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Hallo again to all.

Not long ago we were asked by one of our parish clergy to give an after-church presentation in our parish hall, as part of a weekly 'Forum' series, on the topic of 'What happened at Lambeth 2008?' The announcement was duly printed in the parish bulletin and the event was announced at the time during the worship service when such things are announced.

We had no idea what to expect in terms of an audience—who might attend and what their expectations might be. But we prepared for a moderate-sized crowd, and spent a lot of time thoughtfully writing the talk.

It is rather a giggle to think that a person could in one hour explain what happened at Lambeth. We've read something like 100 statements from bishops and observers about what happened at Lambeth, and no two of them say quite the same thing. But we prepared a talk, and gave it to an audience that filled the room to overflowing, and had time left over at the end for questions and discussion.

The first question really threw us. It was from a woman who has been an active and contributing member of the parish for decades. She began by saying 'I know that this Lambeth Conference was an event for important people to talk about important things and make important decisions, and that here we don't really do anything that matters to the rest of the world, but I still think it's interesting to hear about what the VIPs do.'

Movie stars on the red carpet at the Academy AwardsWe were so struck by this comment that we had a hard time regaining enough mental equilibrium to answer the various questions. She really believed that her contributions mattered less than those of the bishops who gathered at Lambeth. Not a widow's mite, but a widow's minute. We quickly discovered that many of the parishioners who had come to this Forum saw themselves as the 'little people' and saw the purpurati who attended the Lambeth Conference as the important people. It was almost as if they had been expecting to hear a description of something like a jet-set party on a yacht, complete with descriptions of the designer clothes that everyone wore. 'Coming down the red carpet now, in a silk rochet and chimere by Armani, escorted by his wife who is wearing Versace, is the Bishop of Berzerkistan.'

The reality of the Lambeth Conference, held on the campus of the University of Kent was of course very different. The mostly-not-very-glittery purpurati stayed in college dormitory rooms, and the rochets and chimeres were almost certainly 100% polyester. And we couldn't help but remember a comment from one of the Lambeth reports that we read:

'The Eucharist was followed by a stand-up dinner which was supposed to be in the precincts, but because of rain was held in two of the halls. We had to eat on our laps in our cassocks; not the easiest thing to do in a room of about 350 people.'

But this issue wasn't about the Lambeth Conference any more, it was about the parishioners' expectations of the Lambeth Conference and their assumptions about where it fit into their lives. Or, more precisely, that it didn't fit into their lives. Our audience pretty much thought about the Lambeth Conference the same way they thought about the Academy Awards or Mardi Gras or George Best's retirement party. Something to be aware of, but not to learn from.

A week or two after this Lambeth Forum at our parish, there was a public baptism of three infants. We couldn't help but thinking about Matthew 18:20 ('Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.') and realizing that, as always, the day-to-day life of the parish is the most important work of the church.

The Lambeth Conference likely made the bishops who attended it better bishops, because it gave them plenty of time to get to know one another and for each to learn from the wisdom and faith of the others. And it might even have made them better people. But it did not make them more important people. Yes, God is there in the midst of two or three bishops, but God is also there in the midst of two or three babies, or two or three old friends who get together on Thursdays for Bible study and lunch.

See you next week. With God in our midst.

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Last updated: 28 September 2008

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