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Bishops say Lambeth has equipped them for leadership in mission

[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] As the 2008 Lambeth Conference draws to a close August 3, did the every-decade gathering of bishops from across the Anglican Communion deliver as promised; do bishops feel better equipped for leadership in mission?

Days began and ended in worship. There was retreat time, 19 days of meetings and two weeks of themed sessions. Bishops engaged topics such as evangelism, social justice, the environment, interfaith and ecumenical relations, Scripture and human sexuality. A papal envoy and an American evangelist led evening plenary sessions. The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered presidential addresses. There were also daily Bible study and indaba discussion groups, a joint session with spouses on abuse of power and even a little social activism, with a 'walk of witness' against poverty.

From Angola to New York, Melanesia to Maryland, Colombia to the Philippines, a diversity of bishops said the regular rhythm of Bible study, prayer, and indaba discussion groups created community, enriched their lives and broadened their ministries.

Bishop Daniel Sarfo of Kumasi, Ghana said he wasn't the least bit surprised by the resultant mutuality because indaba is a tool "used in all of Africa. If anything happens in a family, the heads of the family will call the people together to ask the family how to resolve" the situation.

For Bishop Andre Soares of Angola awareness of each created mutuality through the Bible studies, which "were very important, to share our difficulties and our hopes."

'Equal partners' in cross-cultural ministry
Bishop Prince Singh of Rochester, New York said the conference equipped bishops in organic ways, paving the way for future shared ministries.

Singh, a human rights advocate for the Dalit, the outcast in India, said for some developing nations "the issues of poverty and HIV/AIDS are huge. Survival is one suction pump, which takes a lot of your energy. On top of that there's the environment --the poor are left out in so many ways. The hope is we can be engaged in helping redeem some of that.

"The church in the United States has an opportunity to learn from people who survive in these places and have a vibrant faith and the churches are growing." And while he made connections with bishops about possible future relationships, he declined to discuss them until congregations in his diocese also engage the "opportunity for mutuality.

"We have an opportunity to break away from old colonial models of companion relationships where one depends upon the other," he said. "We have an opportunity to be equal partners to the faith learning from one another and sharing resources because we are the same family.

"From the stories I've heard, the people I've met, it would be a missed opportunity … it would be sad if we just went away from here consumed with issues of human sexuality and left out the whole mission aspect of the conference," he added.

Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama likened the conference to a "cheese soufflé -- it's cooking away and whether it rises or not, well, we'll just have to see, but it'll be good."

Lambeth 2008 was "clearly a conference centered in conversation, mutual encouragement and resourcing for our ministries. I have a deeper understanding of different bishops and their churches, which vary enormously," he said. "We're one in so many ways but we're also a communion of difference, which is beautiful. God made the world with difference."

A 'wider' church
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real in northern California said "one of the identity pieces of being a bishop is you represent your local church to the wider church and vice versa. I definitely feel more equipped to represent the wider church."

Of Lambeth she said: "It's been an exercise to try and speak of our context [about] what's happening in The Episcopal Church (TEC). I definitely feel more seasoned."

Gray-Reeves, who was consecrated in November 2007, says she's really thankful for "the tremendous gift to get to begin my episcopacy by attending the Lambeth Conference as part of the process." But, preaching in a local church one Sunday reminded her that, "while I value this, we can't live here everyday for the rest of our lives."

An essential part of the conference, according to Bishop Francisco Duque-Gomez of Colombia, speaking through an interpreter, "is to get to know all the cultures of the Anglican Communion and to know that there are brothers and sisters in territories in far away places, praying for us and doing evangelistic work as we do it."

Archbishop Paul Kwong, the Anglican primate of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, told reporters at an August 2 press conference that he wanted to see action. Later, he said that plenary sessions featuring themes about covenant and the emerging church of the future, as well as addresses by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, were especially helpful to him.

"This is certainly a very enriching experience for me," he said of the conference. Yet, he added that "this has all been on an intellectual and theological level. I want to see more levels, something concrete."

Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles said he welcomed "the opportunity to enter into dialogue and seek the truth of Christ together" between his diocese and, hopefully, those in Belize, Ghana, Burundi, India and Kenya, as well as maintaining other ongoing relationships in Jerusalem and the Middle East and El Salvador.

But, he added that he leaves Canterbury "with a sense of disappointment that in some ways they tried to move us toward a covenant and in all honesty I don't believe that's the way for us to go."

Others, like Sarfo of Ghana and Bishop Tome Nathan of the Diocese of Banks and Torres in the Anglican Church of Melanesia, said they wanted a covenant.

Bishop Vic Esclamado of la Iglesia Filipina Independiente (the Philippine Independent Church) said the conference had "deepened his soul for mission. It has pained us, but I think it is labor pains. We are expecting something. We give what we can, coming here with all honesty and frankness.

"When we are in the United States we think we are the only people living on earth," he added. "Here, we are looking at the dining hall from the top and we say this is the world's population. We can see it in all its diversity and you wonder and thank God we can eat together with this food. We can sit together and pray together and fight respectfully."

Power and making connections
Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland said that after the joint bishops and spouses plenary, he realized "that the issue of power and how it is used is the issue facing the Anglican Communion today … who uses it and how it is responsibly used. If I use my power to marginalize you or to say I'm of God and you aren't, that is abusive behavior."

Sometimes, Sutton said, "that abuse of power is an interpretation of Scripture. It's in the treatment of women, of gay and lesbian people, children, the elderly, disabled, everyone who finds themselves on the outside looking in. So, if I remember nothing else about this conference, it's that the spouses, the women, are the ones who said 'you've got to talk about power'."

He said Lambeth has "open[ed] the eyes of some bishops. They're beginning to make a connection between excluding women from leadership in the church … maybe there's a connection between that and abuse of power? A lot of them only saw that as a kind of biblical issue … not also as a sociological reality."

Although some complained about a busy schedule that left little time for reflection, Sutton said the conference absolutely equipped bishops for mission. "Just one example is presenting the stark facts about climate change. This was news to a lot of bishops."

One such bishop began an environmental session Sutton attended saying that global warming didn't affect his diocese. "Then he started hearing stories from bishops in the Arctic Circle, and in western Australia, the Philippines, Alaska, about the effects in those places. And he starts saying, you know, my people can't grow cabbages anymore and they're moving to the cities.

"It's like a light bulb went on and he left the session saying, global warming is killing my people and they're leaving the villages. That's equipping him for mission, helping to make a connection."

A conversation with Bishop Mano Rumalshah of Peshawar in Pakistan helped Sutton realize "how our actions affect people in other areas. I said to him, tell me honestly, have our actions in [General Conventions] 2003, 2006 -- have they affected you? He said, 'oh yeah.' What really touched me is he said, 'I'm not asking you to make my life easier. But I do appreciate you understanding the difficulties that you place me in.

"Then, I want to link some of my most progressive parishes with some of those most conservative dioceses and say just go there and talk," Sutton said. "Christians, Anglicans, around the world, they'll take up the cross. But, just know it's gonna cost them a lot more than it's gonna cost you and maybe we ought to do everything we can to make their lives easier because we've certainly made their lives more difficult."

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for the dioceses of Province VIII. She is based in Los Angeles.

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