By Lloyd Ashton for Anglican Taonga and ACNS
Get ready for a once in a lifetime event.
That’s what Auckland Anglicans were hearing in the leadup to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit, and the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in the Parnell Cathedral.
They were being told that this is a first and last chance for Kiwis to see and hear Dr Rowan Williams, and the only chance most New Zealanders would ever get to sample the ACC.
Well, on the strength of today’s powhiri and grand opening event for the ACC at the Telstra Events Centre in Manukau City, on the southern fringe of Auckland – the Kiwis weren’t the only ones experiencing a “once in a lifetime event”.
Because from the time the three young Maori warriors sprung forth from inside the stadium, prancing, flashing their pukana (wild-eyed grimaces) swinging their taiaha (long wooden clubs) – to challenge the newly arrived Archbishop of Canterbury…
To the stirring rendition of the famous Ka mate haka by a combined Anglican church schools kapa haka party at the end of proceedings…
Well, it’s safe to say that it probably wasn’t just the Kiwis who were having a once in a lifetime experience.
Dollars to doughnuts, most of ACC delegates and staff would never have experienced something like that in the flesh before.
As you looked around, you could see – as Archbishop Winston Halapua put it: “All the colours of the Day of Pentecost” – the ACC delegates themselves, and rank upon rank of new New Zealanders, with so many brown faces among them.
You might even have been encouraged to think that if the Anglican Church was ever going to fully embrace plurality, here, in this place, which is the largest Polynesian city on earth, well, it just might happen.
And that was a subject that the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the president of the ACC, reflected upon in his response to the speeches of welcome.
The Archbishop mused on the gifts that the Anglican Communion owes to this province – “the idea that it was possible to be a different kind of church – a church in which the many voices of lay people, and clergy and bishops could all be heard together in synod…”
He mused, too, on the “brave, creative experiment in living together in difference” that is the three tikanga church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and the “whole experiment of New Zealand itself – which is the experiment of living in a world of more than one culture.”
And he reflected further on how those themes of living with difference had come to his mind during last year’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
In particular, when he considered the work of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, who was one of the leading translators of that Bible.
Bishop Andrewes had preached a number of sermons on the theme of Pentecost, he said.
And he’d drawn attention to the “cloven” tongues of fire which had appeared over the disciples’ heads on that first day of Pentecost.
“Divided tongues,” said Archbishop Williams. “Two peaks.
“Now, asked Bishop Andrewes: why are the tongues of fire divided?
“Because no-one human tongue alone can fully tell the works of God.
“The divided tongues of fire at Pentecost tell us that where the Holy Spirit is, there is conversation.
“There is a mixing of what different tongues can tell.
“Because no one language alone, no one culture alone can carry the full weight of what it is that God wants to share with us, God’s children.
“Bishop Andrewes points out that it’s not an accident that the Bible itself has two original languages, not one: Hebrew and Greek.
“And as we think about what that might mean for us today, we think of the enrichment that comes from hearing and speaking the praises of God in more than one moment, in more than one culture, in more than one language.’
Archbishop Williams is Welsh, and he spoke of “the enormous privilege of coming from a bicultural environment. Growing up in a family where two languages were always heard around the table.
“To grow up in a world where more than one language is spoken in your home is to grow up realising that humanity is never going to be something that tries to speak only one language, to act one way, to deal with people who are like oneself.
“So I ask, brothers and sisters, for your prayers for our ACC, your prayers for a Pentecostal experience – that divided tongues of fire will touch us all in the days ahead.
“That we shall learn to listen to one another’s languages, experience and insight with all the enthusiasm and eagerness, with which we would listen to God’s own word, and pray that we shall have a fiery, kindling experience as we meet together – and find our own language renewed in listening to others.
“And we shall pray in turn that this experiment that is Aotearoa New Zealand, this experiment that is the Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia – we shall pray that these experiments will also be marks and signs of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today.
“And be signs of hope for a world in which by God’s purpose, and God’s promise, one of these days… all of the islands will rise and sing.
The other thing that must be said about this opening event is that it belonged to the young.
Because not only was it the young – and young at heart – who provided the standout cultural contributions, the haka, the waiata and the choral singing, but it was also the young who provided the intellectual stimulation.
That came via a youth forum, where for 40 minutes school students posed searching questions to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal church, and Thabo Makgoba, the Archbishop of Southern Africa.
The young people had been working on their questions for weeks.
And what made the session particularly interesting is that the three bishops didn’t know them in advance. They didn’t even know they were going to be on that panel till a few hours beforehand.
So: no patsy answers there.
The questions varied from the downright quirky: “What shoes would God wear?” to the no-escape serious: “New Zealand is debating a bill to authorise same sex marriage. What are your views on same sex marriage?”
On the shoes question, Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori figured the almighty would either opt for dancing shoes – or bare feet “I think the divine toes would want to enjoy the earth the Holy One has created.”
While Dr Williams figured God would opt for slip ons – ones that could be taken off easily so they could be given away.
On same sex marriage, Dr Williams said, to laughter: “thanks a bundle.
“The short answer is that the Anglican church has quite a lot to say about this issue – but it’s not always the same thing that people are saying.
“I’d say that for the vast majority of Anglicans in the world, it’s not one they can come to terms with.”
Bishop Jefferts Schori, on the other hand, said she felt that people who experience same sex attraction “should have the same ability to live in a covenanted relationship with another person” as the rest of us have.
There were other interesting questions, too: such as: Why did you want to be a bishop?
Answer, from Archbishop Makgoba: “I didn’t want to. But I think a bishop is called to be the servant of the servants. So we are all motivated by serving God in others.”
And at the end, there was a post Christchurch-earthquake question for Archbishop Rowan.
In the light of that disaster, how can you explain God?
Archbishop Rowan’s answer:
“Faced with all kinds of horrors, people have gone on believing in God. That’s a fact.
“There’s another simple fact: The world moves on its own by natural processes. God hasn’t made a world where it’s always going to be safe, or where he is able to step in and adjust the settings.
“So these are the two ends of the problem.
“And I try to keep looking into the darkness in the middle.”