Concluding Prayers at the Compass Rose

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The Annual Meeting of the Compass Rose Society ended with a liturgy of intercessory prayers for the work and witness of Canterbury Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and for the provinces and churches of the Communion around the world.

We gathered with the Archbishop around the Compass Rose—the symbol of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Canterbury Compass Rose was placed on the floor of the nave and dedicated by Archbishop Robert Runcie at the closing service of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

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An Evening With Archbishop Rowan Williams – Part III

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(Pictured here in conversation with Rowan Williams is Sam Candler, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta and myself. Photo by Susan van der Veer)

I was fascinated with a question that was asked of Archbishop Rowan after his presentation to the Compass Rose Society about the role of human ego in the competing tensions we face within the Anglican Communion.  After a quiet pause, the Archbishop responded:

“The great temptation I suppose for any believer and any minster is to start with self’s agenda and fit God around it.  The tough thing about discipleship, expressed a great deal more by our Lord in the Gospels, is to see God’s agenda as providing the context, substance, and meaning of the self.  So ego in the Church is almost always about some kind of relativizing of the crucifying demand of the Gospel to my or our agenda.  And that’s why to the campaigners of left or right in the Church we need sometimes to say, ‘Just go on scrutinizing how far the campaign and the winning becomes the thing and how far the kingdom becomes the thing.’”

In a moment of self-deprecating humor, Rowan added, “I don’t know if I’ve said this to you before but it’s the Williams theory of ego—my own personal theory of ego.”  Here, he jokingly slapped his wrist acknowledging the self-absorption of his own statement.  The room broke out in robust laughter.

“There are two sources of ego: sanctified and unsanctified.  The unsanctified egoist is so absorbed with himself or herself that you feel diminished by him.  The sanctified egoist, is content being himself and in their joy about who they are in themselves, draw others positively in and makes them feel more than they are.”

Speaking of Desmond Tutu as an example of one with a sanctified ego, Rowan said,
“Desmond loves being Desmond Tutu, there’s not doubt about it.  But the effect of it is that everybody else loves being themselves more.  An unsanctified egoist makes you feel less happy with yourself, jealous, marginalized or put down.”

The “Williams Theory” on ego certainly rings true, particularly when conflict is involved.  Am I content with myself in such a way that my words and actions make others feel enlarged?  Or am I so self-preoccupied that my words and actions have the effect of diminishing others?  Diagnostic questions for sure.

An Evening With Archbishop Rowan Williams – Part II

rowan2In his moving presentation to the Compass Rose Society, Rowan spoke of the pressure to make the recent Lambeth Conference a certain kind of conference—a conference that would make decisions that would draw lines and pass resolutions.  The design group, with broad representation across the globe of Anglican communities, came to the conclusion, that there was no point in making decisions if the relationships that give decisions real impact were not also encouraged and strengthened.

Rowan noted that the tensions and ruptures within our Communion are not going to be resolved in a hurry.  “Deep wounds heal slowly,” Rowan said. “We can fall into the trap of allowing rapid communication to substitute for real communication. Having to sit down every morning with the same group of people for nearly three weeks, having to look a person in the eye when you say rude things about them is a very good discipline. When you watch somebody else reading Scripture, you see their face turned toward God, and when their face turns toward you, you see that face differently for you’ve seen it turn towards God.”

Rowan told us that the Lambeth Conference was designed to facilitate a rediscovery of those things we can only do together and need to do together and above them all are mission and service.  “Mission is never just a matter of delivering a pre-prepared package from one owner to another,” Rowan said.  “Mission is trying to absorb as full a sense as you possibly can of what God is doing and what God wants to do. Out of the fullness of that absorption flows the urgency of our mission activity. And having our understanding of God’s purpose and God’s commitment deepened by our fellowship with one another is one of the deepest motivations for mission we could possibly have.”

Speaking of Christian service, Rowan was especially eloquent: “Theology does not dictate who we can collaborate with in meeting the needs of the Sudan or the Congo.  The politics of church doesn’t dictate what the church might do in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.  We acknowledge that further space where God retains that capacity to be unscrupulously, consistently, getting around our fear and moving us forward.”

In Part III, I’ll share Rowan’s concluding remarks on his personal theory of the “sanctified and unsanctified Ego” and a few pictures of the Compass Rose Society prayer service at the Compass Rose on the floor of Canterbury Cathedral.

An Evening With Archbishop Rowan Williams – Part I

rowan-closeupPerhaps one of the greatest privileges of being part of the Compass Rose Society is the annual opportunity to be in the presence of Rowan Williams and to absorb the gentle grace, sharp wit, and tested faith he brings to the office of Archbishop of Canterbury.  One just gets the sense he was born for such a time as this and that his name will be writ large in the future annals of Anglican Church history. That he would humbly if not vigorously resist such a high sentiment says something about his widespread appeal.

I want to briefly share a few gems from the presentation he gave the Society regarding the recent Lambeth Conference, but I want first to refer to the opening address he gave at that conference last July.  In the address, Rowan refers to Galatians 1:16 where St. Paul speaks of the God ‘. . .who set me apart from birth, called me by his grace, and was pleased to reveal his Son in me.’  “Everything starts here,” Rowan writes, “because every calling—every vocation in the Church of God—is a calling to be a place where God’s Son is revealed.”

Rowan asks that we think with gratitude of those situations and persons in whom we have seen “something of that vision of the end, the purpose, where all things are going, those rather rare human faces where you can say, ‘That’s what it’s about: that’s what I pray I shall grow towards; that is the image of God.”  In personal terms, Rowan goes on to say that the moments he has most deeply felt himself to be judged by the Gospel have not on the whole been moments when someone has told him how wrong he is.  They are rather, “those moments when I have seen such an abundance of love and generosity in someone else that I know how far away I am, and how much I must change.”

Now that’s an eloquent description for me of the kind of realism and faith that I, and I am sure countless others, experience in the presence of Rowan as Archbishop and as fellow traveler on the way of Jesus.  There is in Rowan joyful recognition of the transforming power of the Gospel and at the same time a recognition of the Gospel’s judgment and demand.  Rowan inspires his listeners to grow, to go deeper, to have hope in the surprising future of God’s full world—just the kind of leader we need for such a time as this.

More from Rowan’s presentation tomorrow.

Compass Rose Society General Meeting

rickThe Compass Rose Society has been meeting for the last two days at Canterbury Cathedral enjoying the generous hospitality of the Cathedral Community and its Dean, the Very Rev. Robert Willis. On Friday we heard reports from the President, Bishop Philip Poole and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon.  The Compass Rose Society has since 1997 given over 6 million dollars in grants to such ministries within the Anglican Communion as those working in famine relief, earthquake relief, theological education, HIV/AIDS assistance, evangelism, and ongoing critical support for the Anglican Consultative Council Offices at St. Andrew’s House, London.

victoriaWe heard an update from the Windsor Continuation Group by Bishop Clive Handford and Bishop Victoria Matthews.  Bishop Handford described the stark reality of the breakdown of trust within the Communion. This diminished trust is expressed by liberals and conservatives alike.  He raised a number of questions that need to be asked as we go along the way forward.  One is, “Can we recognize the Church in one another?”  It seems we are currently failing to do that.  We are valuing independence at the expense of interdependence within the body of Christ.

Bishop Matthews spoke positively of the Indaba process that allowed bishops from very different  languages and cultures to engage each other in a very significant way and acknowledged the need for a time of“gracious restraint” to allow the Anglican Church to continue the conversation.

Bishop Matthews stated, “We left the Lambeth conference believing that there was a huge commitment to staying together.  Much in the way that Sir Jonathan Sacks had put it, that we might be able to commit to a covenant of fate rather than a covenant of faith.  A covenant of fate meaning we all wanted to stand together against something. In the case of Noah it was the flood. In the case of the Communion it is break-up.  Do we stand together because we fear what schism would bring?”  (See the text or video of Rabbi Sack’s address at Lambeth here).

Today was a stark reminder of the difficulties we face within the Anglican Communion.  It has everything to do with trust and with a willingness to see Christ in one another and not allowing our theological or political differences to determine our ability to engage God’s mission.  Tonight I’ll sit in the choir and pray Evensong, holding in my heart, the unity of Christ’s body for this time and place.

Blogging in Canterbury

sbuckI’m here in Canterbury for the annual meeting of the Compass Rose Society, an International Organization which seeks to support the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion. Over 270 members from 8 countries make common cause in providing resources for our Anglican brothers and sisters in different parts of the world.

The meeting starts later today at 2:00 p.m. when we will gather to hear reports from the Rt. Rev. Philip Poole, President of the Society and the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.  We will also hear an update on the Windsor Continuation Group from the Chair of the Group, Bishop Clive Handford and from Bishop Victoria Matthews, also a member of the WCG. We will attend Evensong in the Cathedral tonight and then enjoy a free evening on the streets of Canterbury.

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Canterbury Cathedral

On a personal note, it is wonderful to return to Canterbury Cathedral, mother church of the Anglican  Communion, a place where prayer to God has been offered daily for over 1,400 years as well as countless private prayers from individual pilgrims.  Ours is a global communion called to manifest unity in diversity, to be orthodox yet open, and to engage God’s mission in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century.  We do this as spiritual descendants of Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, who arrived on the coast of Kent as a missionary to England in 597 AD.  Mission is at the heart of our genesis story as a Communion.  May it ever be so.

I’ll sum up today’s events in my next post.