Lambeth exercise jolts comfort zones By Lindsay Hardin Freeman


Lambeth exercise jolts comfort zones

[Episcopal News Service, Buffalo, Minnesota] Bishop Jim Jelinek of Minnesota, like other bishops, had been encouraged to “bring his diocese with him” to the Lambeth Conference last July, the decennial gathering of the world’s Anglican bishops in Canterbury, England.

When he returned from an event that contained both the joy and tension of the worldwide Anglican Communion, he wondered how to bring the Lambeth experience back home to his clergy.

Jelinek’s answer was to write case studies representing the breadth of Anglican experience — American, English, Australian, Pacific Island and African bishops — and to have the clergy at Minnesota’s clergy conference September 22 to 24 do a role-play exercise as bishops from different parts of the communion.

Playing their roles, attendees considered the news of the episcopal election and consecration of a homosexual man in relationship with another man in the Episcopal Church. and the move by a diocese in the Canadian church to bless same-sex relationships. As a followup, they were to try to work through what the bishops of the Episcopal Church and Canada might do to help the communion as a whole, and what each might be willing to do, or live with, as a response from others.

The results were electric. Among the reactions:

 “I didn’t realize how isolated I’d feel as an American bishop.”
 “Coming from the hard theology of the Australians, I can see how it’s going to be tough for them to come around on this.”
 “Global drought, AIDS and poverty at home in Africa, and aggressive Muslim ridicule … It made the American issue kind of unreal.”
 “The English ‘don’t ask don’t tell’… I could feel the tension of ‘Why didn’t the Americans leave well enough alone?'”
 “Taking this other role was hard for me because it goes against where I stand on the whole thing.”

“I had a physical reaction from the time I picked up the paper and began to read it,” said the Rev. James Young, rector of Christ Church, Albert Lea. Young had been assigned the role of a bishop from central Africa, who had never been out of Africa before Lambeth and whose diocese was beset with poverty, AIDS and drought.

“In your country, the Muslims have about as many followers as Christians, and they are very powerful in the way they speak,” read Young’s charge. “They ridiculed you and your people when the news got out about the gay bishop in the United States. They said you belong to a gay church. You have heard that in the United States you have to be gay to be a priest. If only those pushy Americans and Canadians and English, and your brother bishops would just stop talking about this.You want to tell those northerners to repent, especially if they call themselves Christians and want to stay in the church.”

“I thought: ‘I can’t do this. I cannot play this part,'” said Young. But he did, and so did some seventy of Young’s peers, who were equally challenged by their roles in the hour-long exercise.

The Rev. Theo Park, rector of St. James on the Parkway in Minneapolis, was given the part of a bishop from the Pacific Islands, who was inclined to be inclusive only if gays were to repent. The hypothetical bishop was deeply troubled by rising sea levels that threatened to inundate low lying coastal cities of his diocese — and angry that the Kyoto Protocol had not been signed by the United States. For him, it seemed America had become a one-issue church.

“As an openly gay man with an agenda, it was an uncomfortable role to be playing,” said Park. “I think I have the empathy to see other people’s points of view, but instinctively I didn’t really want to give space and voice to that viewpoint. I tried to figure out how I was going to talk from that guy’s position, but I resisted it. It was just hard.”

Three other roles were assigned: an American bishop who had given consent to the consecration of Gene Robinson (the openly-gay bishop of New Hampshire) but who also deeply valued relationships with other bishops in the Anglican Communion; a Church of England bishop who preferred a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and whose daughter was secretly gay; and an Australian bishop whose primate had recently joined the GAFCON talks in Jerusalem, and whose theology viewed gays as people needing to first repent of their sin.

For Jelinek, it was an exercise in empathy. “I knew that being at Lambeth had really prompted me to ask some deeper questions than I had been asking,” he said.  “I also knew that I wanted to bring those questions back to the diocese, to give people glimpses of the breadth of the Lambeth community, to help them live in someone else’s shoes for at least a few minutes.”

And those shoes were filled, it seems, with both awkwardness and grace.

“I was deeply moved by doing this,” said the Rev. Winnie Mitchell, priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s, a small church in Fairmont.” “It gave me an empathy and sense of humanity with that part of the world. … There is a need to reach out more to the rest of the communion.”

Young was left with an appreciation of the complexities of life in Africa. “We have the comfort and material wealth to give us time to debate the issue; they don’t. The impact of AIDS is devastating, on a scale beyond which we cannot imagine. And because of that and other critical issues, the topic of homosexuality seems irrelevant to their daily survival.”

Jelinek’s goal of leaving clergy with questions to ponder seems to hit a chord with Park in particular. “I pray to soften my own heart,” he said. “I pray that my heart might be softer so that the Spirit can move more freely.”

Copies of the exercise are available from the Diocese of Minnesota. Contact Karen Olson, Executive Administrator at the Diocese of Minnesota [email protected]


— The Rev. Lindsay Hardin Freeman is a priest in the Diocese of Minnesota and editor of Vestry Papers, which is published by the Episcopal Church Foundation.


Episcopal Life Daily, October 7, 2008

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