Welcome + Worship + Witness
Bishop Colenso of Natal

The Rector: first be reconciled to your brother or sister

Sunday 11th July 2021
6th After Trinity

Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

Some of you may recall that I preached, before lockdown, on the vexed subject of marriage 

As we know from our own times, what constitutes marriage can be a contentious question  

Even more so now the Methodist Conference has recently voted to allow same sex marriage in Church 

“Matrimonial discord” however is nothing new in the Anglican Church – 

In a sense, the Church of England was born out of matrimonial discord 

But one of the most interesting cases on this subject is Bishop Colenso of Natal  

He was appointed the first Bishop of Natal in 1853 which proved hugely controversial 

Because, as well as having the temerity to suggest that God’s forgiveness extended to everyone, including Zulu’s,  

He also maintained a tolerant attitude to their polygamy 

As a result, he incurred the wrath of so many Anglican Bishops – there was a proposal to excommunicate him at the very first Lambeth Conference in 1867 

In the end the Bishop’s ducked the issue, voting instead for another Bishop of Natal to be appointed 

Colenso however remained in post and was eventually vindicated by the Privy Council 

It was principally as a result of this dispute that the very first Lambeth Conference was convened in 1867  

It was hoped that the Conference might resolve this issue and some others and create a central decision making authority at the same time 

Caricatured by Punch as a “Pan Anglican washing Day”  

The Times caustically remarked that it was  

“Incongruous to have dragged Bishops all the way from Honolulu to New Zealand…to take a seventy-fifth part in a three days consultation” 

As it was, two of the three days of the Conference were taken up with the case of Bishop Colenso – which in the end achieved nothing 

Lambeth Conferences have been held ever since and are roughly decennial   

The Fifteenth Conference is in 2022  

However, the most recent Lambeth Conference in 2008 proved just as divisive as the first in 1867 

And once again, the problem was marriage 

Not polygamy this time but the election of Gene Robinson as a Bishop in the Anglican Diocese of New Hampshire 

The only “problem” was that Robinson was a divorcee now in a same sex relationship 

When the Diocese of New Westminster followed the Diocese of New Hampshire by voting to bless same sex unions, tensions ran very high  

As a result, the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa said that they would boycott the Lambeth Conference in 2008 

And duly convened their own Conference in Jerusalem instead 

Known as GAFCOM (Global Anglican Future Conference), a declaration was issued at the end of the Conference, demanding the expulsion of errant churches  

However, rather like the first Lambeth Conference, the Bishops ducked the issue once again when it came to the Lambeth Conference in 2008 

The then Archbishop of Canterbury, instead, sought to encourage a deep sense of listening, ironically, based on a Zulu method of conflict resolution 

He hoped that the Anglican Church might become more “catholic”  

Rooted and unified in a common endeavour to listen to one another and to Christ, rather than breaking apart 

It does not appear to have worked  

However, the first and the last Lambeth Conferences – to date – have a peculiar symmetry 

Both have focused largely on the issue of marriage  

Both have an African dimension  

And both failed to resolve their differences 

But this question of differences, exposed an ever deeper chasm  

The African Church now believes that the Western Anglican Communion has been ripped apart by what they perceive to be the departure from Biblical authority 

And today the Anglican Communion, as a whole, stands charged with  

“betraying the [very]foundations of the Anglican faith”  

These are very strong words indeed from one churchman to another 

 Even stronger Bishop to Bishop 

The Church of England has, of course, always had its differences  

The Book of Common Prayer was a valiant attempt to bridge the divide between catholic and puritan wings- but did not fully succeed 

James I came tantalisingly close to effecting a reconciliation at the Hampton Court Conference 1604 

But the English Civil War tore it apart 

Evangelicals and Anglo Catholics both jostled for position in the nineteenth century  

Even taking each other to court 

Today, we stand, once again, on the brink of another conflict – this time over same sex marriage and biblical authority 

And the question therefore remains, as always, how do we resolve these differences? 

I raise these issues in the light of the readings this morning which are also about disagreements 

We first hear about the differences between Cain and Abel which became so intense that it resulted in murder 

As the reading said, “blood cry[ed] out from the ground” – which is what happens when differences get out of control   

The New Testament reminds us, instead, to be “reconciled to our brother and sister” 

But, as can be seen even from the short history of Church of England, this is by no means easy 

The American journalist, Alexander Chase said “tolerance is most readily achieved by those not burdened with convictions” 

But the trouble is that the Church is full of deeply held convictions 

How do we find a way through this dispute? 

It seems to me that, if we can’t get along, then we have to search for compromise instead  

“to be reconciled as brother and sister” as Christ commands  

But if compromise cannot be achieved, then we simply need to learn to learn to live with our differences 

It would indeed be a wonderful outcome of Lambeth 2022 if the Anglican Church could achieve such an accommodation 

Sadly, I fear however we have got little further than the first Book of the Bible 

Unfortunately, we all have so much further to travel until we get to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ