“Whenever we face another, we see a reflection of God’s infinite love and glory.” “[The] church catholic declares that life is sacred and all persons are worthy of respect and worthy of conditions that make for life in all its fullness. From such holy standards there can be no faithful dissent.” Lambeth Call: Human Dignity
Lambeth Conference has been an extraordinary experience of Communion. I don’t mean just the sacrament of bread and wine, although I certainly mean that, Lambeth Conference has been an experience of communion in love, unity, and reconciliation that is ours in Christ and through Christ.
For most of us, when we participate in Holy Communion—the Sacrament, we do so shoulder to shoulder with people we know–with family: our village family; our parish family; our friends. On any given Sunday, at peace and ease in our home churches, we are not likely to experience an extraordinary breadth of differences or encounter someone who is visibly discomfited by our presence.
Not so here at the Lambeth Conference. Here the differences and varieties of Christian lives are nearly beyond description. There are 9 different language interpreters alone. There are bishops here who serve in areas where persecution is very real. Bishops who serve in areas where extreme poverty is the norm in their diocese. There are bishops here who serve where to be baptized is to risk the loss of all social status or even one’s work. There are many bishops here for whom an Episcopal bishop from Alaska is a most curious thing to encounter–different.
What could we possibly have in common? Turns out, more than one could imagine. We share a communion.
It is in this diverse gathering that I have felt the deepest sense of communion. Here I have been challenged to expand my comprehension of God’s love and glory as it is reflected in another person’s face. Here I have been given the gift of knowing more deeply what it is to seek and serve Christ in all persons and what it is to respect the dignity of every human being. Here I have received the gifts of Christian Fellowship and discovered these gifts are no more richly given than outside the walls of our own experience, our own church, our own neighborhood, and friends In fact, here I have learned that the greatest gifts of Christian Fellowship are received across differences.
“There is one Body and one Spirit; there is one hope in God’s call to us.” We are one in Christ despite our differences and disagreements.
This Lambeth Conference has been honest about the differences that exist within the Anglican Communion despite our unity in Christ. However, where it has often been the practice of the church to reduce human differences to right or wrong, orthodox or heretical, for the purpose of claiming or establishing holiness and casting out the “unholy” other, this gathering of bishops has witnessed the Holy Spirit’s power to move within and through disagreements to bind the church in unity. Difference does not demand outcasts.
We have acknowledged with the Lambeth Conference in 1998 that “all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (1.10 1998). Listening deeply, speaking vulnerably and recognizing the costs to both sides, we have acknowledged that the Anglican Communion is not of one mind on the definition of marriage, but we will remain committed to walking together despite this reality, and honor that both perspectives on marriage are held by faithful Christians who love the Lord, take the scriptures and traditions of the Church seriously, and read and study the Bible carefully.
As I was preparing to depart for this Conference, I posted on my Facebook page how grateful I am for the experience of serving as the bishop of a diocese that can maintain deep differences on important matters of faith and practice while remaining deeply committed to one another. We walk together in the hope of Christ as His Beloved Community. There must be no “outsiders” in beloved community.
As your bishop, please know that I hold everyone in this diocese as beloved, for I know you are all beloved of God. I am committed to walking with each of you in your life of faith, and praying and striving for each of you to have access to conditions that make for life in all its fullness. However, though my heart is set on understanding and respect for every human being, I will not shy away from confronting all forms of prejudice, discrimination, and injustice while walking with those with whom I disagree.
Let us set our hope on Christ, in him we shall never hope in vain. He is our unity and our life.