An odd couple, part II

Pope Francis must be reading this blog.

Two years ago, I suggested that the Pope should meet with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the Vatican. It sounds odd, I know, but no odder than when Paul VI first met Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey at the Vatican more than fifty years ago.

Today, Pope Francis met with the Archbishop of Sweden at the Vatican—and she’s a woman! There are some great pictures Antje Jackelén and Francis.

(There are some other great pictures on Archbishop Jackelén’s Facebook page. I’m grateful to a Twitter follower for pointing me in this direction.)

While he is at it, Pope Francis could—given his obvious enthusiasm for Lutherans—make it a North American trifecta and invite ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and ELCiC National Bishop Susan Johnson to talk about ecumenical relations with two communions of churches that have made some progress on that front.

Or, given his key role in the recent thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States, he could invite Bishop Katharine and the Episcopal bishop of Cuba, Griselda Delgado. The possibilities are endless.

As Michael Ramsey and Paul VI showed, great things can happen when people look beyond differences—no matter how profoundly, honestly, and deeply held—and, for a brief, short moment, come together to pray, discuss, and reflect. In doing so, for the briefest of moments, they show forth something of the coming kingdom of God in our midst. That’s what I see in these pictures from the Vatican today.

UPDATE: Some commenters have helpfully pointed out that Bishop Cate Waynick met Pope Francis as part of a meeting at the Anglican Centre in Rome last November.


This is terrific and I’m grateful to read about this. But I’d still thinking about a personal tête-à-tête, a la Paul VI and Michael Ramsey.

“Let the press come to me…”

Pope Francis’ impromptu press conference on a plane has lit up social media today. His comments on women, homosexuality, the Vatican bank, and much more have given people plenty to chew on.

Here’s one thing I found interesting: Francis stood there for nearly 90 minutes and answered questions. When was the last time any major public figure did that? President Obama? Nope. He gave a great speech on race last week, and then walked out without answering questions. When public figures make major campaign announcements—Hillary Clinton endorsing same-sex marriage, for instance—it is done in a polished video which we all watch, but of which none of us can ask questions.

What I love about this picture is how interested and engaged the pope seems with his questioner. How many public figures can you think of who feel that way about the press? The press? Keep your distance from them, please.

One of the defining characteristics of Jesus’ ministry was his accessibility: the children, the woman who grabbed at his cloak as he walked by, the woman sitting at the well, etc., etc. It’s something Francis has done as well, and something he talked about in his press conference:

I could be close to the people, greet them, embrace them, without armored cars. During the entire time, there wasn’t a single incident. I realize there’s always a risk of a crazy person, but having a bishop behind bulletproof glass is crazy, too. Between the two, I prefer the first kind of craziness.

I think accessibility is good—to the press, to the people, the sick, the young, the rich, the old, women, men, gay, straight. The more we are in relationship with people, the more we are engaging those who are different to us, the more we are open to what spontaneously happens, the more I think we are living into the world God is calling us to.

So whatever you think about what Francis said today—and there is a lot there to digest—I hope some other public figures follow his lead and wander to the back cabin of their planes on their next trip.

I’d prefer that kind of craziness, too.

An odd couple: Pope Francis and Katharine Jefferts Schori

Pope Francis and Justin Welby hung out at the Vatican today. It’s easy to miss the significance of this. Less than 50 years ago, then pope Paul VI and then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey met in Rome. It was practically a revolution that the meeting should take place. Paul VI couldn’t really recognize Ramsey as a bishop—what with Apostolicae Curae declaring Anglican orders “absolutely null and utterly void”—but he did famously give Ramsey his ring, a de facto acknowledgement of Ramsey’s position.

Really, Paul VI gave him the ring because he had dared Ramsey to wear the most ridiculous piece of headgear he could find.

Today, Welby wore that ring and Francis kept calling Welby “your grace,” a different way of acknowledging Welby’s position. No one is surprised by this anymore. Of course, the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury would get on. It’s just how it goes.

I’m as happy as anyone else that the two of them spent some time together and I hope there is more to come. But it doesn’t seem like enough anymore. Since that Paul-Ramsey meeting, there’s been a major change in Anglicanism—we ordain women on a regular basis, and some women are now bishops. As I’ve argued before, Anglicans should not see women’s ordination as an obstacle to unity, but as a gift to the relationship.

Just waiting for that invitation, Francis

So the pictures of Pope Francis and Justin Welby are great, but here’s the picture I want to see: Pope Francis and Katharine Jefferts Schori praying together, him in his white and her in a purple cassock. It would be as significant a moment as Paul VI giving Ramsey his ring. (I’d settle for any other woman bishop out there, actually. If Francis wanted to stay in the British Isles, he could go with Jana Jeruma Grinberga, whom Welby highlighted at his enthronement.)

You bet! It’s in the mail.

What Paul VI seemed to understand is that sometimes the rules and regulations are a bit outdated. You might not be able to change them, but you can, you know, circumvent them to acknowledge a present reality. I wonder if Pope Francis can see the same thing about women’s ordination.

Obviously, I’m not holding my breath on this one, but this pope has been full of surprises. Maybe he has one more up his sleeve…

Is the ground shifting under ACNA?

Change is afoot in the Anglican world—and already its effects are beginning to be felt.

There’s a new archbishop of Canterbury, of course, who will be formally seated in his new cathedral on Thursday. Rowan Williams was a convenient whipping boy for breakaway American Anglicans. (This is the group that has left the Episcopal Church and affiliated with various overseas provinces. Many are now grouped under the Anglican Church in North America [ACNA].) They bemoaned his alleged liberalism and chastised him for not going after “apostate” liberals more forcefully and chucking them out of the Communion.

But Justin Welby is not so easy to pigeonhole. For one thing, he’s no liberal. His public statements on sexuality-related issues, for instance, have been entirely in keeping with what ACNA Anglicans say they’ve wanted to hear from Lambeth. He comes from the centre of contemporary Anglican evangelicalism, Holy Trinity Brompton.

Yet already he’s causing ACNA Anglicans to have fits. Welby’s early statements have been all about reconciliation, a profoundly Biblical concept—and ACNA Anglicans have busily set about redefining reconciliation and downplaying its significance. A less Biblical move I cannot think of. Welby gave a major stage to the deeply holy relationship between Tory Baucum and Shannon Johnston—and GAFCON Anglicans apparently put tremendous pressure on Baucum that he had to contort his own rhetoric to end the relationship. No matter the surface justifications, this is not the move of a strong organization.

But the potentially more significant change is taking place in Rome. Anglicans don’t always like to admit it but Rome has always had huge influence on Anglicanism—things we adopt usually start there first. The stature of the pope is such that we can’t avoid the effects of what he does. ACNA Anglicans relied on Pope Benedict as a handy backstop. In his opposition to same-sex marriage, say, and his theological acumen, these Anglicans could—and did—say, “See, there’s the kind of leader we need to have—bold and orthodox.” They trumpeted their meetings with him.

Francis has only been pope for a few days but already things seem different. He talks about the poor, for one thing—a lot. There’s a hint that he was once open to blessing same sex relationships. Most significantly—and the thing I have found most appealing about him—he takes himself with a kind of holy lightness, one thing that has been in short supply in the church (of any communion) in recent years. He looks like he’s having fun.

It is way too early to say anything with any certainty but two of the verities that ACNA Anglicans have relied on in recent years—a “weak”, “liberal” leader at Lambeth and a backstop in Rome—are quickly changing. These breakaway Anglican groups have lots of money and lots of time to come up with new ways to make their case and I have no doubt they will. But the fact that they are scrambling is significant.

I don’t wish ACNA ill and I make these comments with no value judgment. But I do wish for a new narrative in Anglican relations, one that is a little more accurate, interesting, and fruitful. Change is coming. Let us hope it move us closer to reality.