I’m sitting in a departure lounge at Heathrow. It’s a strange in-between time – I’ve already mentally left England but have not yet begun traveling toward home.
So while I wait here are some rough draft reflections on Lambeth:
Rowan Williams did a very clever job of designing a conference that gave him everything he wanted – no resolutions, bishops who felt “closer” to one another, and – on the last day when they had been lulled into a sense of trust -- a total smackdown of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
The process may have been easier on the bishops than the brutal Lambeth of 1998, but the outcome is just as brutal for LGBT Anglicans.
I’m still waiting for a better explanation than Williams was able to give me at the final press conference about what the theological and scriptural grounding is for asking an entire group of Christians to sacrifice their vocations and relationship on your behalf. Simply saying that sacrifice has to be voluntary and that the Communion is worth that sacrifice doesn’t do the job.
As a priest in the US said, “When I climb up on the cross, it’s sacrifice. When you put me up there, it’s murder.’
Clear enough for you?
Several troubling images remain with me, but the most disturbing was the fact that the daily worship services were segregated. The bishops and spouses worshipped in the Big Top, but no one else was allowed to worship with them. There was a separate worship service for “the rest of us.” It was particularly clear that the press were to be kept out of the bishops’ worship. Apparently conference organizers were terrified the press might spot one bishop refusing to share communion with another.
Gee, do you suppose that might have given the press the idea that there were strains in the Communion? Oh, right, they already knew that.
The anxiety of the conference organizers was through the roof, and it was communicated to the press a dozen times a day in countless ways. Their efforts to “control” the message didn’t work, of course, because members of the press are not stupid, and because others were quite willing to step in to the news vacuum created by the conference organizers’ reluctance to let the press see any of the official proceedings.
There also were no North Americans on the conference communications team – by design, not omission. Rowan Williams was doing his best to keep the North Americans in the background. So bishops from the Episcopal Church began giving their own news briefings every afternoon – an idea quickly copied by the Gafconistas present. Who could blame them? It was a great way to get the message out because news-starved reporters flocked to these events.
The daily press briefings and press conferences were a lively dance between the conference organizers who wanted to give out as little information as possible and the press who were trying to pry something – anything – out of them. George Conger was particularly persistent in trying to pry a list of the bishops in attendance from them. I admired his tenacity and marveled at the creative explanations given for why they simply couldn’t hand us a list of who was there.
Because of the paucity of news, most days there were more bloggers in the briefing room than news reporters – along one hardly wants to call some of the British press “reporters.” It was instructive to watch the Brits help stage events, which they would then “report” as news.
The wildly inaccurate and sensationalist “reporting” of some of the British writers left North Americans watching in amazed disgust. Some of us amused ourselves by writing “headlines’ we thought might appear the next day. We weren’t very good at it. No matter how outrageous we thought we were, the reality always outpaced our efforts.
So here we are with another Lambeth behind us. What parts of this will be used to beat up on LGBT Anglicans? Which parts will be raised to the status of Holy Writ, much as the Windsor Report and resolution 1.10 have been?
The truth is, all this sturm and drang is mostly irrelevant to the people in your parish, who are going to go on loving one another, quarreling with one another, looking for the Christ in one another, marrying, burying, and baptizing people, worshipping together, doing mission work together, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked.
It’s there that the Anglican Communion lives, not at Lambeth, not among the bishops – it’s there among all the baptized, in all our daily lives, in all our encounters with one another and with God.