It's about a hundred degrees and getting hotter in the Big Top at Lambeth but the £1 million black hole in the budget at the Lambeth Conference means they can't afford air conditioning. Expect fainting bishops to be ferried out by ambulances any moment now, if they don't start shooting each other first. The press conference this morning was a farce. Excommunications officers declined to comment on who is here for reasons of 'security' but declined to say what the 'security' issues were. Apparently there are some Nigerian bishops at the conference but we are not allowed to know who they are. Even the totally harmless and innocuous Church Press here are being denied access to the evening Eucharists. As for me, I was told yesterday that it was worth applying to attend the afternoon indaba groups. Today there is one called 'Never say No to Media', led by Rev Dr Joshva Raha, tutor at the Centre for Mission Studies at Queen's, Birmingham. I applied and they said no.
The conference is falling apart and it is only day two of official business. The Sudanese bishops, who were, astonishingly, stationed as Salisbury with the US Presiding Bishop and her team before the conference, have almost derailed the whole thing by virtually calling for Gene Robinson's resignation. One of their two statements today is here.
The funding crisis is more severe than we realised. A senior source has told me that the conference is up to £2 million in debt, and they are at a loss of how to meet this. 'We can't pay for it,' he told me, looking desperate. The prospect of the bailiffs turning up at Lambeth Palace to requisition some of those lovely old paintings of previous Archbishops is to unbearable for words. The Church Commissioners cannot help out because their trust deeds restrict financial aid to the English church only.
An emergency meeting has been called for the Commissioners and the Archbishop's Council immediately after the conference. Will TEC be handed the begging bowl? A bit embarrassing, isn't it, if on the one hand the conference organisers say, your legally elected bishop cannot come. And then on the other, they say: 'Help! Save us from our debt!'
This is why, I understand, we are all sweating like the proverbials. The big blue top where the bishops have their plenaries is, literally, hotter than hell itself. The prospect of air conditioning was explored, but when the estimate came in it was turned down. They just couldn't afford it.
And of course think of all that accommodation that has been booked. More than 230 rooms, presumably paid for, and lying empty. What a shame.
Poor Rowan Williams is trying his best, as we report. The retreat went well, the Archbishop seemed even to be beginning to enjoy himself. There are some genuinely good ideas for covenant and canon being worked out here. The trouble is, too many of the bishops don't want to know. It really is increasingly difficult to see how the Archbishop is going to resolve this mess. As he said yesterday, it will take nothing short of a miracle, and none knows how many Anglican bishops still believe in those.