present primates

I finally found a chance to watch +Katherin Jefferts Schori’s webcast Conversation with the Church that was broadcast from Holy Trinity, Wall Street on Wednesday. It was impressive, both for its content and for the use of technology. +KJS gave (scripted) reflections on the Primates meeting, then took questions from a live audience, by phone and by e-mail.

At one point, a woman rang up to ask +KJS whether she had really said something she was reported to have said and if so to defend it. The caller then said, ‘I’m a priest. If you have said it, I don’t how to make sense of it. I feel undermined.’

I very much doubt the woman felt satisfied by +KJS’s answer, but what struck me was the importance of the transaction. This was probably the first and last time that the priest had been able to ask the Presiding Bishop a question and get an immediate response. This is as near as they would come to meeting and talking. And this is true for the vast majority of priests in The Episcopal Church.

Contrast that with my morning on Friday. I got the 7am ferry and a couple of trains so that I could be in Edinburgh for a committee meeting by 10am. The primus walked in a few minutes later, and we stood talking about what happened in Tanzania as we drank our coffee. No one else joined in — I suspect because most of the other people in the room had seen the primus within the past two weeks, and had already spoken with him about it.

Then, we went into the meeting to discuss routine sorts of things and the primus ‘blended in’ like anyone else. Over lunch we talked about Synods and leaking roofs, then he went to tend to other matters: his own diocese, or perhaps one of the other two he is overseeing during their vacancies.

This is what I love about this church. If we have a question for the primus we can ask it. Over coffee. In person. As if it were the most natural thing in the world.

And he will usually answer — as a human being. As one priest to another. As primus. Take your pick.

Being a small church has its benefits. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for that woman in the States, lifting the phone to ring into the webcast, knowing that it was her only chance to ‘speak’ with her primate.

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