The Episcopal Church Welcomes You
» Site Map   » Questions    

« Return
Archbishop Robin Eames addresses the Church Club of New York

ENS 052404-1
[Episcopal News Service]  On May 18, the Most Rev. Robert H.A. (Robin) Eames, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, addressed the 117th dinner of the Church Club of New York at the Harvard Club in New York City, addressing the crisis in the Anglican Communion. A transcription of his recorded remarks follows.

Mr. President, fellow clergy, ladies and gentlemen, guests and members of the Church Club of New York:

I am extremely grateful for the invitation and for the welcome that I have received. I've been looking forward to fulfilling this engagement for quite some time, and I want to start my remarks to you tonight by paying a very, very warm tribute not just to my many, many American friends-who, please goodness, by next autumn will still be my friends [laughter]--but also to the great support that your Club has given to the Anglican Communion, particularly through the support of the Compass Rose Society.

I know many of you are intimately involved in that work and that support, and no one more so than members of your organizing committee, and may I mention particularly Grace Allen. [applause] You may not all know the extent to which she personally has given the support to the worldwide work of our Communion, of which we're all members. And so, if only to pay tribute to her, it was worth making my flying visit 'across the pond.' [laughter, applause]

I always enjoy my visits to your great nation, and particularly at this present time within our Anglican family, you're very much on my mind. And when I say that, I do so, I hope, with a smile. For I want to emphasize, very briefly--because you'll understand the sensitivities that I have to face at the moment--I want to refer briefly to the work of the Lambeth Commission.

I want to assure you about two things. First of all, no voice is going unheard. I know there are some who believe that the way in which things are presented means that we've already made up our minds about the recommendations we will make. I would assure you that is totally untrue--totally. And to those who, for various reasons--and again I speak as sensitively as I can--those who for various reasons feel that they are hurt, alienated, misunderstood, not represented, and so on--I would assure them that no voice is going unheard.

And the second thing I want to say, as sincerely as I possibly can: The amount of work that we are facing is immense. The submissions we've received runs into many hundreds, and most of them are written. And as you will understand, Anglicans are not the shortest writers of essays--reflected only in the length of the sermons of our clergy! [laughter]

And so the work of research is going on constantly. We will, in fact, as you may already know, be meeting in Kanuga in Carolina in the month of June, which is a halfway stage to our work. And at that meeting we will be meeting with representatives of various opinions within ECUSA.

We're then detailed to present our report to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the autumn. And while, obviously, not even Archangel Gabriel could produce a report which will please everyone, I promise you it will be detailed; it will be sincere; it will, I hope also, enable us to find a way forward. Please remember us in your prayers, because we're not in this for ourselves--we're doing it for you and for the Anglican Communion. And as Rowan Williams said last Tuesday, while I've got a thankless, thankless task, he knows that there are many who wish us well.

I say to all my friends in the United States: please, bear with us. Please have patience with us, and in return for your prayers, we will do our best.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, what I would like to do this evening, if I may, is just on an occasion like this, when we've heard something of the program that you have had, and the interest that the Club shows in many aspects of the Anglican world, to ask you to consider with me just very briefly, at the dinner, a global perspective of where we are.

Because at the end of the day, we're all members of the one family--a diverse, scattered family. A family that has got vast cultural differences, political outlook, social and economic background--but we all say we belong to the Anglican Communion.

And because we have that identity, it does us no harm at times to pause and think where we are, what we are, and what we're doing. So let's briefly try to do that this evening.

The story is told--and Ireland is full of such stories--the story is told of the American tourist who landed on the west coast of Ireland at Shannon Airport and decided that he would hire a car and make his way to Dublin. And so he did so. Out of the way of Shannon, as he turned on to the main road out of the airport, suddenly he realized they hadn't supplied him with a map.

And so he pulled in at the side of the road and he saw the local intellectual sitting on a farm gate with a piece of straw in his mouth--you know the way the Irish intellectuals like to sit on farm gates--and he said to him, 'My good man, what way do you advise me to take to get to Dublin?'

And the Irish intellectual on the farm gate considered the problem for a few minutes and then produced the following answer. 'Well, sir, if I was going to Dublin, I wouldn't start from here.' [laughter]

I've often thought of that story--if you don't see it, just think about it--I've often thought of that story and I feel very much for him as I try to ask you to consider the global story of Anglicanism, because where do you start? Because, you see, the starting point tells us a great deal about our present situation. For we're serving Almighty God as Anglicans at a time when this sad old world of ours is slowly but surely separating at its axes.

We know that in the early days of the spread of our Anglican world communion, we in the North and the West indulged in wide-scale missionary outreach to what was then known as the Third World. And we took our colonialism and our Anglicanism hand-in-hand to that Third World. And we said to the Third World: Here is the benefit of colonialism. Here is good government. Here is order out of chaos. Oh, and here's Anglicanism. It goes with it. And when you thank us for good government and you thank us for all this, that, and the other thing--remember to say your prayers according to the Book of Common Prayer.

And from that stage, the world moved on. Until suddenly we found things were changing. And those who received the missionaries were sending missionaries back to us. Those who had received the benefit of colonialism were saying, 'we don't want any more of it.' And those who were receiving the benefits of the West began to say, perhaps the price you're asking us to pay--religiously, politically, economically--is too great.

And even without Anglican historians recognizing it, a great revolution was taking place in our little world, our part of the Body of Christ. And because of that, the global South began to ask questions of immense importance to its understanding of what Anglicanism was all about. And it asked questions like: 'What about autonomy? What about cultural difference? What about the way you have taught us Anglicanism should always be?' And some of the answers they came up with, we didn't want to hear.

Then the world changed again. And the Berlin Wall fell, and communism changed. Then the very places that we had helped to bring the Book of Common Prayer hand-in-hand with colonialism began to ask other questions, which were about poverty, about AIDS, about famine and homelessness and apartheid. And that same world said to the Anglican Communion, what have you to say to us now?

And it is not without significance that we entered a period that was to produce the Compass Rose, was to produce the pillars of Anglicanism in a new way, and forced us to recognize that we were different culturally, we were different politically, and perhaps we were just a little bit different in terms of religious outlook.

And suddenly, we began to recognize what the economists were saying to us: that in a few years, at the end of the 20th century, the population trend in the Northern world will have represented a much smaller part of the population of this globe. And the population of the global South will have magnified until, in Anglican terms, the Archbishop of Canterbury will preside over a church whose center is somewhere south of the Sahara Desert. And we didn't like that message.

And so there was a need to learn again communication. And communication is a two-way business--it's the talking and the listening. And the first thing that the Compass Rose allowed us to do was to put enough finance into communication, which allowed the world family of Anglicanism to listen to each other in a new way.

What was it we heard? We heard a different philosophy about missionary work, where no longer were we spending a fortune on training our people to go to the global South and to evangelize, but we were saying, 'Here is the means for you to develop yourselves.' And the whole missionary picture of Anglicanism went under its own quiet revolution.

And we also learned the importance of autonomy, which allowed the ancient Church of Ireland, the Episcopal Church of the United States, and all the other provinces that make up our world family to say: Let us adapt and conform to our local traditions, our local outlook, and in some real way, help us to recognize it is 'bonds of affection' which bound us together--not rules, not regulations, and certainly not a central curia.

And then, like a family--even the best of families--there were moments of sheer glory, there were moments of wonderful advancement and wonderful encouragement. But just sometimes, there were what the politician usually says: 'a little local difficulty.' And I found myself privileged in the Eighties to play a small part in finding a way forward over one of those 'local difficulties,' which--and I make no apology for saying it--has produced several of our guests' dinner tonight and has made many of us rejoice at the ordination of women.

And then we moved on, and the world began to take notice of the awful, awesome link between political and religious outlook. And we saw the militant face of many great religious traditions, so much so that that political version of such as Islam was to produce that which--I nearly cried this morning as I saw just an hour of the hearings about the doom of the two towers.

And we suddenly realized there's another side to this thing called religion. And believe me, my friends, I speak from my heart, because for thirty years in my own country, I have struggled with the implications of political as opposed to religious aspect of faith. And I've buried the dead, I've comforted the families, and I've tried to find what can be said and done to bring some sort of spiritual sense to personal devastation. And for thirty years, that island that has so many links with your forefathers suffered because of the political side of religion. Now we're struggling to find the peace.

And I mention that for the simple reason--I know I've mentioned it before to Compass Rose--but I mention it tonight for the simple reason, my friends, that I do feel I know what I'm speaking about when people say to me, 'What happens when you lose a sense of the spiritual in your religious pilgrimage?' It can cause doom in the personal sense of life pastorally, but translated into community terms, and it can bring thirty years of horror, dismal suffering, and endless questions.

Do you remember when I met some of you in London, and I mentioned the little incident which I dare to mention with your permission tonight, which will be with me until I die? Burying the young man who'd been slaughtered because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and as the service concluded I felt my robes were being tugged down about here somewhere and I looked down, and a little seven-year-old was looking up at me. And she said, 'Where have you put my Daddy?' And quite suddenly, my dear friends of the Anglican world, it all in a funny way began to make sense.

Because, you see, I'm an Anglican. I hope I'm a Christian. And I believe that one of the greatest messages that you and I must have the courage to take away from this wonderful occasion tonight is that we are thankful for the Anglican Communion. And we're thankful for our faith, and we're thankful for the family, and under God we will find a way forward.

The other aspect to all this is why, why does it make a difference to say we belong that family? I have found in my own experience over the years I've just referred to, that Anglicanism in Ireland is in the unique position of being able to balance its views on both sides of a very, very big argument. And I've found that time and time again, not least when--out of the blue--the paramilitaries came and said to me, 'Can you help us to end it all?' And there I am sitting in a room surrounded by the godfathers of violence--God knows how many deaths they had brought about--and they're turning to a man in a purple shirt, who's not a politician, who's not the godfather of terrorism. And when I said to them, in the midst of their arguments with me, 'Why did you turn to the Church?' they said, 'We turned to a particular Church.' Because, they said, if you let us down, we have nowhere else to turn to.

And in the years to come, my friends, I believe that is the greatest justification for the existence, with all our friends of other traditions in the world Christian movement, for being an Anglican. We have the chance and the ability to show that people trust us. Let nothing diminish the mission of our Communion, and let no differences diminish what is our priority, which is to bring the 'still, small voice' to a troubled world.

And it's for that reason that I return to the Compass Rose. For that which you support, and I beg you go on supporting, has enabled us to tell that story across the world. But in particular, it has allowed us in these situations that I've been so privileged to see, of helping people to listen to each other. May I say that again? Helping people to listen to each other.

The real progress towards peace in my country came when people stopped shouting at each other and began listening to each other. And I believe within the world Anglican family we may have to learn that again tonight.

Raucous voices, determined statements, and I-will-not-budge-in-my-argument are no ways to reconciliation, in my book. And I believe that if we have a mission to the world, my friends of Anglicanism in the United States, if we have a role, it is to show that that philosophy works and that it's worth fighting for and worth holding on to.

And therefore I do speak to you, not just as an Anglican colleague and friend, I hope, but as someone who believes we've got a pretty good future.

And sometimes it's the hand of God that compels us to look and look hard at where we're going. The voice that came to me from the global South looked at the wealth of the North and our world, and he said this: 'Archbishop, you have God and everything. We just have God.'

Doesn't that say it all? That with the tremendous explosion of whatever label you wish to put on it, of what is happening elsewhere than in our world, let us recognize the suspicion that there is of what it is we wish to export to others. And let us realize that in the process of getting a world to listen to each other in new ways, we are in fact fulfilling the will of Christ.

My job has been to reconcile in the situation in Ireland and now to try and do the same within our world family. But I'm reminded of an incident with which I'll draw my remarks to a close.

My wife and I were asked to a rectory in my diocese for supper one night, and as we sat at the meal, the light fitting over our head shook. There'd been a crash on the floor of the bedroom upstairs, where the little seven-year-old was supposed to be asleep. Now, whether it was to impress the Archbishop or not I don't know, but the rector nearly killed himself running up the stairs, dived into the bedroom in the darkness to find the little fellow in his pajamas sitting beside his bed on the carpet, rocking with laughter.

He picked him up, popped him back in bed and asked the inevitable question: 'John, what happened?'

'Don't know, Daddy,' came the reply.

So he turned out the light and retreated out of the bedroom and a little voice that every parent will recognize called him back. 'Daddy!'

He went back in. The little mind was already working out 'how long can I keep this conversation going?'-'Daddy, I think I must have fallen out of bed!'

'Yes, John, we realized that downstairs, but what they're going to ask is why did you fall out of bed?'

Now it is a great risk I'm running in telling the intellectual force of American Anglicanism what followed that part of the conversation, but I'll risk it.

'Daddy, I think I fell out of bed because I stayed too near where I got in!'


Do you want me to pause for a moment while you work it out?

Haven't been a bad dream, haven't rolled over under the clothes, he had stayed too close where he got in--the logic is there. It doesn't take Einstein to explain it to us.

But do you know something, my friends in New York? I think my little seven-year-old friend was telling us an eternal truth, which the church of the living Christ needs to hear over and over and over again: That it is when we stay too near the edge of our experience of the love and guidance of God that--we don't fall out of bed--but we fall out of the depth of our faith. We lose the vision. We lose the impetus. And suddenly we get into all sorts of confused difficulty.

Perhaps we Anglicans need to hear the little boy say it again, and no time better than the present. Let's move away from the edge, where we don't listen to each other. Let's move away from the edge where the faith is paper-thin, and let us say, thank God for the Anglican Communion, thank God for the Compass Rose Society, thank God for the rather-hesitant-at-times way that we Anglicans do the job of Christianity.

But let us take fresh heart, pray for the guidance of God, and let's hear again the message I'm privileged to bring to you in New York tonight before I fly back home: Let us bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the bonds of affection which is Christ crucified.

God bless you, and thank you for the honor you've given me.