Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Steward

It's all over, it's all over! First off, I pray you all, forgive the lack of updating. Allow me to describe the last few days in their glorious normalcy and not so glorious insanity.

Sunday we began work at 6:30am in the Big Top, where most of the stewards were singing in the choir. There's something about all these English and Commonwealth Anglicans... they can all sing four part harmonies without even knowing the song! There something diconcerting (in a jealousy-making way) about that! :p. The service went quite well and was the final worship service held in the Big Top. It was run mainly by the chaplaincy team, who were basically the stars of conference in many different ways. They were a fabulous group, absolutely amazing people.

In the afternoon was the final plenary session with the thanks/congratulations and the Archbishop's address. That went quite well and drew together a lot of the discussion on the Covenant process, which was important for many as it clarified somewhat the intentions of the Covenant as well as the report that will be released by the conference.

In the evening, we all went down to the Cathedral for an evening Eucharist. It was quite exciting. Not as opulent as the opening service, but moving in a very different way. It ended with a procession of an absolutely beautiful icon which was written by one of the stewards. The icon and procession commemorated the seven Melanesian brothers (from one of the monastic groups that made up the chaplaincy team) who were murdered a few years ago, and inducted them into Canterbury Cathedral's chapel of the martyrs.

On a slightly less sober note, we all went for supper after that in an old school hall with a twenty-piece jazz band right out of the 60s. Forget flying bishops, Dancing Bishops are a sight to see! I couldn't even imagine some of them moving like that. It was tremendous! We then got back and had our last stewards' meeting, finished at about 11:00pm, and then were back on shift at 1:30am. Needless to say, that was a fantastic shift! The first coach left at 3:00am, so we were moving luggage around all through the night/morning. All the bishops and nearly all the luggage left campus on time. Hurrah! Success!

The Lambeth conference of 2008 is now over. But there's still lots more to come!
Gotta run. Thanks all for your encouraging messages and notes!

God bless,

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Big Day

Well, today was it! The Big Day. The day everyone has been waiting for. The day on Human Sexuality. Oddly enough, it was a relatively quiet day. To be honest, the most contentious issue involving human sexuality was the streaker on the Elliot-Rutherford field flying a kite. And I didn't even find out about that until later! (I won't grace you with a photo ;) ). From all accounts, the Bible Studies went quite well today, as they seem to have gone all throughout the conference. Even the indaba groups, which have become somewhat unsettled as of late seemed to be relatively calm today. They were civil and quite interesting to hear. The rapporteurs and all them are working feverishly now to put their reports together as there are only three days left in the conference! It's incredible how time has flown by. The Windsor Continuation Group and Covenant Design Group continue to be the most talked about issue. I think there's still quite a bit of uncertainty about what the communion hopes to bring about through a covenant.

There was one question that struck me today while listening to many of the discussions; that was: How would the conversations differ if we lived in a world where ecclesiastical provinces truly were autonomous? With all the talk about provincial autonomy and independence, the interconnectedness of the different regions is still a major factor that seems to go unnoticed or at least unstated by many. A good deal of many of the Africans' rhetoric seems to emphasize it in explaining that what happens in North America in terms of legislation involving same sex relationships inevitably affects them, but I'm not sure that even they go far enough. I think that were the individual provinces truly independent of one another in all senses, then the discussions very well could be quite different; however, the fact is that they are not, and never can be. We live in a world whose basic structure necessitates community to one degree or another. The decisions of one group inevitably have consequences for members of other groups, particularly when those other groups belong to the same family. We are left in creation with the amazing ability to construct our own communities, to define the limits and boundaries of who we associate with and how, but we don't have control over that basic law that states that all things are in some way interconnected. Thus our responsibility (which, in an ethic constructed upon a basis of humility and washing of one another's feet, is just as important or more important than our right) is to properly establish a mechanism for the way in which we impact the other. There is no question of whether or not we will, only a question of how.

I think that it's time to move beyond our own in-group biases, and to stop defining our ethics by our politics. The fact that we talk about 'one side of the issue or the other' in attempting to describe an ethical matter indicates the degree to which our opinions are formed by our politics. The travesty of much of the discussions on human sexuality that I've seen over the past year has been the ignoring of the nuances and subtleties that exist in ethical matters. Praise be to God that today, I saw movements in that direction. I saw people listen to one another and try to locate themselves on a wide spectrum as opposed to simply dividing themselves into camps. This gives me hope for the Anglican Communion. Represented here are nearly 700 bishops of the Anglican church. Each of them austensibly has close connections to all of their respective priests. Each of those priests has connections with their congregants. Nearly the entirety of the Anglican Communion is therefore connected to one degree or another here, in this place and at this time. It's an amazing place to be.

Thanks be to God indeed :).


Monday, July 28, 2008

I'm Baaaaack!

After a nice respite, including a day with TWO naps, I have to say, I'm back at it. The last couple days were pretty slow; not much to report on that front. Fantabulously, tonight has seen quite a couple events pass us by. Primarily, as I speak, there's a tremendous thunderstorm waging war with the incredibly humid heat outside. Of course, that makes me quite happy. :D.

In all seriousness though, today also held another Hearing on the "issues" of the communion including sexuality, the Anglican Convenant and a whole host of other key words that get thrown around quite a bit. I was on duty in the Marketplace when the Hearings were going on, so I didn't quite catch most of them, but I've heard that they weren't quite as constructive as many might have hoped. Of course, if you've ever been part of anything similar on these topics, you'll know precisely how it went. Much talking, little listening, and virtually no understanding on either side of the issues at hand. Mercifully, the tediousness was broken up by one of the best presentations I've heard, certainly since being here, and quite possibly ever. The speaker was The Cheif Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, which of course scored bonus points with me before I even saw him on site. Cheif Rabbi Sacks is essentially, as I understand it, the chief rabbi over all the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. He was here to present on the topic of 'Covenant'. All I could think at one point was what a brilliant idea to bring in a rabbi to speak on the topic of covenant. The list of speakers impresses me more and more as each day goes by.

Rabbi Sacks' discussion of covenant took up the dual nature of the topic, as expressed originally by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. It described the Covenant of Fate as one of pragmatism that reacts to external forces that bind one to other people who are suffering under the same forms of opposition as oneself. This is a relationship established upon the basis of a requisite reciprocity that enables an oppressed group to further propagate itself in the face of adversity. The Covenant of Faith, on the other hand, is a positive marker that is established by a group that takes up a common identity with reference to dreams and aspirations. It is a hopeful identity that celebrates the unity of diversity. Furthermore, he added that the Covenant of Faith is necessarily predicated on the foundation of the Covenant of Fate, which is where one must begin: "the covenant of fate is the greatest tool God has given us for reconciliation". Rabbi Sacks also added that "the miracle of monotheism is that unity up there creates diversity down here" while referencing the effect of the Noachic Covenant and its symbol of the rainbow, which displays the radiance of the pure light of God manifest in a multiformity of colours. Rabbi Sacks further maintained that the nature of covenant itself is transformative and invokes the logic of cooperation, which seeks the synergystic result of mutual gain. This was contrasted with the "zero sum games" of both economics and politics.

In essence, the stress was upon the need for the communion to work through its differences and to maintain the sense of diversity that it both has and has had for centuries. Only through mutual cooperation and to a degree, affirmation, can a community continue on positively while maintaining both internal and external coherence with respective communities involved. Rabbi Sacks values the Anglican communion precisely for its ability through the centuries to do just that, and if ever there was a speech that made one proud to be an Anglican of any stripe, that would have been it. Anyways, I should have a transcript by tomorrow, so maybe I'll be able to speak more coherently about it then.

Until that time, fare thee all well,

Friday, July 25, 2008

On Cucumbers and Swings

Wow, so things have been a tiny bit hectic around here lately. There wasn't too much of note going on two nights ago, although I did get to a Fringe event on the Quiet Garden Movement. It was neat!

Yesterday was by far the more eventful day. More eventful because I had to get up at 5:15! The buses for London began loading at 7:15. When we got in to London, we all unloaded and began the Walk of Witness from partway down the embankment of the Thames to Lambeth Palace. You can see clips of the march here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7523539.stm. The purpose was to draw attention to the necessity of striving to reach the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), which are:

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Achieve universal primary education
Promote gender equality and empower women
Reduce child mortality
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development

Because the UK has been working pretty extensively on these issues for a few years now, Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of Great Britain addressed all the delegates and staff at Lambeth Palace. He stressed the importance of achieving the goals as well as the potential inherent within the Anglican communion to help do this. It was a good speech, but I'm anxious to see what comes of all this. It still feels as though the MDGs are too abstract to really impress upon people the absolute necessity of their results. I hope many of the bishops, particularly the ones from the "Global North" go home with a better understanding of their importance, as well as ways in which to bring them to life in their dioceses.

After Lambeth Palace we all got back on the coaches and went for a jaunt over to Buckingham Palace. Once we had all arrived, the Yoemen of the Guard created a large swath down the middle of the lawn and Her Majesty the Queen came out, accompanied by Prince Philip. She greeted a number of delegates (not me) and other people of varying fame and importance in the great scheme of church politics. We then had tea on the lawn, and yes mom, of course, I had a cucumber sandwich. It was really good! There's neither bread crust nor cucumber skin anywhere in sight! I have to say though, for all the talk about cucumber sandwiches, they had Nothing on the salmon rolls! Those were fantastic! There were also these little dark chocolates that were kind of mousse-like, and soooo sweet. Talking about sweet, I didn't actually have a cup of tea, I had a glass of iced coffee. Trust me, if you ever have to choose between Buckingham Palace, and Tim Horton's, pick the palace! Great coffee. Fabulous. After I finished my munchies, everyone walked around the garden for a bit. We saw the royal tennis court, the rose garden, the pond, the island and the bathrooms. Oh, my gosh, everyone. English port-o-potties are insane! I used one at each Palace. The one at Lambeth was a large trailer with mutiple stations. It had tile flooring and framed pictures up on the wall, complete with those crzy new sinks with the bowl on the top of the counter. The ones at Buckingham had antique floor mirrors and vanities, and they were in tents! I hear rumours that the one at Canterbury Cathedral also has marble counters and music playing. I'm astounded!

Anyways, the stewards are off on another exciting adventure soon, so I'll have to write more later. Hope all are well.

Blessings everyone,

P.S. - I forgot to mention, but it was in the title, I got to swing on the Archbishop's plank swing when I was at his house! That and, I've now used square plates! How fancy!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Indaba - Not In 'da' bar!

(OK, so maybe I didn't make that up. But it's witty!)

Once upon a time, in a land faaar across the ocean, there was a biiig, big tent. It was called the Big Top. It was the blue-est tent anyone had ever seen, with two big spires and guidelines that would trip up even the least weary traveller. Well, I've decided I'm moving in there. Forget living in Birks when you've got the Big Top! My day today started with a 6:45 shift manning the doors at the Big Top. No one except for the people with the right lanyards and passes are allowed in there. I've had to pull out my scary security face a couple times already. Of course, the entire Big Top is fenced in (not quite the 10 foot fence Ms. Glendhill has been talking about if any of you are following The Times at all), so most people have the right passes already. I was also in the Big Top for evening worship before supper tonight, and then on the Big Top security gate until 22:15. See? This is why I'm moving in to the Big Top. I'm also on for the Eucharist at 6:45 tomorrow morning, so I'll just roll out of my comfy padded chairs and already be at work. It's foolproof!

Bishops' Bible Studies have now begun, as have Indaba groups. Most of the time we can't really sit in on them though, so the shifts have been a bit monotonous. It's a lot of sitting in the hallway for two and a half hours. Those one's aren't the greatest shifts (they've got nothing on the Big Top!). The topics do look interesting though. A lot of the talk at the conference in focussed on issues of social justice, in its quite varied manifestations. There's also a big focus on the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), which quickly seem to be turning into the quintessential Anglican rallying point. I'm all for the MDGs, but I don't know how I feel about that.

Yesterday I was able to attend/work at a self-select session on Healthcare Networks, which was great and informative, but I have virtually no experience in the field, at least in terms of it's main theme, which seemed to be midwifery/infants/maternal health. Today, though, I managed to get into a session on Jesus, Evangelism and Other Faiths, which was basically an attempt to talk about soteriology in an interfaith-post-colonial context. Needless to say, I felt a bit more at home there.

For last night's plenary, we had Dr. Brian Mclaren as a guest speaker, talking about Evangelism in a post-modern context. I'm really confused by a lot of post-modern approaches to religion too. It's weird. I find I often arrive at similar conclusions to many post-modernists, but have a really different way of getting there. It seems really anti-institutional, which doesn't really provide for a great way of modifying existing structures, it just means recreating everything, over and over and over again. I'm not so sure that works. Tonight was Roman Cardinal Ivan Dias of the Vatican talking about Mission, Social Justice and Evangelism. Unfortunately I wasn't able to be there for that one, I was on gate duty. At least I got a radio with an earpiece :).

The Marketplace is also now open, and I've bought my first Rowan Williams book! It's called "Silence and Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert". A great author with an equally great theme, I can't wait to be awake enough to read it!

Well, that's about all I can think of right now. I'll try to send another update tomorrow. Thursday is London Day! Woohoo! Catch the news and look for the crazy people in the blinding orange jackets. That'll be us :). We're off to Buckingham Palace!

Adieu, tout le monde.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Starting Again

Well they're off... once again! Today signalled the actual opening of the real conference. Not the retreat conference, which ended yesterday. This morning we all went down to the Cathedral once again and got to see the Archbishop actually by his big stone chair! (i.e. - The chair of Saint Augustine - the actual cathedra). I'll readily admit that I'll probably never see another ceremony as opulent as that one, not that it was over the top or even all that extravagent, but the sheer number of people/religious leaders, from both the Anglican communion and beyond was astounding. Stepping onto the grounds was like stepping back a few centuries. As soon as we were inside, the police shut the large outer gates and we were left in the tranquility of the courtyard.
The stewards were placed by the north transept, so we were right next to the quire, which was super neat, except for the fact that Canterbury Cathedral was built, I'm convinced, in order to prevent anyone from ever seeing all of the service, as my fellow steward, Luiz, pointed out today. There's a mini wall, right in front of you if you're seated in that area, so I basically watched the tips of croziers wandering by and saw the rest on the TV screen in front of us. The service was nice, and despite what anyone says, I personally heard nothing but good things from those leaving the cathedral. I've included a link to the BBC page, but I have no audio, so I don't know what was said. All I have to go on is friends' testimony as to Archbishop Venables' statements. From what I've heard, they paint a very different picture from what I saw on the inside of the church. The Melanesian brothers in particular had everyone clapping, they're always an exciting group.
This afternoon there was another plenary describing certain processes involving the Windsor report, the Covenant draft and the discussions to come in the next two weeks. The Archbishop gave a quite succinct presentation and encouraged everyone not to abandon the conversations.

Well, I'm off for tonight. Morning prayer starts at 6:30, so I'm up early!

Bonne nuit a tous!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Post-Hiatus Update

Well, as the bishops have been on retreat for the past two days, I decided to take yesterday off from the blog in order to catch up on some much welcomed sleep. The past two days have been remarkably slow, what with the bishops down at the cathedral on retreat and all. Nonetheless, life does go on here, and the spouses' conference is getting into full swing. Last night, Jane Williams' (the Archbishop's wife's) new book, Marriage, Mitres and Being Myself was launched, with a free copy being given out to all of the spouses present at the conference (along with wine and fair trade chocolate!). The book describes the experience of being married to a bishop, from the perspective of numerous people from around the communion. I think I'll try to find a copy once the marketplace opens up. The portions that she read sounded quite interesting.

My duties over the past couple days have mostly consisted of pointing people in the right directions, giving tours of the campus, guarding gates and ushering bishops onto buses. It hasn't been highly stressful work, but it's been very active work, and I'm starting to recognize faces, which makes checking security passes that much easier.

One of the best experiences so far has come up twice in the past two days. This would be the daily compline service, which is the last service of the night, and generally happens here at about 21:45. I feel that at a conference like this, and being in the position that I'm in, there's a really strange tension between 'humanizing' the bishops and 'venerating' them. On the one hand, you see them eat and sleep and show up late to Eucharist, but on the other hand, you have the great opportunity to see what others saw when these men and women were consecrated bishops. The tension lies in drawing the line between these two poles. It's the question of what level of respect and deference is owed to the other who is fully human and yet in a position of much greater religious authority. In my experience of the past couple days, worship in the sacred space with the monks and nuns has served as the great equalizer. The chapel room is octagonal enough to be round, and there are icons and images up along all the walls, with a large cross in the centre surrounded by flowers. The brothers and sisters sit in a circle in the middle, surrounding the cross, and everyone else sits along the outside, either in the chairs set up or on the floor (of Course I picked the floor). The great thing about it is that people's humanity and fragility become incredibly evident when in such a subdued and relfective atmosphere, and one realizes that a sense of humility before God is inextricably linked with the witness of the church. When true worship happens in both spirit and in truth, the centrality of the self is destabilized and God alone is left in power and in glory. Furthermore, however, it seems to be the very act of divesting the self of prominence in deference to God that causes one to become a great spiritual leader, and this is what I see in so many people when I go to compline.

Well, I am off to the magical land of sleep in order to hopefully make the 6:30 morning prayer tomorrow.

Blessings, all.

P.S. - I finally got to knit a bit tonight, I now have a prayer shawl that's over half finished! And even better, I've had someone agree to teach me how to knit socks. Score!