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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Canterbury Tales from A Lambeth Steward

The Rev'd Michael Sniffen is in Canterbury, working as a Lambeth Steward. He sent this letter this morning and has graciously allowed me to reprint it here.

Greetings from Canterbury!

I am not blogging or sending lengthy e-mails throughout the conference, but I want to keep in touch with those of you on the list while I am here and share a few experiences. Consider this an introduction the Lambeth from behind the curtain. I will say this later on - but, the press have it pretty wrong so far!

The last 8 days have been amazing. We stewards have all enjoyed getting to know one another as we have arrived from around the communion (over 28 countries I believe). We are a diverse group to be sure. Off the top of my head, we are from the US, France, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, The Solomon Islands, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina...and the list goes on. Even within the Episcopal church the stewards are from diverse places. Me (from Newark), one from Virginia, one from North Carolina, one from New Jersey and one from Fort Worth.

We have spent the last week going through a thousand and one briefings with various members of the design team and the ABC's staff (Rowan Cantaur has been SO welcoming and kind to us - more on that later). We have also been at prayer twice a day with the chaplaincy team which is a group of monks and nuns from around the communion (with a large number from the Solomon islands). The spirit of the worship has been deeply moving and the music is out of this world. We have worked together on the intercessory prayers that will be used throughout the conference, which has been a real challenge and a joy to do as well.

Perhaps the most fun briefing was the one regarding our garden party with the Queen, which happens next week. We were told that some of us would have an opportunity to shake hands with the Queen and to chat briefly, but that we are not to reach out for her - she will reach out for us and invite us to speak. We have also been told to call her "Your Majesty" the first time and "M'am" after that (Ma'm as in Ham is what we were told). We were also walked through the appropriate protocol for the lunch at Lambeth Palace.

I must say that the mood here is not what I expected at all. There is a deep sense of contemplation and reflection and very little focus on the politics of schism. There is also a whole lot of joy - and it is not superficial. The program has been designed so well and my hope for some good to come from this conference continues to increase - even more now that the bishops have arrived.

Rather than large plenaries and opportunity for resolutions to be made - the bishops are in bible study groups of six in the morning after Morning Prayer, breakfast and Eucharist. Then they move to their Indaba groups of about 40 to have a guided discussion of a topic - "The Bishop and Evangelism" for example. Then they eat together - then have "self select sessions" in the afternoon followed by dinner and time to visit the marketplace and fringe events ending with Night Prayers. That is the basic shape of each day. There are only three plenary sessions the whole time (all keynote speeches by ecumenical guests).

The bible study is very well written and follows the gospel of John for the whole conference. I will be bringing copies home (Along with Lambeth Praise, the hymnal put together for the conference - and the worship resources)!

The last two days have been pretty crazy - but a lot of fun. All the bishops have arrived with their spouses and we have had the responsibility of making sure all the luggage was tagged appropriately and brought to the right rooms on campus by the Canterbury Volunteers (of which there are 350). I always thought that bishops had a lot of baggage before I arrived, but I had no idea! They have come with hat boxes and all! I did get to check in the PB's luggage as well as +Mark's and +Orris's. (Yes, I did ensure that the bishops I knew got through a little more quickly than others - I will confess that favoritism later!) Bishop Katherine is in great form, had an excellent time in Salisbury with the Sudanese bishops and looked great!

OK. Saved the best for last. I was asked two days ago to assist with the opening Eucharist as one of the only priests on the stewarding team. I of course said YES! - and assumed I would be off the the side somewhere shuffling things. As it turned out, I was distributing communion with the dean of Canterbury Cathedral and Ian Douglas from EDS. I had a seat in the front row at the top of the steps beside the altar looking out at 650 bishops and their spouses for the whole Eucharist. It was unreal. Then at the end after chatting with the dean, he asked if I would like to say mass at the Cathedral once a week during the rest of my stay...I almost fell over!!! I managed a "yes, I would be extremely honored." So, I will be saying mass sometime in the next few days. Of course all of you will be in my prayers!

Please pray for me as I continue my ministry of support for the bishops and spouses during their conference. Don't buy what the press has been saying about schism looming over the conference strongly. Schism seems very far from the conference as someone who is directly involved with it. Of course, the Lambeth Conference is not going to solve the current issues in the communion, but I do think it will help the center to hold through building relationships and deepening the sense of connection bishop to bishop - through bible studies that cut across the provinces provinces. I have met (albeit momentarily) almost every bishop at the conference and it seems to me that there is an enormous amount of grace around in Canterbury. More than I ever imagined possible.

I hope you all are well. I look forward to seeing you when I get back. Yes, I am sure I will still be floating!

Peace and Love,

P.S. We had a wonderful tour of the Cathedral the other night after it had closed to the public and really had time to soak in the place. What a space! The stewards will be on retreat for 3 days after the conference with the Archbishop of Canterbury. He has even invited us to his palace beside the cathedral! It really is all too much!! I continue to just soak it in and be thankful - between all the thoughts of "why me?!" Thoughts and prayers.


the Reverend boy said...

WOW this is amazing! Thank you for sharing it with us. Hopefully I can go in some capacity in 10 years time, maybe with Integrity or something.

June Butler said...

Oh my, Michael! What a splendid letter! And what Good News from Lambeth. Thank you for writing, and thank you, Elizabeth, for posting the letter. I'd like to post it on my blog, too. This should be distributed as widely as possible. Don't worry, Michael. I won't do it without your permission. Elizabeth can vouch for me (or not?).

May God continue to bless you and all the stewards in your ministry at Lambeth. What an opportunity for all of you! You will never forget this time. Yes, I've run amok with the quotation marks!

Michael Sniffen said...

Grandmere mimi - you are very welcome to post my litte letter if you think your readers would find it worth reading. I only meant it for a few friends originally, but am very happy to share with more friends! Peace and Love, Michael+

June Butler said...

Michael, thank you. I shall. If you see Allie Graham and Luiz Coelho, give them a hug for me. Peace and love to you.

Fran said...

This is fantastic - I loved reading every word of this.

And that the mood is not of the recent events, but so much more prayerful.

Peace to you and all good things from this event.

The Queen! Well that is great too.

emmy said...

The schedule for the day sounds like camp for bishops!! Glad you are having such a great time Michael!

Allie said...

Mimi, all three of us are on the worship team... and with a group of 50, we all see eachother frequently. Michael is great

June Butler said...

Allie, that is wonderful news. God bless you all.