Programs for new bishops are sometimes referred to with some cheek as “Baby Bishops’ Schools.” Since my consecration, I have had the opportunity to attend two such programs for “baby bishops,” one offered by The Episcopal Church and the other offered by the Church of England. The English program is based in Canterbury, which I attended in February.
The experience of being in Canterbury was remarkable. Twenty-nine bishops from around the Anglican Communion gathered for 10 days of prayer, study and fellowship. Most days were spent at Canterbury, though we also had a road trip to London, with trips to the Anglican Communion Office and Lambeth Palace. I am still reflecting on this profound experience, but I want to share a few things I took away with me:
- Our Communion is wonderfully diverse. The 29 bishops in the program came from six continents and represented more than a dozen linguistic groups. Certain bishops served some of the wealthiest dioceses in the world, and others served some of the poorest. One bishop arrived late to the program because he was burying one of his priests who had just been murdered in the ongoing civil conflict in South Sudan. Another was the first bishop of a brand new diocese in Brazil, and she was creatively figuring out how to lead something so nascent and ripe with possibilities. Another bishop spoke of the real fear that the effects of climate change will wipe out entire islands near his home in Melanesia.
- Yet we are the same. In spite of our many differences, and the rich diversity of our Communion, what a privilege it was to share stories which spoke of our common fellowship. All of us shared the joys and struggles of trying to proclaim and live the Gospel in a diverse world. For some African bishops, their ministry takes place in areas where Islam is growing much faster than Christianity. For other bishops, ministry is set in the midst of an increasingly secular society. For all of us, there was recognition that ministry must be adaptable and contextual, so that the Gospel can continue to speak to the changing needs of a changing world. On a more personal level, all of us expressed the importance of balancing the demands of episcopal ministry on the one hand, with the needs of family and friendship on the other.
- It’s about Jesus. One of my enduring memories of our time together was our last day, gathered in the chapel of St. Augustine’s Abbey, not far from Canterbury Cathedral. This was the place where Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, prayed when he came as a missionary to England from Rome in the late 6th For 15 centuries, Christians have gathered there to pray, break bread and study. In that same place, we also prayed, sang, and exchanged gifts – all in the name of the same Jesus who was worshipped and proclaimed by St. Augustine all those years ago. Regardless of our differences in language, culture, theology or politics, we were united in our praise and thanksgiving to God, and in our confession of Jesus Christ as “the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church and the author of our salvation.”
- We are all in this together. Before I left for the U.K., some people predicted that bishops from other parts of the Communion wouldn’t want much to do with bishops from Canada and the U.S., given the current disagreements within the Communion. I was pleased that nothing could be further from the truth. There was an earnest desire to talk openly about some of the challenges we face, but there was also recognition and appreciation that the work of the Gospel might look very different across the various provinces and dioceses of our Church. As we prepared to return to our homes, we committed to continue working and praying together, to discover new ways to give leadership to God’s Church in all its wonderful diversity and complexity. In that mutual commitment, we have sought to respond faithfully to the prayer of Jesus, “that they may all be one.” (John 17:21)