Thursday, August 11, 2022

Lambeth Conference Conversations, Part 2 (it was not all about sex)

Archbishop Justin Welby's 3rd Plenary Address

“The heart of the church is deeply relational”

– Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

You might think from some of the reporting that the Lambeth Conference which ended last Sunday was preoccupied with disagreements and debates about human sexuality. That is actually far from the case. Aside from a lot of worship, we formally engaged things like Evangelism & Mission, Discipleship, Climate Change, Interfaith Relations, and better addressing the scandal of abuse when it happens in the church and committing to preventing it. Informally, the conversations were mostly about these and other issues. Here are more gleanings from conversations I had while at the Lambeth Conference:

·       There was an announcement at our first gathering letting us know that the water from all the taps at the university where we were staying had drinkable water. It was a reminder that many in the world cannot take clean water for granted, even from the faucets in their homes when they have them. It also reminded me of the scandal it is that it is not true for everyone in America, not least in places like Flint, Michigan.

·       A bishop of Bangladesh said there are fewer legal restraints on the church than in some other places, but his church has had to be careful not to make too many converts. Converts’ families (Muslim or Hindu) often abandon them, leaving them needing support from the church which is committed to doing so but is already strained financially and otherwise.

The wife of this bishop is a native of India who splits her time between India and Bangladesh. She has worked for an aid organization. She spoke of the frustration when she is in Bangladesh of having her clothing choices challenged in public. 

They also spoke of the devastating effects climate change is having on their country, e.g., more and worse storms, flooding, etc. 

This was a recurring theme in conversations with bishops from around the world. Those of island nations spoke of rising sea levels that lead to shrinking islands. Others spoke of less reliable rainfall and drought. Many spoke of increasing number of storms of increasing severity. Others, of an increase of damaging wildfires. This is one of the issues we discussed formally and about which we issued a call to action.

·       When, in our Bible study, we looked at the relationship of suffering and rejoicing, our South Sudanese bishops spoke of dancing and singing in refugee camps with tears of grief while still rejoicing in their faith in God and hope for the future.

·       We heard of the church in Jerusalem and the Middle East which runs schools and hospitals for anyone regardless of their religion.

·       We heard from a bishop of the Church of England who was born in Iran. Her father was an Iranian who had converted from Islam and married and English woman. He became the Anglican Bishop of Iran for nearly 30 years. She has warm memories of her Muslim grandfather, “a godly man”. After the Islamic Revolution there were threats and an assassination attempt against her father. Then, her brother was assassinated, and the family went into exile in England. In Iran, today, the church is not officially acknowledged to exist and Christians are considered apostates. There is currently no bishop of Iran. But the church does exist and Christians living under threat are none the less able to exercise hospitality and generosity.

·       Interfaith relations was one of the topics we formally discussed. While acknowledging the hard realities that some live with in countries where a particular version of radical Islam prevails, we heard stories of cooperation between Christians and Muslims in Kenya and elsewhere. The Archbishop of Alexandria, “My neighbor’s faith and mine do not simply coexist, they interact and corelate.” And in India, the various faith’s cooperated in addressing Covid-19.

·       We heard the story of a mechanic who contacted his local Church of England parish church to enquire about being baptized. A man who needed some work on his car had spoken to him about Jesus and faith and he wanted to be baptized. It turns out, unbeknown to the mechanic, that it had been the bishop who needed some car work. Evangelism and Mission were other topics we discussed formally.

A bishop of South Sudan and I discussed the challenges of forming disciples in our relative contexts. I spoke of complacency, the plethora of distractions, and a wariness of commitment. He spoke of the lack of Bibles and the reality that concerns about food and fuel for cooking were uppermost in peoples’ minds.

·       We heard from a bishop of New Zealand about the growth of congregations of young people based on discipleship in small groups of shared life, worship, and mission. Discipleship was another topic we formally discussed.

·       In several conversations with bishops from South Sudan to Australia, it was clear how closely the rest of the world pays attention to American politics. Several expressed concern.

·       In a conversation with a bishop of England, we both noted the negative phenomenon of shrinking and aging populations in many of our small towns and villages as more and more people move to urban centers. We compared the negative effects of this on our communities. He observed that in many English villages the parish church is the last remaining institution.

·       The wife of a Scottish bishop spoke of her work as a visiting nurse to expectant and new mothers for the National Health Service. The NHS of Scotland guarantees at least one prenatal visit and at least 11 visits in the first five years after the child’s birth. This is a proactive, prolife policy it seems to me.

Previous: Lambeth Conversations, Part 1 (it was not all about sex) 

Next: Lambeth Conversations, Part 3 (some of it was about sex)

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