A Summary of the Bishops Conversations from October
On the 5 and 7th October, the fourth round of Lambeth Conference Bishop’s Conversations took place.
The bishops met online via Zoom in groups of around 20 and will continue with their group for the duration of the six-month programme.
Exploring what it means to be ‘God’s church for God’s World’, the Bishops’ Conversations involve prayer and bible study, and aim to help bishops listen and learn from one another’s ministry settings and experiences.
Last month, the sessions explored the theme of ‘Called out of darkness into light on 1 Peter 2:9-12 and what it means for the church to be salt and light.
Setting the scene – objects that show the church being salt and light
Bishops brought different pictures and objects to the conversations to tell different stories. There was a diocesan poster with a picture entitled ‘Mama Africa in Tears’ with a message saying ‘NO to gender-based violence’. There was a laptop computer symbolising the disparity between children who can afford computers for remote schooling and those that can’t. But the laptop also symbolised how younger generations have helped worship to keep going through the pandemic: before the pandemic young people were overlooked but now they are recognised as experts in this key technology. Two mobile phones represented the exploitation of people through social media and also a recent church campaign to raise awareness and promote good use of social media. A small green badge with 72 stars on it represented each of the people who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017, who are not forgotten and still waiting for answers. A picture of some doves represented how change is possible through the work of the Holy Spirit. One bishop brought a fragment of a tree killed by climate change. Another brought a sculpture made from knives handed in during a knife amnesty, a memorial to those affected by knife violence. Another bishop described how small crosses had been handed out to people in the local community and this had especially spoken to those being trafficked, showing that all was not lost.
Many of the groups emphasised the need for churches to be salt and light in their communities: ‘Jesus called us to be salt and light, not milk and honey. We are not called to bring sweetness, but to challenge and persevere.’ A bishop from an indigenous community shared that ‘being an indigenous person, I feel the pain and continue to feel the injustices to the indigenous people and the struggle of the indigenous people in New Zealand’. So across the world ‘The church needs to be a voice against racism, colonialism, poverty, extremism and ongoing unjust issues related to the pandemic.’ Many of the bishops said that the church needs to enhance its advocacy role in fighting for the rights of people who are marginalised, weak and vulnerable. It needs to be courageous, bold and speak into injustice, naming it for all God’s people. ‘We must look for strategic alliances, to be astute and gentle. Not only with the government but also with interreligious communities to give a hand.’
Inspiring examples of this
Groups heard about what is going on in different parts of the world. In Queensland, Australia, the church is now seen to be standing up for the rights of Indigenous Australians and Torres Straight Islanders, and is ahead of the broader community on this. A cathedral congregation is offering sanctuary to homeless people, when the neighbours thought they would want to move the homeless on. On the American/Mexican border south of San Diego there is a regular service which takes place on both sides of the border wall, making a declaration that people must not be divided. In other places church planting initiatives are bringing salt and light to places of darkness, isolation and suffering. One bishop shared how they were having services for both those who are anti-vaccination and those who have been vaccinated. Canadian bishops are now wearing orange shirts with the logo ‘Every Child Matters’ in memory of children who suffered in residential schools for indigenous people, those separated from families, denied use of their language and culture and subject to abuse.
More to be done
But many groups recognised that more needed to be done. ‘We must be willing to say sorry for our complicity in the suffering around us and our inaction even in areas we could have made a difference.’ Bishops from Canada were especially aware of this after the recent discovery of unmarked graves at church schools. ‘What do we change? We change our attitudes of insensitivity about the pain of the others. No one should feel that they are aliens or foreigners but should be included as the same people of God equal and dignified. For this to happen structures that perpetuate inequality and injustice must change.’ ‘We live in a context of homophobia, misogyny, racism, fear, agony, extreme poverty, dehumanised living conditions, exclusion, oppression and violence and being the salt and light is most needed in contexts of exclusion and marginalisation.’ The church has often failed to be a strong enough voice in calling for justice. We need to ‘appeal to those who superficially profess to be salt and light to stop being a mere decoration and become what they profess.’
How will this happen? We need to be sure we receive the salt and the light in order to be able to be them for others. We should not underestimate our need to be refreshed to be effective.’ Another bishop commented that ‘we need to desire God’s light to be cast into the darkness in our lives, families and churches.’ It is important to remember that ‘transformation happens and sometimes we aren’t aware of it… salt can sometimes be invisible, light can be hard to see and yet things are changing. We need to listen and trust that God is in the room, and that God is active whether we are in control of what is happening or not.’ And although bishops ‘often feel most comfortable inside our churches and our church communities, we need to step outside our comfort zones and share the gospel with the outside world.’ One bishop commented that ‘We must learn from people like refugees who, like us, must inhabit a world in which they are never fully “at home’’.’ Finally, ‘we need to stand firm in spite of difficulties. God called us to be light and salt all the time.’
Join the conversation
– The next round of Lambeth Conference Bishops’ Conversations is due to take place on 7 and 9th December.
– The session theme is ‘Called to humble ourselves’. Based on 1 Peter 5:1-4 bishops will discuss leadership.