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Bishops debate power

14 February 2014

WHILE torrential rain lashed the ancient walls of Canterbury Cathedral, and umbrellas were bested by vicious gusts of wind, 26 bishops from across the Anglican Communion gathered to discuss power.

Since 2004, more than 200 bishops, largely those newly consecrated, have attended training courses at the cathedral - about a quarter of all the bishops inthe Communion. On Wednesday morning, the main session in such a course was led by the Rt Revd Michael Doe, a former Bishop of Swindon, and, from 2004 to 2011, general secretary of USPG (now Us).

His was the tricky task of raising difficult issues - such as, where does power lie in the Communion? - without focusing on the most obvious source of division. Just a week earlier, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had written to all Primates, reminding them of their commitment to caring for all, regardless of sexuality (News, 31 January).

Several of those present said they were unaware of that letter. One spoke of watching from the sidelines as the parties most engaged in the battle over sexuality fought it out in the spotlight.

Bishop Doe was frank about the colonial origins of the Communion, and the conversation was painful for some. One bishop struggled to contain his emotions when describing how Christianity had been brought to his country, and its impact on the indigenous culture.

There were difficult questions, too, about the current direction of power. Were both the liberal and conservative wings of the Church in North America exercising a "colonial" role? Was "reverse colonisation" taking place with the rise of the Global South? Who was telling whom what to do?

Some bishops remained silent throughout the debate, but there was a good balance of contributions from across the Communion, and they were gracious even when ex-pressing discontent with the status quo.

As the next Lambeth Conference is still four years away, it was an opportunity to witness the huge diversity of the Communion - men and women working in the Arctic, Australia, Myanmar - not ignoring the subjects that dominate the headlines, but going beyond this to explore the undercurrents at play.

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