I think easily, shared our stories -- and the conviction that all our stories are connected to and formed by the divine story.

+Mark Beckwith