Last Sunday at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California), we heard a presentation by the Reverend Channing Smith’s about his recent trip to Gloucester, England, to participate in a meeting of four Bishops. Channing is the lead priest, or Rector, for St. Andrew’s.
Three of the Bishops, the Right Rev. Gerard Mpango (Bishop of Western Tanganyika), the Right Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves (Bishop of El Camino Real, our own bishop), and the Right Rev. Michael Perham (Bishop of Gloucester) have been a triad since they meet at Lambeth in 2008. They have all met in England, Tanzania, and the USA several times since then. (You can see pictures of their visit to San Jose California on my blog.) Joining the triad’s meeting because he was visiting the area was his Lordship Rev. Thomas Dibo Elango (“Bishop Dibo”), the first-ever Bishop of Cameroon.
In a long joint letter released today addressed to The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace in London, the triad Bishops wrote about celebration and diversity, culture and risk, and keeping it small and personal. Here is the letter’s section on “Culture and Risk”:
Our partnership has always been associated with risk: risk of misunderstanding from those from our own cultures as much as those from another culture. We have sought to recognize how much of our theology is bound up with our culture. This is, of course, especially true of the debates surrounding gender and sexuality, where notions of what is acceptable, normative or even a justice issue vary widely between us. However, it is also true of our other debates – as we have explored orders of ministry and the doctrine of salvation, we continue to debate how our theology relates to our cultural context, as we have lived out building the Kingdom and the Church in ways which witness to the work of the Spirit in languages whose differences go so much further than just words. All of us believe that all cultures should be subject to judgment from the scriptures, but we come to differing conclusions about what that looks like in practice. We have risked our security in the adventure of faith, allowing the possibility that God will lead us into unfamiliar and alien ways of witnessing to his saving love. We have built a new community culture each time we have met, under the direction of one host diocese or another, around the common discipline of scripture, worship, prayer and honest discussion.
The three Bishops also wrote about the unfortunate controversy that arose last month in London over Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori being asked not to wear a symbol of her office:
As we were meeting, the statements regarding the visit of the Presiding Bishop of [The Episcopal Church] to England placed some strain on our friendship and communication, providing an unfortunate background to our meeting. When there is adverse or controversial publicity nationally or internationally, it does undermine the best efforts of those working more locally. We ourselves see our partnership relationship as a gift from God, and seek to celebrate the Anglican Communion in the same terms.
Knowing all of this, it was particularly interesting to see Channing’s photos and hear first hand how the Gloucester meeting of the four Bishops went. Channing spoke about the thousand-year-old Gloucester Cathedral and the wonderful connection he felt to the tradition and history of our church. He said that each culture has a different starting point to enter theology; that is, theology is tied to our culture. The Anglican Communion is looking at why this particular partnership of Bishops is so strong. Channing said he saw the incredible affection the Bishops have for each other, their acceptance of differences, and their deep regard for the other person’s faith. It was an inspiring and encouraging presentation. We are so proud of Bishop Mary! With permission, here are some of Channing’s photographs from Gloucestershire:
Images Copyright 2010 by Rev. Channing Smith and Katy Dickinson