December 7, 2009
It has been a joy to have Bishop Gerard Mpango and some friends from the Diocese of Western Tanganyika as our guests over the past week. On Sunday they joined us for worship at two services and were impressed by the size of the congregation and the vitality of our (fairly traditional) worship. In his remarks he alluded to ‘difficulties in our relationship’ related to ‘politics in the Anglican Communion’ and his desire to forget the past and move forward in mission together. At a lunch in his honor after church he expanded those remarks. He acknowledged that following the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, he had to decide which way to lead his diocese. The province of the Church of Tanzania was divided but nonetheless pressuring everyone to fall in line with the conservative stance of much of East Africa. Was DWT going to go with Peter Akinola and his brand of the faith or try and be more participatory in the Anglican Communion in spite of real differences of biblical interpretation and, culture and life? It was the Lambeth Conference that gave him the will to move in the latter direction and to engage a three part companion diocese relationship with Gloucester in England and El Camino Real in the US. It was that same sense that led him to seek to re-engage relationship with All Saints’, Atlanta. As a sign of that desire, he was moved to visit at his own expense and bring other members of his diocese with him. Our vestry made a grant to the AIDS ministry of his diocese in thanksgiving for his visit. This gift addresses our relationship and the millennium development goals, as well as extending our commitment to give more to those in need in challenging economic times.
At he point of our lunch, the election of two suffragan bishops in Los Angeles was in the background. Two women were elected, the second of whom was declared to be a partnered (of twenty one years) lesbian. The Archbishop of Canterbury responded within hours warning of ‘serious consequences’ for The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Bishop Mpango received this as ‘bad news’ but at least in conversation with me, he did not suggest that this was anything other than a difference in spite of which we would be in relationship. He is certainly concerned that bishops are ‘for the whole church’, but gave no sign that this would damage his three way diocesan relationship or friendship with All Saints’.
In a way, that response is one that I expect will be played out in a number of ways throughout the communion. Some blogs have expressed anger and outrage that the ABC would interfere in the affairs of TEC over people who love each other while being unable in weeks to make any kind of response to a hateful anti-homosexual bill being supported by Anglican bishops in that country. Others have trumpeted the same old (inaccurate) stuff about our moving away from tradition and scripture. The international press has largely reported the election and the ABC’s response without drama. And on we go.
I remain proud of The Episcopal Church. I also remain committed to relationships of mutual caring and respect with those who differ from us in many ways including our friends in DWT. The alternative is schism and separation rather than being in a place where we may all discover something of the expansive reality of God’s unutterable love.