Witnessing at Lambeth

Posted on July 30, 2008
The Rev. Vicki Gray marches in San Francisco's Pride parade.               When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
               Quickened again in every holt and heath….    
               Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
               And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
              To distant shrines well known in sundry lands,
               And specially from every shire’s end
               Of England they to Canterbury wend,
               The holy blessed martyr there to seek,
               Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak.

So begins Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  That Zephyr –- that breath of God –- has been blowing strong this spring against my bedroom window, reminding me, I think, not only that it’s time for that every-ten-year conclave of Anglican bishops called Lambeth, but also of that Baptismal calling to be what I shall be.

It’s time again for pilgrimage, my last, seven years ago, being along the Celtic fringe of Britain and Ireland where I found God in the most god-awful places, those liminal spaces between land and sea, between heaven and earth.

This time I’ve been called –- quite explicitly –- by our Bishop Marc to join him and an LGBT contingent from the Diocese of California to engage –- by speaking -– in the “Listening Process” begun at Lambeth 1998 and, so far, honored mostly in the breech.

That would-be process began with the Lambeth 1998 statement on sexuality (Resolution 1.10) that rejected homosexual practice as "incompatible with Scripture."  That resolution, which the then- Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey called "difficult and painful," also committed the church to "listen to the experience of homosexual people," and calls homosexuals "full members of the Body of Christ." It also condemns "irrational fear of homosexuals."  Thus far, however, the vast majority of bishops from Kampala to – until recently - Fresno have been loathe to listen and have, indeed, closed the door of this year’s conference to the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, the Communion’s only openly gay bishop.

The conference begins July 16 and closes with an August 3 Eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral.  After bracing my spirit in familiar wild places on the edge of the ocean and in the quiet close of Iona, I will journey to Canterbury for the last week of the conference during which the bishops will discuss human sexuality, the Windsor Process, and a proposed “Covenant” for the Anglican Communion, a binding creedal document that could lead to a two-tiered membership in the Communion.  To the extent that such a document and system would fly in the face of our centuries-old tradition of living in tension with ambiguity –- the Via Media –- it troubles me even more than any stance the bishops might assume vis-à-vis human sexuality.

Concerning that latter issue, which, by my lights, has become a paralyzing obsession in the Communion and in Christianity writ large, I do not harbor high hopes for progress toward greater inclusivity, especially given the Lenten letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.  In that letter the Archbishop wrote: “I do not hear much enthusiasm for revisiting in 2008 the last Lambeth Conference’s resolution on this matter. In my judgement, we cannot properly or usefully reopen the discussion as if Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 did not continue to represent the general mind of the Communion.”
That –- a continued barring of the door to those like me –- would be sad.  It would dishonor Paul’s admonition that we are all one in Christ Jesus, neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, and Benedict’s that all are to be welcomed like Christ.

But it would be even sadder were the bishops –- and we, the church –- to so fixate on who’s in and who’s out of their newly defined club that we ignore God’s people so pained by poverty and violence, God’s world imperiled by plundering greed, and Christ’s redeeming message of Love. 

Still, I have hope.  For a new church is emerging…perhaps a very old church re-emerging, reflecting not only new realities but Christ’s ageless message.  Listen to Bishop Marc this spring in the Chronicle: “We seek to intently follow Christ, but we don’t contain Christ. Christ transcends the boundaries of the church….It’s not a surprise to me that the culture is going to manifest Christ in a way that summons the church to new realities.  I really welcome that.  I think that’s the way it’s meant to be.”

He and all Christ’s church will need your prayers as we pilgrims wend our way to Canterbury to seek God’s help for our Church now “so ill and weak.” 

To read more from those witnessing at Lambeth, please visit http://lambethwitness.org/blogs.htm .