Monday, July 14, 2008

Letters from Lambeth 1998

This Episcopal News Service photo by Jim Solheim with Bishop Chilton Knudsen in the foreground was taken just before a Lambeth Eucharist. She was the first woman bishop to participate in an official Lambeth worship service.

Below are the original "Letters from Lambeth" Bishop Knudsen sent back to Maine in July and August, 1998. While they were posted on our fledgling 12-page diocesan website, many more people read them in hard copies that were sent to each congregation. How times have changed!

Bishop Chilton had been consecrated and installed as diocesan bishop in Maine just four months before heading to the Lambeth Conference in July 1998. She was one of four diocesan bishops who were women, one of eight women bishops in the Episcopal Church, and one of 11 women bishops in the Anglican Communion. The Lambeth Conference in 1998 was the first ever to welcome bishops who were women, since Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts, Barbara Harris, was consecrated in 1989.

From the joy of meeting and worshiping with other bishops from around the world to the painful experience of being hissed when she raised her hand to vote "No" on the compromise resolution regarding human sexuality, reading her letters from the most recent Lambeth Conference is a great way to get a sense of what's to come over the next few weeks.

First Letter from Lambeth
Received July 23, 1998

My window in Rutherford dorm looks right out across a small valley, and the looming presence of Canterbury Cathedral is in my sight as I sit at my window, first thing in the morning and last thing at night (when the cathedral is dramatically lit up). The pace of this conference is intense...the stimulation of so many ideas, conversations, new faces, reading material, press interviews, etc., have forced me to find a few centering points in the days’ schedule.

One of those points is our morning Eucharist each day. A moment which always moves me is the Lord’s Prayer, prayed in the native tongue of each participant, all making a hum of prayer which rises and falls like a great wave. Other centering moments come in walking back and forth across the campus; after a bit of rain, we have clear and mild days, and the air is ALMOST as sweet-smelling as in Maine. We who are women bishops have been uniformly well-received. It is clear that some people are uncomfortable, but cordiality reigns. The vast majority of people are thrilled that we are here, and have been going out of their way to greet and meet us.

The whole Conference is filled with a rich exchanging of stories; what is ministry like in your diocese? what are the challenges you face? what gives you joy? From an Australian aborigine (who has led women’s empowerment groups for her people), to a bishop from Rwanda, to a bishop’s wife from the Sudan, to a British bishop who spent his boyhood going to camp in Maine, this conference has been filled with the lovely grace of simple human encounter. It is our incarnational faith - our deep understanding that Christ is present in the fullness of all human experience, and in each and every person - that is so profoundly evident to me right now. Christ’s life within each life, and within the life of this gathered community, so apparent and so tender. We ARE part of a larger family, a broader community. And what happens to our companions in faith touches us all: each of us remarks about this amazing sense of belonging together. In spite of the very strong differences between us, there is a true sense of family here.

Our section has been working hard on a variety of human rights issues. We have had superb presentations on such tough issues as international debt, ethnic rivalry, New Testament ethics, and the role of Scripture in the Church. All of these have filled me with sermon material (watch this space!) and with stimulating notions for deeper reflection. If I have one lament, it is that there is simply SO MUCH to ponder, and so little time to ponder. As you know, I was slated to offer the intercessions at the opening Eucharist; a task shared with the Bishop of the Seychelles. It was an awe-filled moment to pray in that historic space. And it turns out that this was the first occasion of a female bishop doing anything official in the I have had a bit of press excitement and attention. Each day we start with prayer and Bible study (after the early Eucharist) in our small groups. Our group has come together quickly. We each pray aloud for our people, and for one another’s ministry as a bishop. You are lifted up in prayer daily. I think that’s another one of those centering points I mentioned in my first paragraph.

Last night as I was walking through the foyer of my dorm, I heard a number of women from South Africa begin spontaneously to sing, with clapping and dancing. As I watched them, I felt overwhelmed at being a part of what is indeed a global community, a gathered people, who seek to serve Christ in so many corners of the world.

Thank you all for your prayers for us all. We need your prayers as we move deeper into the conference, and begin to identify the real points of tension within our Communion. Hold us all in your hearts of prayer.

Blessings and love to you all, +CHILTON

Second Letter form Lambeth
Received July 26, 1998

To God’s beloved in Maine -
It feels now that we are moving into our work with greater focus and intensity. It’s time to draft resolutions and reports "From the Bishops of the Anglican Communion" and we are all busily typing and reading and editing. After the written material gets into final form, there will be plenary debate and adoption (or non-adoption) of the various resolutions and reports. The plenary debates are where we will put to the test the very congenial, respectful and close connections we have made with one another in our worship, Bible studies, and meal time chats. There will be some heated debate about a number of issues, including relationships with Muslim countries, world economics, human sexuality, environmental matters and disarmament.

I continue to relish the moments of re-centering in the midst of all this sustained activity. Our daily worship deepens as we grow to know one another better. Today (Sunday) the Eucharist was led by the Church in Polynesia and New Zealand, and was joyfully done, with some of the customs of the Maori people sprinkled into the liturgy. They do a haunting entrance rite into the sacred space of the worship area, with movements that evoke a sense of reverent gathering and quieting. The prayer in other languages continues to flow among us and brings up the heart dimension of prayer - when we don’t understand the words used, we have only to listen with the heart.

People continue to be welcoming of me/us, and there has been not one bit of discomfort by any of the women bishops here. We check in with each other regularly, and have only good to report. Our brother bishops in the US are being very protective - regularly they come up and ask if we are OK. It feels to me like living with a big brother (in the good sense!). It has been VERY good for this Lambeth to break through the gender barrier as it has. I have had more invitations than I can count to come overseas to this or that place to provide people a chance to meet a bishop who is a woman (I have not accepted any of these invitations...but have referred them on to others who are a bit more settled in their dioceses than I am ---this year is the year to stay home after Lambeth and settle in with you-all and with my family).

Tonight we go to a special visit to Canterbury Cathedral with a service of Compline there, with special intentions for our own ministries of peace and justice. Know that I will be praying for you all and for our life together tonight in that very holy place.

Tuesday we are off to see the Queen - with tea at Buckingham Palace and a ride down the Thames River. I think of Maine often - not in any fretting way, but with heart-felt gratitude that we have been called together as we have.

Blessings and love in Christ, +CHILTON

Third Letter from Lambeth
Received August 1, 1998

Dear Friends:
It has been an incredible week. Monday we began our in-earnest section report-writing and resolution-drafting, with more keyboarding and wordsmithing. Amazingly, and grace-fully, our section has just about come to unanimity on its findings and recommendations. We hear that other sections are struggling with controversies and not yet finding consensus. The Chaplaincy team is putting in extra prayer time for the spirit-filled kind of consensus which these groups are seeking. A lesson for all of us - freshly offered to me - is how much we do agree on how many issues. The substance of our unity is so much larger than our differences. My prayer is that we will emerge from this conference with a spirit of deep communion and unity even as we acknowledge some significant differences in points of view.

Tuesday was LONDON DAY! Lunch at Lambeth Palace (with a tour of the gardens beforehand). Lunch was served under a tent on the lawn, with probably 1000 people present. Tony Blair was our speaker and he was quite good; spoke of how the church and the public sector are called to be about holding and advancing values which reverence human destiny and dignity. Then, off by bus to Buckingham Palace, and tea with the Queen. We made quite a sight, parading through London on our way into buses, with police escort, all in our purple cassocks and native dress. While I wasn’t one of the lucky ones who got to meet Herself, I was in a group near her. She has amazingly kind eyes. I wondered to myself what her life feels like to her...and thought of how the last visual memory I have of Buckingham Palace comes from late last summer when TVs all over the world were beaming pictures of a flower-bedecked Palace gate, thronged with people mourning Diana’s death. In one of those wonderful congruencies of time and memory, I realized that I gotten up early that morning to watch Diana’s funeral on TV, and later that same day went to O’Hare airport to pick up Jon Strand and Bev Breau who came to visit me for the Maine Nominating Committee.

My, how one association triggers another... One of the most beautiful times of each day is our Bible Study in small groups. My group has truly become a support and prayer experience. We are sharing very deeply with one another as bishops, and I am struck over and over at how the Spirit seems to draw us into experiences which shape us as we later see we needed to be shaped. I am also humbly aware of how much freedom and ease we take for granted in the American Church - some of my Bible Study brothers have spent time in prison, some have gone into exile, some are paid at poverty level, some have had family members threatened, attacked and killed. Pray, sisters and brothers, for those who suffer for the sake of conscience or faith - and pray that we may be deepened in our gratitude for all the blessings which we so often take blithely for granted. The power of Christ is at work among us, even as we wrestle with our differences. I have had my heart stretched and broken at the stories I hear, and have had my heart warmed at the amazingly warm welcome and affection which continues to surround those of us who are women, and the genuine spirit of community we have built.

Our worship times together feed me. The presentations on Christian-Muslim relations added a solemn note, as we heard more stories about religious tension and struggle. I feel God calling us all to learn how to live in the world with differences, while at the same time holding firm to the vision of justice for all people. Another high point of our week has been our retreat day - on Thursday evening Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities (in which handicapped and able-bodied people live together in witness to human solidarity) spoke to us of reconciliation and holiness. We then had a candlelight evensong, penance service and footwashing, and kept a time of silent prayer with vigil and music. Our people, our witness and our life in Christ as the Diocese of Maine, were all held in prayer along with so much else flowing from a full (at this point, a bit overfull!) heart.

As I write this, it is Saturday afternoon, and I am enjoying some down time. We have no formal events scheduled for this "free" weekend. Later today, I will go with Fr Alan Duke, who knows and loves Maine, to his home to spend the night and preach tomorrow in his congregations. One of them is the church where the great Anglican theologian Richard Hooker was the vicar. I may be able to send one more bulletin next week, & will be developing a pastoral letter for all of you to share with your congregations after I return. There may very well be a pastoral from all the bishops here at Lambeth also.

Know that you are all in my heart’s prayer, that Christ may be lighting your paths and enfolding you with love. +CHILTON

Fourth Letter from Lambeth
Received August 6, 1998

To God's Beloved in Maine:
This last week of the Lambeth Conference has been exhausting and painful. We have moved into plenary debate and voting on various resolutions, many of which became hotly controversial as they emerged from committee. I am deeply saddened by many of the actions which the conference has taken. For example, a balanced compromise resolution on human sexuality emerged from the relevant committee. This committee had met for agonizing hours, and represented every conceivable point of view. As different as their opinions were, they had come, slowly and painfully, to a document they could unanimously agree on. But this document was rapidly amended on the floor into a harsh and strident pronouncement which passed overwhelmingly, with most of the votes coming from the developing world, which has a huge majority of bishops amongst our group. Feelings run high on this issue. As I put up my hand to vote "no", I was hissed and verbally harassed by people sitting around me.

You may have seen headlines in the USA about Lambeth's decision on the issue of human sexuality. While no action of the Lambeth Conference has any legislative weight on any part of the Anglican Communion, the world has been watching our decisions (I wish the world were watching our OTHER decisions as carefully). I want to refresh all of us about my own position, which I openly shared with you during the election process last fall. I am prayerfully persuaded that God is calling us to be an inclusive church, in which all people are warmly welcomed, without prejudice or condemnation. I welcome, and give thanks for, the life we in Maine share as brothers and sisters, male and female, old and young, gay and straight, conservative and liberal. I will do everything in my power to assure that Maine becomes ever more a safe place for everyone to seek and serve Christ, whatever their opinions or circumstances. In the sacrament of Baptism, we are grafted into Christ. No one can ever be excluded. While Christ's Body was pierced, and bruised, it is a risen Body. And that is who we are. The Body of Christ, all members one of another. All of us loved, all of us being healed and forgiven, all of us being formed for service, all of us learning how to find Christ in every person.

Although much continues to be sheer pleasure (our small group is always full of grace, the worship remains a great blessing, and the sharing of heart-stretching stories continues in our mini-U.N.), I am a bit weary and ready to sleep in my own bed. And the coffee here is terrible (I will make a beeline for Maine Coffee Roasters). And, yes indeed, I miss being with you all. It will be good to catch up and find out what has been happening in the lives of those who form the Body of Christ back home.
My love and prayers, +CHILTON

1 comment:

The Rev. Nicole said...

this is so cool! nsj+