The bishops' retreat continued yesterday and ended at noon. For me the most compelling idea from Archbishop Rowan came from his expanding on a quotation from Tertullian: "A single Christian is no Christian," a principle that brilliantly summarizes core teachings of the New Testament, but one which is sometimes at variance with popular expressions of Christianity in Western cultures. The Archbishop went on to apply that communal norm to the life of bishops--within the communal life of their own dioceses, yes, but in their life together with other bishops. He challenged us to deepen that sense of belonging, both at home and in the whole world, during a time of profound tension within our communion. He did not put it this way but I will: A single bishop is no bishop.
He described two particular resources from the tradition for the work ahead, and I think that the resources have bearing for all Christians, not just bishops. Archbishop Rowan first cited the Desert Christians, those ancient ascetics who fled the cities and populated the deserts of Egypt and Syria beginning in the third century. He noticed something about them I had never before recognized, that while they were absolutely rigourous about their own lives, both spiritual and material, vigilant never to give in to false fantasies about themselves, they resisted the impulse to apply that same rigor to the lives of others. They held themselves under continual judgment and at the same time practiced the principled suspension of judgment toward anyone else. What a concept! In conflict made toxic by the immediacy of communication, when judging the other is as quick as a few key strokes, what if we practiced another discipline? What if we were to scrutinize self without reserve but refuse to confess the sins of anyone else? These wildly excentric Christians from the past did just that, and their devotion to prayer without ceasing made it possible.
The Archbishop cited the Rule of Benedict as a second resource, especially appropriate as we were gathered in a cathedral whose very existence grew from the work of Benedictines. And in particular he talked about obedience, a hard word for moderns to hear, but one that can be oddly liberating. He encouraged us to hear Benedict's idea of obedience not as a hierarchical one but one that is radically inclusive. The word of every monastic, according to the Rule, may become the word to be obeyed--and that includes even the young and inexperienced. In a community, theirs might be the true word of wisdom. Transposing that insight to the Anglican Communion, he encouraged the bishops to attend to the small Churches, and the newer ones, the marginalized ones--and to expect wisdom to emerge from unlikely quarters. Again, it is the life of prayer which undergirds such life-giving obedience.
Finally, today Archbishop Rowan expounded on Hebrews 10:19-25, to describe a style of leadership that might be called Christian and to state the obvious: The only way for a Christian to lead is to follow where Jesus has gone before. Hebrews suggests that there is a way cleared for us already, and Jesus is the one who has done the clearing.