The caption under this photo could be “Who doesn’t belong?” I am the one photobombing these very nice archbishops, bishops, and priests. I am the one who is not Anglican, the one from North America, and one of only two—the Archbishop of Canterbury being the other—who does not speak Spanish. I am the answer to the question “Where’s Waldo?”
We assembled bright lights, television cameras, lots of candles (even for Anglicans), three dozen robes, at least that many medallions, and a few pointy hats for a visit from the principal leader of the Church of England, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Our congregation, Santiago Community Church, polished the silver and pulled out our wedding outfits for Rev. Justin Welby, the 105th in a line that goes back more than 1400 years to Augustine of Canterbury. The diocesan bishop of Southern Argentina exclaimed, “What a show!”
I felt like I was at someone else’s family reunion. Because we are in Chile, there was more kissing than at most Baptist gatherings. I confess that in my unsophisticated moments “Archbishop of Canterbury” still sounds like a medieval version of the “Sultan of Swing.”
During lunch, which began at 2:00 because these people are not from the United States, each of six tables had the chance to ask one question. The questions were offered by bishops and priests—ministerial professionals—which means they were long and meant to reveal the intelligence of the questioner. They were also in Spanish—a language in which I am not fluidez –but here is a translated abridged version of the questions and the Archbishop’s answers:
Where are we on the ordination of women?
The Archbishop pointed out that women’s ordination is less controversial than ten years ago, “The church will continue to make progress, even as we care for those congregations with different ideas.”
How do we improve the reputation of our denomination?
The hope is that the Anglican Church will be known as a home for Christians who disagree but work together: “We can be a church that gathers in the love of Christ.”
What is going to happen concerning gay marriage?
He quoted statistics concerning gay marriage in England—85% of adults are in favor—and said, “Those with a more conservative viewpoint are seen as mean-spirited and not at all like Christ. We must proceed, whatever our opinions, in a Christlike manner.”
How can we be more evangelistic while being true to who we are?
Rev. Welby suggested that the decline of the Church of England is not without precedent. On Easter Sunday 1800, in St. Paul’s Cathedral, the heart of the Church of England, can you guess how many people received Holy Communion? Six. He admitted, “We did some excellent church planting in the 19th century. Not so much since then.”
How do we care for ministers’ families?
Caroline, Justin’s wife, answered this one: “When Justin was ordained, I insisted that he be home from 5:00-7:00 six nights a week. During this time no one in the family—we had six children—was allowed television, a computer, or a telephone. That’s helped.”
How do we respond to the changing culture?
The Archbishop said, “We have been in worse places. Our history of war and sexual violence is at least as disturbing as our present situation. The church’s job is to introduce a broken world to God, to be priests doing Christ’s work, to speak the words of God to the ways of the world. Stanley Hauerwas says, ‘The church should live in a way that makes no sense if God does not exist.’”
The conversation sounded vaguely familiar. Those six questions could have been addressed to any denominational leader in the United States. How would it be different for Baptists, Methodists, or Presbyterians? We are facing the same questions. We are struggling for the same answers.
Carol and I got to spend an hour in the manse talking with Justin and Caroline. We talked about our families and what foods we miss when we are in Chile, but mostly we talked about the future of the church because we knew they needed the perspective of two Baptists from Georgia.
I would have guessed that the senior bishop of the Church of England would be consumed with institutional success, but he sounded like the kind of servant leader Christ needs when he said, “As we talk about the church, we need to make sure that we do not hear ourselves, but hear the cries of the poor and the war-torn.”
I started out feeling lucky for the opportunity to photobomb someone else’s family reunion and meet the Archbishop of Canterbury. I ended up feeling blessed by the hope that comes from meeting other family members who are giving their lives to Christ’s church.