I’m afraid you won’t be seeing much of me in the parish this month. I’m away more than I would choose this summer because Covid has shunted all the events planned for this and the last two years to come all at once. And the big one coming up is the Lambeth conference.
I’m off to Canterbury to stay in the University of Kent for two weeks. Over 600 bishops from around the world will be there mostly with their spouses. I’m not fond of large gatherings (Parcevall Hall is my kind of venue) but there are some good reasons for going.
The motivation behind such a huge event is the need to share different perspectives. It is all too easy to get into the habit of thinking that our (English) way of doing things are right and their (e.g. African) ways are wrong. Reinforced by other in our own bubble it is easy to become arrogant and dismissive. For instance, in many African countries women are not ordained as priests, let alone bishops. I, of course, think that we know best. But take other issues. Africans are often shocked by our individuality. They don’t count how many people are in their congregation, but how many families. They are appalled that we don’t automatically worship together with our children and grandchildren. We have the same core beliefs but are shaped by our own cultures.
In many countries bishops’ wives automatically are expected to support their husbands’ ministries, often by caring for and running Bible study classes for the clergy wives in their dioceses. But whereas the bishop has been to college and studied theology himself, his wife might have had very little post primary education and feel that she is ill equipped for the task. At the Lambeth Conference there is a separate spouses’ programme where we can study the Bible together and share our different experiences. But imagine being a woman who has not only never been to the UK before, but who is also travelling abroad for the first time. She has a little English, but it’s not her first language. The food, the customs and the expectations are completely new. That’s where I come in. As the spouse of an English bishop, I can help people to find their way to the next venue, to understand the menu at mealtimes, and I can lend them a cardigan when I think it’s a hot summers day, and my friend from a tropical country thinks it is distinctly chilly!
It seems to me that my main input will be in those in-between times, and in the small groups when we can really share about what is happening in our dioceses and our lives. So, I’m thinking that the plenary sessions (horrendously big from my point of view) might be a good time to make phone calls and answer my emails. I’m not on holiday, so don’t be afraid to send things my way.
Don’t quote me on the above, because If I come back without a far deeper knowledge of the issues involved, I will have wasted quite a lot of my time! I hope to not only better understand other cultures, but to see how much I am influenced by our own way of life. Watch out for Facebook posts to tell you about how I am experiencing it in the moment. Perhaps you would like to join me on the adventure of discovery of the many different facets of the Anglican church worldwide?