Halfway through the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, the new discussion process called "indaba" is getting mixed reviews and participants said on July 26 that some groups are changing their agendas.
This conference -- the 14th since 1867 -- is the first to use the format and it was designed to provide a different method of communication than the sometimes-divisive resolutions and voting that are characteristic of parliamentary-style debate. Based on a Zulu concept, "indaba" refers to a group meeting where conflicts can be aired and a consensus agreement reached.
Each day's meetings begin after morning Eucharist with eight-member Bible study groups, which then gather in collections of five to form 40-member indaba groups. The 16 larger groups consider the day's particular topic or theme. While some bishops praise the structure, others expressed varying levels of discontent.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, speaking in a brief interview before the bishops' traditional group photo, acknowledged that "there are some frustrations, but it's important to let the process progress. We are working at getting it right." The majority of the groups are working as hoped, he said.
Bishop Mark Beckwith of the Diocese of Newark (New Jersey) wrote in a message to his diocese that "the indaba process has challenged the Western linear way of proceeding -- and I think it has opened up creativity. It certainly has exposed a deep desire that I have heard from others that we hold together as a unique body of Christ, while acknowledging that we are indeed being buffeted about by serious difference and disagreement."
He added that, "the indaba process seems to enable us to express our disagreements about theology and sexuality openly and honestly."
Bishop Robert O'Neill of Colorado acknowledged that "there has been frustration. Part of it is the physical layout of (our group's) room; it's difficult to sit facing each other. Some of it arises out of a sensation there is a Western structure overlaid on an African structure. We talked openly today. We identified things that are important for us to engage. There was a desire to take stock and make sure we had time to talk about things that are more difficult."
Some bishops -- among them Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet, England writing in a blog or Internet diary -- thought the process was trying to contain too many topics in too little time.
"The problem has been Western haste -- five topics that would each keep a UN department fully deployed for years dispatched in half a morning -- instead of (as I understand it) a long period of listening and consultation on a single pressing matter -- a meeting lasting days. But 'they' are listening to us and it should evolve," he wrote.
Several indaba groups decided to move up the discussions on human sexuality, originally scheduled to start July 31, toward the end of the conference, which runs from July 16 to August 3.
Bishop Jack Iker, Diocese of Fort Worth, said his indaba group "saw a dramatic change today" and "seized control of its own agenda." If the group waited to talk about such issues as sexuality, "we'd all be tired and impatient," so it decided to begin such discussions on July 28.
"From Canada, there was a concern about bishops and primates interfering, offering pastoral care outside their dioceses" (to conservative parishes and dioceses), Iker said. He also noted concern as to whether a province supports Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 that called homosexuality contrary to Scripture.
"We find ourselves as a diocese upholding the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference," including the one passed in 1998, but we feel our integrity doesn't have a future in the Episcopal Church."
Iker also said he heard a desire to maintain communion, but that "some bishops said to maintain that you have to stop ordaining practicing homosexuals."
Bishop Benjamin Mangar Mamur, of the Diocese of Yirol in the Sudan, said he thought the indaba groups "are going in a certain direction. I honestly feel that the direction of these questions being asked becomes clearer and clearer. They are leading to talking about gays and homosexuality. Why should they promote it? They should just teach people the world of God and not necessarily point in that direction."
He also said that the indaba concept is "strange to me," since it doesn't exist in his culture, but the Dinka people have a similar process called "kejamich" -- "if two groups that are fighting are brought together, they can air out their grievances and in the end reach consensus."
Indaba is a method of engagement, said Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba, primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. It is used by the village chief when he or she perceives a problem in the community and calls the villagers together to seek a solution, he said during a July 20 media briefing.
"What needs to happen is not to rush to quick solutions. We need to come together to define what is this that is affecting the village," he said. "We have borrowed that methodology and process for the Lambeth Conference."
Some indaba groups are putting issues apart from sexuality at the top of their agendas. Bishop Cyrus Pitman of the Canadian Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador said his group wanted to more closely align the Bible study to the indaba group. "There was a disconnect and we've adjusted the process," he said.
On July 26, he said, the Bible study was about the blind man who was healed and could now see. "In our indaba group, we talked about the environment and connected it to the person cured from blindness and who had a new outlook on things. When we talk about the environment, are we serious about this? We shared what our diocese and provinces face in terms of the environment. In Africa, there's mining; in Canada, the fishery," he said.
Bishop Julio Murray of Panama said that his group on July 28 wants to "take a deeper look at bishops and evangelism. When it was dealt with (earlier), we felt it was more mission than evangelism. The group decided we needed more time. I think all voices are being heard. What is happening is we are moving from Bible study to indaba. Many people trust the process."
Indaba, O'Neill added, isn't just the daily discussion groups, but also "the queues, the buses, the meals, the lawns," where bishops are encountering their colleagues from their home countries and from around the world.