I write this shortly after the close of the General Convention as I continue to reflect upon the events of those full and demanding days in Columbus, Ohio. I now want to offer a few early observations.
The first is that we are looking beyond ourselves and are actively engaged in God’s work of reconciling all things to himself in Christ. A review of actions taken makes that very plain.
The prominence given to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is a concrete sign of our commitment to mission for the sake of the world.. The archbishop of York, who was with us at my invitation, said in his remarks to the House of Bishops that he could see this commitment to mission and that our love for the Lord is deep.
My second observation is that we are indeed a community able to embrace difference. I also was made profoundly aware that in the midst of our diverse opinions there is a strong and solid center that is able to make room for many points of view while sharing a common understanding of what it means to be church together in mission for the sake of the world.
Third, I am profoundly aware that we are a worshipping church, and our daily grounding in Word and Sacrament helped to orient us and provide perspective on the multifaceted and complex work that lay before us each day.
The fourth is that we are a community able to listen to one another and thereby allow our perspectives to be enlarged. There were many instances in the course of the convention – during hearings and committee meetings, as well as on the floor of the two houses – when the costly discipline of listening and receiving and making room for the “other” was much in evidence.
The practice of conversation is a discipline I have spoken about frequently over the last nine years. By conversation I do not mean superficial discourse, but rather listening with an undefended heart to the words and experience of the “other” whose perspectives, and possibly very being, may appear to us as dangerous or threatening.
One of the saddest realities of present-day life, both in the church and beyond, is that we tend to lead with our conclusions. We do not take the time to solicit from one another respectfully, and with care, the presuppositions that have led us to our conclusions. In conversation, we have to take that time. While acknowledging another’s conclusions, we then must ask: “Now help me understand how you got there – and let me share with you how I got to where I am.” I believe that we as a church are increasing in our ability to think with others and not simply about them.
John E. Lawyer, in an article titled “Conversatio in the Rule of St. Benedict,” which appeared in Cistercian Studies, noted that conversation and conversion come from the same Latin root. Conversation is related to the passive form of the Latin verb conversare, which means "to turn around." In its passive form, it becomes conversari, "to be turned around." In the Rule of St. Benedict, conversatio is used to describe the fundamental dynamic of monastic life: being turned around again and again by life in community and all that living with others entails.
Conversatio presupposes that truth is discovered largely through relationship with others as we encounter their truth, which we pray reflects the truth which is in Christ. Persons who are willing to enter into the exacting demands of conversation will find themselves drawn more deeply into the mystery of communion with Christ who is the Truth.
One of the most difficult conversations in the course of the convention had to do with a call to standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction to “exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.” A difficult and costly decision was made with the passage of this resolution by a very strong majority in both houses.
In June of 2005, the Anglican Consultative Council took positive steps to initiate across the Anglican Communion the listening and study process on human sexuality. This process was the subject of a resolution at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 in which the bishops committed themselves “to listen to the experience of homosexual persons.”
I am very grateful that at long last the listening process has begun. It is my sense that one of the consequences of our difficult conversations and decisions around sexuality at the General Convention is that we have created space so the global conversation on sexuality, which includes the voices of gays and lesbians, can at last begin.
It is my earnest prayer that, as the listening process unfolds; deep conversation will take place across the communion that will allow us, in the midst of our differences, to discern the presence of Christ in one another. May we then be drawn together with a renewed sense of mission for the sake of the world.