Two Occasions: Full of Wisdom and Grace
March 23rd, 2001
Let me begin with a personal confession: I have always had what I like to think is an attitude of healthy skepticism about institutions, including the Church. To be sure, the Church is the risen body of Christ. However, few servants of the institution seem totally immune from actions which can often obscure the very One they seek to proclaim. When I was a parish priest, I more than once left before the final gavel of the diocesan convention. After I was elected Bishop Coadjutor of Chicago, a colleague wryly observed: "Well, forget leaving early!" True words indeed!
As Presiding Bishop I have done a complete about face. Though I still do not believe the church-as-institution is a full and perfect reflection of the risen body of Christ, I see the meetings and conventions, and all the various ways in which the church gathers, as occasions of wisdom and grace.
I have just returned from two back-to-back gatherings which were filled with wisdom and grace. Both were at Kanuga, an Episcopal Conference Center in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and in an atmosphere conducive to prayerful and leisurely reflection. My home for two weeks was a small cottage overlooking the lake. Across the water I could see a large white cross - a constant reminder of the One who through his death and resurrection reconciled the world to himself. Indeed, the ministry of reconciliation was the ground of both meetings, which are reported on elsewhere in this issue and on our website at www.episcopalchurch.org.
The annual meeting of the primates of the Anglican Communion, representing the 38 provinces which make up our Communion across the world, was March 2-9. Under the clear and graceful leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primates focused on common concerns: poverty and debt, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, mission and evangelism in a pluralistic world, theological education, and canon law and the ordering of our common life.
Conversations around the edges with fellow primates were instances of mutual encouragement and deeper understanding of the very different yet closely related worlds in which we seek to proclaim the gospel.
Daily worship was from our Book of Common Prayer, and our work was wonderfully supported by the daily Bible Study, introduced by Professor David Ford of Cambridge University, who was with us at our meeting last year in Porto.
We are on the way to becoming a Communion, David Ford said. How profoundly true that was, as we sought to make common cause in the name of Christ. Communion is not achieved without sacrifice and suffering. It involves the dangerous work of seeing the truth as in Jesus as it manifests itself in widely divergent contexts and particular lives.
I was very gratified by the Pastoral Letter and Call to Prayer, as well as the action plan which we produced during the meeting. These tangible fruits of our gathering will pull us toward the deeper nature of our life together.
As the primates left, our bishops began to arrive. Much to my joy, the Archbishop of Canterbury was able to spend a day with our bishops before returning to England. He addressed us informally on two occasions and opened himself to addressing some of our questions and concerns. After he left, many of our bishops said how fortunate we are at having a person of prayer and broad vision as sign and symbol of our Communion.
We were also blessed by the presence for the entire meeting of the Primates of Central Africa and Papua New Guinea, Bernard Malongo and James Ayong, whose perspectives and friendship were much valued by our bishops.
The focus for the meeting was leadership in the service of mission. The work of mission is defined in the Prayer Book as "to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." For the second time we were assisted by Ronald Heifetz of Harvard University, the author of Leadership Without Easy Answers.
As the bishops worked together I thought of something David Ford had said to the primates: proclaiming the word also involves listening to the word as it is present in the lives of others. Mission at its deepest and truest requires both giving and receiving. One must ask: how is the Christ I seek to proclaim addressing me through those with whom I want to share a word of life?
I came away from these two gatherings feeling blessed and inspired by all that I had received from my sisters and brothers in Christ. Because of these two weeks in the mountains, I now know more fully that what we share as bishops, within our own church and across the Communion, is a deep grounding in Christ from whom we all receive the ministry of reconciliation.
A final thought: David Ford said that well-run institutions supply an architecture through which wisdom can be revealed. I couldn't agree more, and my days of early departure from meetings are now behind me!
The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA