Reflecting on his theme, "The Return of the Hidden God: Renewing our Partnership in the Gospel," Bishop Richard Chartres of London initiated the Seventh Annual Hobart Lecture September 20 in the Episcopal Diocese of New York with the similarities between his home and New York City.
"We are both set in a cosmopolitan context, the home of international organizations, a hub of communications and center of financial services in the global economy of our wired up world," he noted.
The Hobart Lecture is an annual address sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of New York and presented to acknowledge and encourage the pastoral ministry of the Church. The series is named for Bishop John Henry Hobart, the Third Bishop of New York (1816-1830), who is remembered and cited for his unfailing energy, his personal integrity, and his dedication to mission.
Addressing nearly 150 people, Chartres raised some of the issues facing both countries today. "In contemporary North Western Europe, perhaps more than in the U.S. as a whole, God for the moment is largely hidden from our view. Continental Europeans to a greater extent than we island folk sometimes actually worry that God has too much prominence in American public life."
He lamented, "The absence of God is itself very eloquent and a human society living without any rooting in God and attempting instead to possess fullness of life by accumulation soon exhibits symptoms of distress."
Chartres spoke on the important link between spirituality and ecology. "In the U.K., the church has just launched a campaign to shrink its own ecological footprint as part of raising consciousness about the autism which we seem to exhibit towards creation. We have been heartened recently by statements from leading American Evangelicals affirming the link between Christian faith and care for creation."
He did not shy away from the terrorist tragedies that both cities have endured. "We have both felt the unrighteous wrath of the terrorists. In the dangerous circumstances we both face mere appeals for tolerance on the basis of our common humanity are not enough and do not generate the energy needed for transformation."
He provided a suggestion: "Part of our work as a church must be engagement with other people of faith whose attitudes and values may be alien to us, speaking from faith to faith."
After discussing his recent work in the field of inter-religious understanding, he noted: "We are not looking for religious consensus or for polemical debate. Instead against the horizon of the challenges which face us all, our responsibility for the planet, our relations with the stranger in our midst, our search for economic justice in the world, participants are invited to go to their own scriptures -- Torah, Qur'an, Bible -- to identify the resources for engaging with these great themes.
"There is no fourth position when these believers -- Jews, Muslims, Christians -- who are in their different ways children of Abraham, meet. There is no covert assumption of the kind which underlies some so called interfaith work that the religious traditions are simply more or less adequate local editions of universal spiritual truths. I can only say from experience that 'scriptural reasoning' is a method which can permit hard things to be said in conversations which often result in participants deepening their sense of the identity and uniqueness of their own tradition and yet because we speak in company with others and thus accountably the result is at the same time deeper respect for other traditions."
Chartres' complete Hobart address is available on the website of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
Read Chartres' biography
Previous Hobart presenters include: Bishop George E. Packard, Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies for the Episcopal Church; Bishop Njongonkulu Winston Hugh Ndungane, Archbishop of Cape Town; Bishop Michael G. Peers, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold; the Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Wales and now Archbishop of Canterbury; and Bishop Peter F. Carnley, Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Perth.