The Archbishop of Canterbury has sent out two messages, one and Advent message to the Primates which he hoped would be shared with the bishops and people of the church, and the other a Christmas message to the Anglican Communion. That one comes with no directions for dispersal. The difference between the two is quite startling.
The message to the Primates continues the Archbishop's slow dance around the issues troubling the Anglican Communion. It is a difficult document in that it leaves us with little to go on except that: (i) he thinks the Episcopal Church (TEC) has gone about as far as it can go at the moment, (ii) he is puzzled why bishops in TEC can't just make decisions concerning ordinations and blessings on their own, (iii) that Bishop Robinson (who the ABC calls Gene Robinson, finding it difficult to acknowledge that Gene is indeed a bishop) is still not invited as a diocesan to Lambeth, and (iv) there may be bishops uninvited to Lambeth still, as well as bishops uninvited to engage in the life of the Communion, on the basis of their enthusiasm for the Windsor and Covenant process. The letter is something of a mess and a disappointment.
The message to the Communion is much the better letter. It soars. At its close he asks, "Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are ashamed to be seen in – and then ask where God would be. If he has embraced the failing and fragile world of human beings who know their needs, then we must be there with him." Meditations like this is why so many of us have had such hopes in the ABC.
Applied to the current mess in the Communion, I suppose I need to spend more time with Archbishop Akinola, Bishop Bob Duncan, Bishop Martin Minns, and (since I am not in their exalted company) perhaps Matt Kennedy and Greg Griffith (actually that could be fun). Perhaps BabyBlue, who I find myself beguiled by, could serve coffee. But then that would also mean, I suppose that the Archbishop of Canterbury might do well to invite Bishop Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire, to his party.
I still think the ABC ought to invite every sitting bishop and every bishop serving in a recognized diocese to the Lambeth Conference. Yes, this would exclude bishops working in jurisdictions not their own without canonical grounding in a specific diocese of the Province in which they are ordained, deposed bishops re-upped by other provinces, various bishops working in non-diocesan jobs, etc. It would be up to Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda to show that their bishops serving in the US are in fact bishops in specific dioceses in those Provinces. If they are, then they ought to be invited as well.
The conversation at Lambeth might then mean some honest exchanges between the awful bishop of Harare and other bishops from Central Africa, bishops Minns and Robinson, Duncan and Chane, etc. There would be fascinating exchanged between bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada and those Provincial Archbishops who have bishops mucking about in their dioceses. We could let a thousand flowers bloom. Some would wilt early, but others would flourish.
Bishops Cox, Bena, Fairfield, etc would have to stay home, being retired. The deposed bishop of Recife would have to stay home being deposed. Various Provinces would have to clean up their act concerning the placement of various bishops serving in special capacities… Bishop of the Armed Forces, Ecumenical Officer, etc. But when the flurry of clean up was over only those who were deposed by their Province of origin, retired, ungrounded in a recognized diocese of a Province in the Anglican Communion, or so criminal in behavior that they could not get visas to come to England for the meeting would miss Lambeth.
"Whose company are we ashamed to be seen in?" is a fine question. A hint of the answer, my friends, is found in Jesus' remark, "Blessed is the one who takes no offense in me." Practice not taking offense. It seems the least we can do. We get to use it this word on Sunday.
The Advent Letter to the Primate is still filled with affront and seeming offense. It is not a letter of blessing. The Christmas letter to the Communion asks the right question and gives the right answer and is a blessing in itself. The Archbishop gave us a much better Christmas present than he did an Advent one. Then again that is right on the mark, since we Anglicans are an Incarnational people much more than a Second Coming crowd.