I shall lead us in prayer in a moment but before that some words of context. Thank you for being here today.
Last Thursday, two consecrations of bishops came along on the same day at Canterbury Cathedral. I was asked to stand alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of the co-consecrating bishops. It was a huge privilege to assist Archbishop Justin, especially as the consecrations represented the breadth of our unity, and our disagreements within that unity for which Christ prayed. Those made bishop included a traditional catholic, and conservative evangelical, a woman and a bishop’s chaplain, who clearly should have known better than to become a bishop. There was much joy, but also much angst, as those with wholly opposed views were ordained bishop either alongside each other or in the same cathedral. In the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion on Thursday, we really did look like messy Church. But we were there together. Sharing lunch seemed OK for everyone and uncontroversial.
At the start of the second service, Archbishop Justin announced that the service had to finish swiftly as he was catching a flight to take him to Juba in South Sudan. A full working week, followed by two Consecrations, then off overnight to Africa and then to take part in the Ecumenical Pilgrimage for Peace with the Pope and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. Unity in diversity. Going to the Sudan may not be new, but going just for the weekend and returning for the bearpit of next week’s General Synod isn’t for the faint hearted. When exchanging the Peace, I assured Justin of our prayers for the Pilgrimage today. At this very moment, as we start our meeting, Archbishop Justin is leading a service in All Saints Cathedral. 10,000 people are present. Some have walked two hundred miles to be there with him. At the time that we leave here, he will be meeting with over a thousand displaced people from the refugee camps and listening to their harrowing stories. And then at the time most of us walk back into our expensively heated homes, our Archbishop will be
preaching to another service, with 53,000 people present. Archbishop Justin Bardi will lead an act of Contrition, as the archbishops stand together, in disagreement, but in fellowship.
The murders, the rapes, the loss of limbs, the beatings and dispositions of Southern Sudanese life set the backdrop to this Pilgrimage for Peace. There is no comparison with our way of life here. Or is there? Whatever our differences, which will be plain to see later this morning, we still have a choice whether to continue to walk together in disagreement, or not to. Christ calls us into unity, not uniformity. Scripture is all that is necessary for salvation, but in the Anglican story, Tradition and Reason also play their part. The Living in Love and Faith process is not perfect, it can’t be, none of us are perfect but it is about discovering who we are today under God. As the Pope has recently said, ‘We are all children of God and God loves us as we are.’ This is what the bishops have been wrestling with, and the proposals will never satisfy those at either end of the debate. But we did agree that no change is untenable, and that total change is not appropriate. An Anglican middle way, or an Anglican fudge, choose your preferred vocabulary but it is offered in love with the spirit of walking together in disagreement, like those consecrations, like the foot sore Sudanese.
One of the comments often made is what about the Anglican Communion? No-one can seriously think this was not at the forefront of our minds throughout this process. Despite the media grandstanding, my contacts with both Archbishops of the Sudans continues to be frank, honest and committed to on-going partnership, recognising that especially for their people, there really are bigger issues at stake.
Pope Francis talks of mercy before doctrine, because God can cope. And yesterday he called us, through the greatest Ecumenical Pilgrimage since the Reformation, to a better way, whether this is in the war torn newest country in the world South Sudan, or in our discussions today, here and now. He said,
‘Overcome evil with good. May you be the ones who transform society, the one who turn evil into good, hatred into love, war into peace’.
Let us pray.
A prayer for the Ecumenical Pilgrimage
Our Heavenly Father, you sent us your son Jesus Christ as our Shepherd and the Holy Spirit to make us one in you. Bless, guide and protect your servants, His Holiness Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland Iain Greenshields as they come for the Ecumenical Pilgrimage of Peace to South Sudan.
Look with favour upon your Church in South Sudan, O Lord
Send your Holy Spirit upon the Faith Leaders, and the entire people of God and continue the work of renewal and transformation in South Sudan.
Grant political leaders in South Sudan, the spirit of compromise, commitment, wisdom, trust and understanding, to lead your people in the ways of peace, healing , justice , forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Almighty God, may the Ecumenical Pilgrimage of the Eminent Global Church Leaders increase in us the virtue of love, hope, faith, peace, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, and unity.
We pray this through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.