The current climate in the Anglican Episcopal family of churches is described by the internet blogs and some organizations' websites as anxious, tense and desperate. A 'reality check' opportunity in the last days of July found a considerably different encounter taking place, one drenched in the graceful spirit of mutual responsibility, happening in a monastery guest house in El Escorial Spain. Those present were from, of all places, the U.S.A. and Africa. Could it be happening? Yes, it happened, and thanks be to God, mission to a weary world was its focus.
A group of bishops---or, better said pilgrims---from more than 50 dioceses in the Anglican Communion were invited to walk the Way to Emmaus, during a week-long consultation enabled by Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City, and its rector, the Rev. Jim Cooper.
I was privileged to be one of the pilgrims. Aided by the hospitality of the small but lively Spanish Episcopal Church, and the generosity of the convenors, the pilgrim bishops found their walk to Emmaus, as one said, "renewing, refreshing and hope-filled". This is quite the opposite of the anxious portrayal so often filling cyberspace about Anglicans today.
As a pilgrim I come away from my encounter with Christ, by the very engaging with new partners in mission, with a sense that the road to Canterbury 2008 will be far less daunting than is portrayed by some and maybe even exciting. I hope that I may find a way to express that sense of this Emmaus walk to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
My hope is that the model of consultation employed at this gathering could be the new mode of operation for Anglicans, a trademark minus pronouncements and press conferences; not worrying about the perfectly crafted communiqué but liberating us all, big time. People spoke the truth in love. That's not just a phrase, but an attitude that was displayed in session after session.
The sacrament of unity, the Eucharist, in the final offering of the gathering, confirmed for me the essence of what it means to be a pilgrim, seeking the kingdom of God and its values of justice, peace and salvation for all. To me, unity at the altar is not an option; it is the outward sign, symbol and reality of encounter. As Cardinal Newman said, "essence all divine." The real presence indeed.
I felt so aware of those around me each day. Our small groups became more like prayer cells, not stranger, but pilgrims. They also became a safe place for honesty and clarity. This is so refreshing in this time in our history, when people who are being open are demonized. As Anglicans we claim John 8:32 as our motto, emblazoned on the Compass Rose, albeit in Greek; "The Truth Shall Make You Free!" Maybe we should have multi-language versions to help us own the message.
As the consultation began closing down, greetings like "See you at Lambeth" from a brother bishop from Tanzania became a sign of expectation for me and, I trust, a statement of support for what makes us a Communion and not simply a federation.
The pure joy of telling of my walk to Emmaus with this mixed bag of pilgrims is not thwarted by my return to "Jerusalem"---or, more accurately, Los Angeles. The biblical story presents the disciples' return home as a major challenge. For me, as chief pastor of a widely diverse family of believers, speaking many languages, I am proud to have been encouraged by people to take this walk with our African partners to show our diocesan commitment to the Anglican way. The beauty of Spain, its people, its food (a challenge for many), its architecture, our churches, was like being at home for me due to the privilege I have of being bishop of L.A. where the Latino way is part and parcel of who we are in the community.
I am also proud that our diocese looks beyond its borders to places like Palestine where suffering is a daily encounter and where walking to the actual historical Emmaus could be a way of danger and fear.
Our partner African bishops, and indeed the Archbishop, Justice Acrofi, bid me leave my sense of victimization behind, nail it to the cross, and renew my personal pledge to the truth of what being human, much less being an Anglican, can mean. One American bishop spoke of being a "punching bag," while Africans pleaded for clarity from leaders in their statement. The whole communications dilemma was very evident.
All in all, and simply said, in this Spanish monastery, in the heat of summer, I came face to face with Jesus. He was in plain view, as the chorus says.
The Emmaus journey in Scripture is a story of despair turned to joy. Being fearful for someone or a situation is much different than being afraid of the same. I often ask; why are people afraid of others, people seemingly different from themselves? I challenge the notion that we all are so different in the end.
For all of us our hope and life, our strength and futures, began in a humble cave in what is now beleaguered Bethlehem, where a holy young woman and a brave husband gave their all to see that for us a child is born, a son is given, his name shall be called, prince of peace. My Jesus, bring peace to our world, our lives, our homes, and yes our beloved church, your church, where we meet you in word and sacrament and in each other.
Vive Espana - Vive Anglicanismo
+Jon, Los Angeles
+Jon, Los Angeles