LAMBETH: Hazy deliberation brings no resolution, just reflection
By Joanna Sugden,
A circle of tents, food cooked on the fire, bishops in shorts crosslegged on the grass and lots of secret discussions about sex. This was the Lambeth jamboree yesterday.
After two weeks getting to know each other and team building in small packs, the high point of the conference had arrived.
The day's task was to solve the puzzle: how does the way that the Anglican Communion engages with sexuality affect the mission of God in your diocese?
It's a question that has been looming over Canterbury since the conference began; the answer has threatened to dismantle the big Anglican tent for years. As the 650 bishops gathered in their Indaba groups of 30 to try to resolve it, the heat on the campsite rose with the smoke from the barbecue that awaited them.
A peek into the secret meetings revealed some bishops overcome by the temperature. But they weren't losing their tempers as expected. One was clearly asleep, others stifled yawns. Yet serious discussion was taking place as the men and women in charge of the Anglican Church around the world took turns to share their experiences and views on homosexuality.
As he sat on the grass tucking into his burger, Bishop Bruce Caldwell, of Wyoming, told The Times that the discussion had been polite. "We passed an umbrella to the person speaking. We heard from people we hadn't heard from before. It was more respectful than in 1998 when hard words were said that caused problems for gay and lesbian people."
The Lambeth Conference of 1998 published a covenant taking a strong stand against homosexual practice. Since then the Episcopal Church in America has ordained the first openly gay bishop, the Right Rev Gene Robinson.
But what was decided upon on the pivotal day of the 2008 Lambeth conference yesterday?
Well, not a lot. This year is unique and there will be no resolutions, only reflections.
Bishop John Hiromichi Kato, from Japan, said: "Sexuality is too big an issue to decide at something like this." Bishop Ismail Gibreil Abudigin from Sudan said that it had been good to talk about the "dilemma" of homosexuality. But he said that nothing had been decided as a result. "The majority think it [homosexuality] is an abnormality. I agree with that view."
As bishops and their spouses gathered in small groups to eat on the green at the University of Kent, overlooking Canterbury Cathedral, some university staff joined them waving rainbow flags and wearing T-shirts with the words "Hug me I'm a homo".
Elsewhere a more provocative protest was unveiled by Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, who came to the jamboree for the day with a banner saying "Stop crucifying queers".
Not everyone found the groups helpful, however. Bishop Zache Duracin of Haiti, who didn't go to his indaba group, said: "We have discussed homosexuality so much. I had some more important things to do."
The Right Rev Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, when asked if he was enjoying Lambeth, said: "I don't think enjoying is the right word," adding that he missed his wife.
During the conference bishops were kept in single-sex dormitories but one spouse, who did not wish to be named, said it was not such a problem. "To be honest we're just too tired for any of that."
The jamboree continues until Sunday when a final reflection will be published and maybe something will be decided upon.
But trust the cabbie on the way home to know what was really going on. As he reported it: "I had a bishop in the back of my cab the other day and he told me, 'We've made a decision. We're only going to have sex on Tuesdays'."
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