At one level it was just the ordinary stuff of the calendar of someone like the former Archbishop of Canterbury -- and at another level it was really rather extraordinary.
Rowan Williams is no stranger to the Diocese of Los Angeles. I remember when he and Martin Smith led a clergy conference for us way back when he was just that smart bishop from Wales. I'm thinking it was around 1999 and we joked about it being our "Rowan & Martin" year. I experienced him as wise and grounded and accessible and really quite a wonderful example of a scholar, pastor and teacher. I was honored to meet him and wished he could have stayed longer -- and I was thrilled when he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.
I also remember when he joined us in Anaheim in 2009 for our General Convention. We were in the vortex of the "inclusion wars" and deep in our resistance against those lobbying to vote the Episcopal Church off the Anglican Island for ordaining gay and lesbian people in general and Gene Robinson in particular. I experienced him as cold and distant and judgmental and really quite a sobering example of the institutional church failing to live up to its call to both be and act like the Body of Christ in the world. I was sorry he came and relieved when he left.
So it's fair to say I had mixed feelings about his 2019 visit.
Pat McCaughan -- writing for the Episcopal News -- did a great job with her feature on his address to the gathering on Tuesday morning. I commend it to you here. And of course I had my own reactions.
I deeply appreciated all his wise words on family, community and the critical importance of proximity. One of the quotes I tweeted during the morning read:
And ... because life is complex and history has happened and there's a lot of water under the Big Fat Anglican Communion Family bridge ... I was struck in the moment that these wise words were being spoken by the very man who had himself excluded Gene Robinson from the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops -- making the kind of "contact with the other" he was calling for quite literally impossible: at least in that moment, at that time and in that place.
So that was then and this is now.
In the intervening years the Episcopal Church has "stayed the course" ... has kept showing up ... has survived all the threats to vote us off the Anglican Island and continues to move forward toward the goal of making the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments not just a soundbite but a reality. Rowan Williams has retired as Archbishop of Canterbury, TEC has now consecrated three -- soon to be four -- gay or lesbian bishops and has both adopted rites and amended canons to make marriage accessible to all couples.
And we're not done yet. There is still work to do to assure that your access to marriage rites does not depend on your zip code, we are still on the journey to make our language in worship reflect the rich diversity on the continuum of God's beloved children and we are still working to live out our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being. Even those we disagree with. Even those who wish we weren't part of their Big Fat Anglican Family. Even those whose actions have fallen short of their ideals.
And one of the ways we do that is by taking seriously Dr. William's call to “... look very, very, carefully and imaginatively at where it is that mutual understanding really comes alive” and at his example of the Mother's Union.
“The Mother’s Union, as it exists in many of our provinces, is a much more important cement of unity in the communion than the primates’ meeting ... and does incalculable work in binding together people across different cultures and environments.We need to ask how we do more in that sort of way, building those relationships between active and committed lay people, not just hierarchs and committees across the communion.”Those are exactly the questions we are asking as we begin to implement our "One in the Spirit" initiative here in the Diocese of Los Angeles ... as we work to build relationships between difference in our congregations and communities ... as we work to be an antidote to the polarization and division that afflicts our church, our nation and our world ... as we work to create opportunities for mutual gratitude, connection and understanding. while we continue to dismantle oppression and stay the course toward becoming a church where there are no strangers left at the gate.
It's a tall order ... but no one better to attempt it than the Diocese of Los Angeles and no time better than now.
And so for all my mixed feelings going into this third encounter with Rowan Williams -- that smart bishop from Wales AKA the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury -- I was grateful he came and grateful for the opportunity to literally be in communion across difference.
Grateful for the chance for some conversation about the Indaba process which was such a cornerstone of his archepiscopate and grateful for his sermon on love and truth. And at the door on the way out after the Eucharist, grateful for his handshake and kind words, "Thank you for your work. It's been quite a journey, hasn't it?"
Yes it has been quite a journey. And the journey continues: an inch at a time.