The landscape of the University of Kent would look familiar enough to Missourians. It's a campus, typical enough, with classrooms and halls and dorms, very clean, just to the north of the city of Canterbury. A distinguishing mark for the Lambeth Conference on the campus is a large double-tent set toward the middle, put up for worship and for plenary sessions. No jokes, please, but it is called the Big Top.
And there we met late this afternoon for the usual and customary briefing about logistics and words of welcome. We did sing, and the ability of this short-term community lift our voice in song was pretty impressive, right off the bat. The very first thing we did, as an act of convening, was to sing an alleluia from South Africa. Fitting, this song of victory and resurrection's hope.
There is a buzz of excitement and anticipation all around the campus as bishops, spouses, and guests continue to arrive for the conference, with the renewal of friendships and acquaintances, and a presence of belonging, simply because we are Anglicans, simply because we are Christians. I sense that whatever disagreements we Anglicans might have, and have them we do, they are the the sorts of disagreements that occur within the family. Family spats may, in fact, be the most disagreeable sort, but the belonging does not thereby become void. There is no doubt in my heart or mind that these peculiar people, and I happily include myself among the peculiar, all belong together and to one another. The challenge during the days ahead may be to rely heavily on the bonds that already exist, through our belonging established in Christ Jesus and our baptism into his body the Church. Archbishop Rowan spoke forthrightly this afternoon about the wounds in our communion and emphasized that relationship alone will not close the wounds--but apart from relationship, with one another and together with God, then there is no chance for healing.
Philip Aspinall, the Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia and principal spokesperson for the bishops at the conference, briefed us all about various aspects of communications during the our time here. And he emphasized the importance of confidentiality, especially for the Bible studies (groups of eight bishops) and the Indaba groups (forty bishops). So I will not be posting about them, except, following Archbishop Philip's suggestion, as trends develop from these groups become clearer in the whole conference. But no names whatsoever, and nothing directly from these crucial small- and middle-sized groups.
At the heart of the Conference this time is Bible study from John's gospel. There is a companion booklet here, suggested as appropriate for personal or group Bible throughout the communion. The booklet prepared for Lambeth, available in seven languages, is about twice as large but also includes the whole text of John. I have glanced through the two booklets, the one for the Conference and the one available on the web, and they do closely mirror one another. It is one way to join with the work of the conference.
I do ask that you join what we are doing here with the support of your prayers. It has been humbling these past few months to hear the assurances of prayers for Lambeth, as I have traveled around the Diocese of Missouri. It has been poignant to hear the urgency of assurances around the Birmingham Diocese these past few day. It is no small thing, and Archbishop Rowan remarked on the unity of prayer for this conference, from all around the communion, and how important it is. I hope you realize this importance, also.