Seminarian Carl Saxton writes about his summer with Continuing Indaba
As I boarded my flight to London in the Atlanta airport I felt excitement mixed with, if I’m honest, a little bit of fear. Ten weeks hadn’t seemed like that long of a time when I had talked about it in the comfort of my own home. Now though, it seemed like an eternity to be away from Laura (my wife), our home and my faithful little canine buddies. Scared, yup, but looking forward to the adventure.
The opportunity laid before me was too good pass up: spending the summer working as an intern in the Continuing Indaba project at the Anglican Communion Office [ACO] in London. Many thanks to the generosity and support of both Bishop High and our wonderful family at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Parker County, who enabled me to go on this adventure. And here I was, sitting on British Airways flight 226 on my way to London.
My time in the UK was amazing. I was taken in by a lovely couple, Mr. and Mrs. Adrian Risso-Gill. These wonderful people were like a second set of parents to me while I was in the UK. Early on during my stay Adrian would get up early each day to make sure I knew how to get where I was going, giving me detailed directions to find the bus stop or Tube station I needed. God bless them for taking a complete stranger into their home for nearly three months of their summer. I hope to be able to return to London, taking Laura with me the next time, so that she can meet these saints and be blessed as I have been.
I worked during my stay in the Anglican Communion Office. I have to admit that when I heard “Anglican Communion Office” I expected something grand and buzzing with people. The truth is altogether different. The ACO is housed in a renovated home for deaconesses in the Notting Hill area of London. It is wonderfully located, with bus and Tube access right around the corner, shopping on the Portabello Road within easy walking distance, and a wonderful pub—The Metropolitan—a stone’s throw from the front door. In total there are around 20 individuals who work in the ACO, people from all around the world, but only an average of 7-10 occupy the offices at any time. Because of the international nature of the Anglican Communion and the work they do of keeping the Communion connected, there are always a number of people traveling to the far reaches of the Communion. The sheer amount of good work being done by so few individuals is mind boggling. If you are ever in London stop by and see what’s happening at the Anglican Communion Office. The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearnon (a truly lovely Irishman) is happy to say “Hi” to Anglicans from around the world. Don’t let the title fool you, Kenneth is wonderful.
During my time with Continuing Indaba I was to work with and meet folks from all over the world. My main duties as an intern were to edit papers written about Indaba, the Anglican Communion, and participants in the Continuing Indaba [CI] Pilot Conversations about their experiences. I also travelled to Salisbury for a portion of the Sudan 40 celebrations, Canterbury for a presentation about CI to the annual Canterbury Scholars Programme for seminarians and the newly ordained, the Diocese of St. Asaph of the Church in Wales to speak with the bishop there and attend the beautiful bilingual (Welsh/English) ordinations of two deacons and two priests, and perhaps most exciting of all, to Lambeth Palace for a group conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury and tea!
Weekdays were, for the most part, spent working at the ACO or traveling to the places mentioned above. The weekends, however, were my time to be a tourist. I visited museums, historical sites, the South Bank of the Thames’ wonderful shopping area, and generally wandered around London taking it all in. Of course Adrian and Gill were instrumental in making sure I found my way to my destinations and home again in one piece. It wasn’t until the last 3-4 weeks that I began feeling comfortable finding my way around without specific instructions. You see, I am not one of those people blessed with an innate sense of direction—I get lost in shopping malls. Of all of my weekend forays, however, the most relaxing and special was my trip to northern Wales.
My supervisor and colleague with whom I worked most closely at CI is a wonderful Welsh-woman. She invited me to travel along with her to the Diocese of St. Asaph to attend the ordinations mentioned above. As she is deeply interested and invested in ideas around transcultural experience (which is at the heart of the CI methodology), she thought it would be an adventure to invite me to stay at her parents’ cottage in the mountains of Wales. Wow!! What a beautiful country! I got to see Wales at its best from an amazing vantage point. Her mother, father, and sister made me very welcome to their home and gave me a cozy guest room with a view of the mountains. I cannot describe what a wonderful experience I had or how welcoming the Parry-Joneses were.
So what was the point, you may be asking. Why would this experience be important for an Episcopal seminarian? I’m glad you asked. Being in London and working at the ACO gave me the opportunity to meet men and women, bishops, priests, deacons and lay people from all over the Anglican Communion. I met bishops from the Sudan and South Sudan; priests from Zimbabwe, Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong and India; and worked alongside lay people from Columbia, Japan and all around the British Isles. I heard their stories, their concerns for their churches and the world, and shared some of the joy of the work we were doing to make it possible to disagree and still love one another as Anglican Christians.
I also learned a great deal about myself, how I view the world and how that can be a challenge when facing someone who views the world in a different way. I realized that those who deeply disagree with my religious, political, and social views are not always doing so out of malice, hard-heartedness, or a desire to undo the things I find most beautiful in the world. They simply have convictions and a world-view that are different from my own. These differences are born out of their cultural and social life ways, how and where they were raised to adulthood, or from a deeply thought-out and carefully considered view. I too easily ascribe meanness or ignorance to those who disagree with me without giving them the chance to explain their point of view. If I can listen, really listen to their story, thoughts, and opinions without thinking all the while how I can convert them to my point of view; then, and only then, can I understand them for who and where they are. This doesn’t mean that I will necessarily agree with them, I might even vehemently and passionately despise their position, but I have begun our conversation from a place of equality recognizing the “other” as a fellow child of God, beloved and made in God’s image.
Could I have come to all of these insights on my own? With the grace of God, probably so. This experience, however, has made them a part of me that an intellectual working-out of them could not have accomplished. I pray that I will be able to carry this experience with me throughout my ministry, that it will inform that ministry and my entire life.
My time in the UK taught me a lot about the Anglican Communion and about myself. I met many wonderful people, some only acquaintances, some new life-long friends. Being immersed in another culture is transformative. It took me a while to reflect on all that I experienced and learned, and I’m sure the Spirit will reveal more to me as the years go by. Thank you to all of you for your support through encouragement, prayer, and hard work to help me get to London—I couldn’t have done it without you!
A Prayer for the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around you heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Book of Common Prayer, p. 815