Over the weekend, the work of the House of Deputies was interupted for 20 minutes when the President of the House invited a group of speakers from parts of the Anglican South to address the deputies. It was an unexpected event and Bonnie Anderson was pretty mysterious about what was going to happen when she proposed suspending the rules to allow our guests access to the floor of the House.
Something like six visitors from all around the world, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, New Zealand (and one other?) brought us greetings from their provinces and assured us of their prayers for us.
I have to admit that I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. I’m so used to having visitors from the Communion take us to task for what we have done or not done in the Episcopal Church. But as the speakers went on, there was none of that, at least in the beginning.
But when the Dean of Georgetown began to speak to us I realized that this was going to be different. He spoke of the admiration that the people of the Province of South Africa have for the Episcopal Church and our struggles to remain faithful to the tasks God has given us and the context in which we minister. He brought us words from Desmond Tutu thanking us for our Christlike restraint and obedience to the harsh words of the larger Communion. And he gently chided us for being too accomadating to our critics in the Communion…
When he got to that point I knew something was different.
So when the final speaker, Jenny Te Paa, a member of the Lambeth Commission which had created the Windsor Report, rose to speak to us, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Dr. Te Paa had spoken to us in 2006 when General Convention met in Columbus. I don’t remember her exact words, but they were something to the effect that while she loved the Episcopal Church and the many progressive stands we had taken, she was concerned that we were willfullly damaging the Communion and that we needed to slow down. Coming from a liberal member of the Windsor Commission, I listened very carefully to what she said.
But this day, in Anaheim, her tone was very different. She began by reminding us that she came from the only Province of the Communion (New Zealand) that has ever been formally censured by the Communion. (They were censured for creating a polity that explicitly required a parity among the various races of New Zealand in the leadership of that Province, which was a critically important response to the context in which they lived.) She then confessed her sadness that she had misunderstood the polity of the Episocpal Church when she had served on the Lambeth Commission. She specifically mentioned her being misled as to the role and authority of our Presiding Bishop within the Episcopal Church. And she both apologized and shared her regret that she had been party to the harsh words spoken. (You can read her full remarks here.)
What surprised me as she was speaking was the GIANT lump that was rising in my chest. I was almost overwhelmed by an emotion of gratitude that someone finally had recognized the truth about the Episcopal Church. We have been accused of doing so many things, most of which we simply haven’t done. General Convention did not force Gene Robinson on the people of New Hampshire. Frank Griswold did not ordain Gene contrary to the wishes of the people of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church has not turned its back on the Anglican Communion no matter what voices in the Communion are saying.
I was so grateful that someone of stature from the rest of the Communion was finally hearing us and publicly admitting error.
Fast forward to Sunday lunchtime. I’d been invited (for some reason unknown to me) to a lovely lunch sponsored by the Chicago Consultation. The Consultation is a group of people in the Episcopal Church who are striving to find a both/and solution to the question of Inclusion in the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church’s membership in the wider Communion. I was seated at a table with a theologian, another priest, two lay women, one of the Communion’s primates and an Episcopal bishop. We had lunch, listened to speakers, and then we talked.
It was in the talking that the emotions stirred up in Jenny Te Paa’s speech finally overwhelmed me. I was recounting to people around the table how deeply touched I had been by her words, my voice cracked and I started to cry. Frankly I was stunned. I don’t actually cry that often. And hardly ever in public. That I was doing so here, in this luncheon told me how very profoundly I have buried the hurt that the words by others have caused. Some of the others from around the Communion at the table joined me in my tears. And the weight on my heart began to lift and by the end of the day on Sunday was gone.
Sometimes tears are cleansing. Perhaps this is one of those. So many tears have been shed by so many people in Anglican Church over the past decade. Most of those have been tears of hurt shed by LGBT members of the Communion. My tears on Sunday were to me a symbol of reconciliation that the Episcopal Church is faithfully attempting with them and with the larger Communion. Reconcilliation begins, can only begin, with telling the full truth of who we are. I believe that the actions that have just been passed by the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops are truthful. They are come with tears of relief on the part of many and tears of regret by a few.
But such is always the case with the truth.
Perhaps now we can begin the work of reconciliation in earnest inside the Episcopal Church and inside the Anglican Communion, so that we can get back to the fundamental mission of Christ’s Church; Reconciling the world to God.