Tales from Canterbury
Posted August 1, 2008
Updated August 2, 2008
Canterbury is special – really special. It was special to Saint Thomas Becket. It was special to Geoffrey Chaucer. It was special to the 11-year-old who began the Christmas Eve mass last year with his seamless singing of “Now in David’s Royal City.” It has been special to countless pilgrims and to those who call it home.
For the past two weeks, it has been, and continues to be, special to some 600 bishops and their spouses who have traveled, some at great expense, from the far reaches of the world to be part of a unique gathering called The Lambeth Conference.
By now, most of you have some idea of what this gathering within the Anglican Communion is about.
These people of God, including Bishops Curry and Gregg, are here for a number of reasons. Chief among those reasons – their commitment to Christ as shown to each other through their love of Christ.
Our diocesan Web site has proven to be a wonderful tool for those wanting to know what has taken place at Lambeth. The site is loaded with stories and links to other Web sites with more information than most of us can thoroughly digest.
Therefore, my writing and accounting from Canterbury is not to add to or compete with the stellar reporting that is still originating from here. Nor is it to add to the vitriol some are screaming from the rooftops of churches and cathedrals. I have no desire to do so. Some of the comments have been so off-base, the gargoyles at various churches have climbed back under the rooflines.
So, what may I add to the discussion? We’ll see. My desire is to bring a different perspective in reporting. – a perspective presented from a journalist who’s been journaling professionally for 30 years and is also ordained as a Vocational Deacon.
I begin with what I saw and heard today.
After an overnight flight from RDU to London, I took the train to Canterbury. A delightful two-hour journey through the English countryside passing church after church after church. I found my way to one of the few rooms in town, a small, closet-sized room at the Pilgrim’s Lodge.
From my window, I see one of the spires of the great cathedral where Thomas Becket lost his life. As I step from the Inn (by the way, they give you two keys, one to your room, -- no, the other is not the mini-bar, it’s for the front door), I walk to High Street, turn right and head through the West Gate.
The gate, which towers over the town, is close to 1,000 years old and still in operation. From there, one begins the journey to the conference held on the campus of the University of Kent.
“Five minutes by taxi,” I heard from the front desk, “Or the bus runs to the UNI every half hour.”
“What about walking,” I cheerfully asked.
“Maybe a half hour … you can do it … but I need to tell you, it does get a little steep at the end.”
“No problem,” I muse and am on my way.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, normally the average temperature in Canterbury this time of year may top out in the upper 70s. Today? Eighty-nine with a dew point that would make Greg Fishel sweat.
Remember those words, “A little steep at the end…?” By the time I reached the summit, I was spent … and drenched. Yet, at that summit, I found something unexpected. A cool breeze began to blow.
It was as if the Holy Spirit was gently bathing me in cool breath and turned me around. And when it did … there below me was Canterbury. And right in the middle … Canterbury Cathedral. The connection to this working and stellar university to the city is powerful. It’s a sense of community often absent when academia and day in and day out living seek to cohabitate.
But there it was. And there was the great metaphor of Lambeth for 2008.
Sine the last conference in 1998, much has happened. We have a female presiding bishop. She was a scientist first. Only served as bishop of a small diocese four years. Unheard of 10 years ago.
Today, she is the servant of God who serves all of us.
We also have a person elected bishop by the people of his diocese and confirmed by the House of Bishops who is openly gay and in a committed, monogamous relationship with his long-term partner. Unheard of ten years ago.
Today, he leads his diocese and does his best to absorb the hate some in the Episcopal Church have maliciously lasered to his back and his face.
Media friends of mine, today, said: “The church leaders complain that all we ask about is the issue of sexuality … we wouldn’t if they would give us something else to report on.”
Shocked, I said to my colleagues: “They give us Jesus and the charge to love our neighbors as ourselves. That’s a pretty good story.”
Eyes rolled. The quiet between us was thicker than the air outside.
I said, “Look, it’s around us on a daily basis. I know what can make a good story and what your editors want. But the story of loving neighbors is so powerful. Think of what could happen if we did!”
Yes, as another friend of mine said recently, “In the fog of dissonance, a path cleared to remind me I need not listen to any of this crazy rhetoric, positioning, manipulating, all willful behavior with little evidence of theological or philosophical reasoning behind any of this.”
What a powerful statement.
Over the next few days, I pray the Holy Spirit opens my eyes, my heart, my spirit in ways that allow me to see through the fog.
I wonder how Christians might have handled this dilemma in earlier times or better yet, what Jesus might have done had he walked into the middle of quarreling bishops. Perhaps that is one reason Jesus himself never set up such a structure we refer to as episcopacy.
If we think we have it right, we must also consider that we just may have it wrong.