Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Getting Into It

Day Three in Canterbury and I am (ostensibly) on the job! After a sleepless night on a torturous bed, my first priority was finding a new place to lay my head. Fortunately, the occupant upstairs was leaving, and - like Goldilocks - I was overjoyed to find a bed that was just right.

Despite getting just two or three hours of sleep, I found the haze of jetlag lifting, and the world seeming a little less surreal. After Morning Prayer with others from the Inclusive Church Network, I returned to my new room for a lie down, only to find that I overnapped for my first offcially scheduled duty, namely, to help staff the stall in what is called "the Marketplace."

The Marketplace is located about a ten minute walk away from the large, blue, twin-peaked tent in which the bishops are meeting. It is, as I wrote yesterday, truly a cross-section of the stunning diversity of Anglicanism. For instance, just a few steps away from the stall shared by Integrity, Changing Attitude, and (thanks to a few leaflets left by me on the table) The Widening Circle, is a stall dedicated to "helping" gays and lesbians change their sexual orientation.

I ran up the hill from my residence, sweat streaming off my face from the sudden slap of humidity, and entered the Kent University precincts. Suddenly, to my surprise, I stumbled into a field of purple. The bishops were seated at picnic tables and on the grass, enjoying their lunch. As I scurried along, I found myself just five feet away from a party including a rather shaggy, bearded, professorial-looking bishop. Yes, it was the Archbishop of Canterbury himself - and he and his cohort were blocking my route!

At the stall, I was happy to see a trickle of purple lanyards - indicative of bishops and their spouses - stop to chat. One African bishop picked up our handbill for the "Voices of Witness" film that Integrity USA will show this evening. I spoke with Davis Mac-Iyalla, a courageous Nigerian who has faced death threats, beatings, and imprisonment for standing up for gay and lesbian rights in his homeland. I also spoke with the Right Rev'd Christopher Senyonjo, retired Bishop of West Buganda in Uganda, who was deprived of his ministry for his stand in defence of gays and lesbians in his country.

These two men are witnesses to the incomparable role that the Church can play in advancing the mission of social justice. The courage and bravery of African gays and lesbians and their allies impresses me beyond measure. Their presence here at Lambeth demonstrates the claim that homosexuality either does not exist in Africa or is a foreign influence is a lie. Indeed, as I write, there are seven Africans seated in our communications centre, waiting for our nightly debriefing.
Tomorrow, the bishops are off to London - and so am I. Hopefully after a full, restful sleep.

Neil Fernyhough

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