SINGAPORE: David's Notebook
April 21, 2010
What a difference time makes.
This gathering of archbishops, bishops, clergy and laity is, without question, the most media friendly meeting of global Anglican leaders ever. Compared to Oporto, Tanzania, Dromantine, Brazil, London, The Lambeth Conference and Alexandria, all gatherings this writer attended, this one is the most open to the press I have ever attended.
Compared, say, to Tanzania where a British reporter wrote on the opening day that an iron media curtain had descended restricting the press to the primates, and we subsequently found ourselves huddled around the hotel swimming pool hoping to nab an archbishop on his way from one part of the hotel to the other, or waiting for drops and crumbs of information to fall from the archbishops' table. An evening press conference allowed the mostly liberal leaders to control the content flow.
Here the plenary sessions are open to the media. The media is free to wander around, corner a primate or two and obtain interviews. There are no minders to fence us off or control us. The GS leaders here have provided a great media person in Lucilla Teoh who is part of the organizing GSE4 secretariat to keep us informed and make contacts for us. I had an opportunity to take her out for lunch and got to see the quality of her faith and commitment to Christ, along with her superb media skills.
The setting for this Encounter itself is both beautiful and central. St. Andrew's Cathedral with its soaring nave and multiple buildings is planted on some of the most expensive real estate in Singapore, courtesy of Sir Stamford Raffles who donated the land for the Anglican Church in 1825. His hotel complex is just across the road and is a must stop for tourists looking to shop, eat or toss back a Singapore sling at the long bar. Raffles was a friend of William Wilberforce and was, by all accounts, an evangelical Anglican.
The day starts with Holy Communion and a homily usually from a preacher from overseas. The locals do not hog the pulpit or limelight. Our Singaporean hosts are gracious to a fault.
I was greeted on my first day, Sunday, after the 11.15am English speaking service at the cathedral by South East Asia Archbishop John Chew. He warmly shook my hand and immediately launched into his wish that we all come together as orthodox and faithful believers, united against liberals and revisionists and not allow them to find a wedge into this gathering. He is a tall gentle soul, winsome and deeply theological. I am told he is conflict averse and I believe it. He wants unity, but not, it seems, at any price. He has been accused of fence sitting between his loyalty to Rowan Williams and the Global South. This conference has dispelled all that. Three archbishops, Peter Akinola, Mouneer Anis and Emmanuel Kolini have publicly blasted TEC and the Anglican Church in Canada, calling for new structures within the Anglican Communion. If Chew does not agree, he has not shown it. He is, by all accounts, on board.
In public remarks, Chew constrained his hearers not to be selective. "On this journey I have struggled with this. I have not experienced this before. The theme for the Encounter is one of struggle. We must not allow ourselves to be pushed here and there. If we want to be involved it comes at a cost." Indeed it does.
There are of course some sensitivities here. Two Communion Partner (TEC) bishops, John W. Howe (Central Florida) and Mark Lawrence (South Carolina), rub shoulders with ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan, CANA Bishop Martyn Minns and ACNA Bishop John Guernsey. But these men are first and foremost brothers in Christ and whatever their differences in the US brought about by The Episcopal Church's innovations, here they fight a common enemy and stand for a common faith. Love is everywhere. Bob Duncan was the chief celebrant at this morning's Eucharist.
I spoke at length with Bishop Howe who said that last night the Global South archbishops and bishops sat down with the American contingent, including both Communion Partner bishops and ACNA leaders from the US, to explain themselves. He said about a third did not understand why there were two Anglican groups in the US here at the Encounter. About two thirds understood that ACNA represents a new Anglican orthodox body in North America and wondered why the CP bishops still remain as orthodox bishops in TEC. The CP bishops explained that they are orthodox Episcopalians and feel called to stay in TEC as the loyal opposition. Howe said he believed that his and Lawrence's appearance to explain this to the global Anglican leaders was worth the price of the airfares. He appears very happy with the Encounter. Howe told the leaders that he intended to stay in TEC and that an evangelical would follow him as bishop. Bishop Lawrence was less sure about his diocese. It took two head counts to get him elected. Whatever the future holds for him and his diocese, at least the Global South leaders will understand what the situation is in North America. They will not be in the dark. They will know how to pray intelligently for North American Anglicanism.
I had a table lunch with long time friends, the former South East Asia Archbishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung and his wife Datin Julia Yong. I sat next to Kristina, the beautiful and charming wife of Archbishop Chew. Most of the Singaporean leaders have sons and daughters studying and/or working in the US, UK or Canada, so they are very familiar with the West. Singapore itself is a melting pot of races, peoples and languages. Most speak English as either a first or second language. I met the brilliant young theologian, Canon Terry Wong. Listening to him for just a few moments makes you realize why this province will never go off the rails by buying into Western pansexuality.
Charges by western liberal Episcopalians and Anglicans that Global South leaders, especially Africans, are theologically ignorant because they refuse to endorse sodomy is so wildly off the mark that it is laughable when you hear them talk. They are multi-lingual (which most Westerners are not), and better educated, often at Oxford or Cambridge, or at a major US university or locally at Trinity Theological College, an institution where Archbishop Chew was principal before becoming the archbishop of the province.
The Sunday services at the cathedral draw some 4,000 people. Seventeen services are held in 8 languages. It's an amazing feat. The diocese itself has 27 parishes with some 20,000 active Anglicans. The cathedral like the streets of Singapore is spotless. It is a spiritual haven in the midst of a thriving business sector, high rises and personal wealth. Compared to Anglican cathedrals in the US and UK, which are dying or are tourist drop offs, that is not so here. Every Sunday the cathedral is packed. The English speaking service I attended had an overflow crowd of 700 plus.
Singaporeans have a palpable pride in their life here despite a benevolent political dictatorship. The Global South leaders were given a private audience with the country's President.
I have become a close personal friend of the Dean of the Cathedral, Canon Kuan Kim Seng who graciously offered me rides back to my hotel after long days and working into the early evening hours spent in writing. Last night, he and his wife took me out for dinner. I met him recently at the New Wineskins conference in Ridgecrest, NC where we became friends. We have cemented our relationship here in Singapore. He took me out for one of the best Dim Sum breakfasts I have ever had, at a restaurant no Westerner could find. It would be like looking for a rare Chinese chopstick in a 40 story high rise, of which Singapore has many.
Among other attendees are two fine legal minds from the US in the persons of Hugo Blankingship, ACNA chancellor, and Phil Ashey, a former judge now CEO with the American Anglican Council. With all the litigation going on in TEC, these two gentlemen of the law see the value of mission, global Anglicanism and why it is important to fight for venues where the gospel can still go forth unencumbered by post modernism and liberal episcopalianism which has no gospel. Anglican-TV blogger Kevin Kallsen is here recording it all for posterity.
Archbishop Kolini said he was never happy at any of the last 12 years of primatial gatherings he has attended. Here it is the opposite. Everyone is upbeat, cheerful and at peace. The archbishops and bishops are smiling; they are not fighting liberal and revisionist archbishops and bishops who have a different religion. Only God knows what they really believe, but whatever truncated Christianity they have, you won't find it here. Here, there is a deep commitment to Jesus and the gospel and the finality of Holy Scripture as necessary in all matters of faith and practice. There is a genuine desire to move forward in mission and ministry. Global south leaders make it clear in plenary session after plenary session, that a Covenant can only be rooted in Holy Scripture, not in the zeitgeist, and if it is disobeyed by any Anglican province, there are consequences.
Truth be told, TEC is not on the agenda here and there have been no public discussions about TEC. In fact there has been very little comment about TEC at all with the exception of the ABC's video remarks. There has only been a private meeting where the two TEC bishops were asked questions. The ABC gave two paragraphs to Mary Glasspool's upcoming consecration, and Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola mentioned it once in the opening Eucharist homily. TEC is dead on arrival here. In fact, it is not even on the agenda. TEC is deluding itself by thinking folks here care enough about this post Christian denomination to give it any serious thought.
Personal time clocks go haywire because of distance and the crossing of time zones and date lines. It makes for interesting writing hours. I often sleep from 9pm to 1am and then write between 1am and 4am locally, catch a few hours shut eye and then head off to the cathedral at 8am. One eats when one is hungry, but water is the stable liquid in 90-degree heat and high humidity. Alcohol is out of the question.
God's mission now is in the 11th hour of the Global South, said Archbishop Orombi in prepared remarks read by his stand in, Ugandan Bishop Stephen Kaziimba. Orombi was stranded in London by the Icelandic volcano eruption.
There is no tension here. There is joy and peace. No one is being asked to reconcile the irreconcilable. This is Anglicanism at its finest.
David W. Virtue
On the Mainline
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