In February, we had the pleasure of welcoming 26 bishops to our annual Bishops’ Conference.
The eight day course is designed for those in the early years of Episcopal ministry. Since its start in 2004 we have welcomed over 200 bishops from all corners of the Anglican Communion to share their experiences in the company of others.
The aim of the conference is to help and equip individuals in their ministry by exploring the different aspects of the Episcopal ministry through lectures, workshops and discussion groups. It is a time for growth, friendship and education.
New Bishops in Canterbury
“For me it was a short trip down Britain’s east coast, for others the journey was much more gruelling. In the end, 26 bishops, men and women, from every continent (except Antarctica), gathered to spend eight days together in The Precincts. It was a time of blessing, yet a chastening and demanding experience too.
For example, two South Sudanese bishops had arrived out of a war zone, following the now customary wrangle with the UK Borders Agency over visas. How very tame British disagreements over Scottish independence seemed in the face of their experience! And how shocking and shaming it was to hear from a First Nation Canadian bishop about the way her community’s children had (in living memory) been taken from their parents so that they might be schooled in ‘civilised culture and values’.
Slowly we got to know each other, to respect each other, to challenge and enjoy each other. And all in the context of a great Christian building. ‘Welcome to your Cathedral,’ said Dean Robert on the first morning. And it did become ours. Not just because Canterbury lies symbolically at the heart of the Anglican Communion but because its Cathedral is large enough, in every sense, to have room for us. The Cathedral was our daily companion, a living place, a place to pray, to wander after dark, to seek not only tranquillity and angel choirs but also the legacy of a turbulent priest and Melanesian martyrs.
Our programme ranged widely over the esoteric demands of ‘bishopping’. We visited the Anglican Communion Office in London and St Martin-in-the-Fields. We reflected on the Anglican Communion’s relationship to colonialism. We studied the bible together; we ate together and prayed together. And on the last day we gathered in St Augustine’s Chapel and exchanged gifts.
Most pertinent of all, perhaps, was our first main session when Canon David Porter, the Archbishop’s Director of Reconciliation, reminded us that conflict is not a distraction from the gospel for ours is a gospel of reconciliation. We were only too well aware of the tensions that threaten to divide Anglicanism, so it was helpful to learn from David’s experience, forged in the crucible of Northern Irish peace-making.
He spoke of the painfulness of peace. ‘Enemies becoming friends,’ he said, ‘does not look or feel good.’ Peace settlements can leave a lot of very loose ends that look and feel like injustice. He quoted Stanley Hauerwas: ‘Reconciliation occurs when my enemy tells me my story in a way to which I can say “yes”.’ Easy enough, we realized, to call each other friends but are we really willing to listen to those parts of our stories that may place us at enmity? And when we have done that, are we able to imagine a future for the Anglican Communion that includes those we disagree with?
Were there any shortcomings to the conference? Not really. I would like to have known in advance who was coming and what the programme might be; I would have liked more opportunity for deeper sharing in groups. But these are minor quibbles, overshadowed by the primary blessings of the week: the people, the programme and the place; and (changing the alliteration) Canon Chris and Cathi, Course Director and Administrator, respectively. Chris’s candlelit pilgrimage through the Cathedral was unforgettable, his wit and companionship integral to the success of the group.
Thank you to Dean, Chapter, choir and congregation for making us feel so welcome in ‘our’ cathedral. Thank you to the other bishops for making such an effort to be there. Now, as I pray my way through the Anglican Cycle of Prayer every so often I shall discover a name to which I can put the face of a friend.”
Bishop of Edinburgh
For information about the 2015 Conference, please contact
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In the Press
Click below to view related coverage from the local, national and international media
‘New bishops course “crucial” to their ministry’– Anglican Communion News Service – (03/02/2014)