Michael Sullivan Reflects on 2022 Compass Rose Experience

08.22.2023 - CEO, Conference & Retreat, Kanuga Stories, Our Programs, Staff Stories, Worship at Kanuga


Reflections on the 2022 Compass Rose Society Gathering

—Michael Sullivan

I stood at the west door of Westminster Abbey and stared down the nave, mesmerized. With the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier steps in front of me, I could not believe I was there. Alone. Just me in the space claimed sacred since the 11th century.

The last one exiting from a private tour of the Abbey, I realized I could capture a rare photograph. The docent was gracious when I asked to remain, saying simply, “this lifetime opportunity may not come your way again.”

Standing there, I was strangely aware of belonging. Belonging to something bigger, wider, and holy. I felt connected.

Such was the beginning of my attendance at the Compass Rose, a society of people from across the Anglican Communion whose support allows the Archbishop of Canterbury to fulfill duties worldwide. Kanuga has participated in the Society since its inception, fostering relationships across the world and from time to time, bringing those friendships into our program and common life back in the mountains.

Quite honestly, the Society is not always that exciting. Despite the grandeur of the Abbey and the hallowed halls in which we meet, church reports can be, well, quite boring. But this year’s conference was inspiring. From the incredible hospitality to the speakers, not a single moment was wasted on superficial pomp. Every detail was carefully selected and presented to reflect the life of the Communion with voices from across the globe bringing both the reality of our challenges and the gifts of grace.

The words of three presentations gave my soul flight. First, Archbishop Don Tamihere of New Zealand spoke of diversity and inclusion in the Communion in a manner I found refreshing. After discussing diversity as the historic beauty of Classic Anglicanism, he framed its foundation using his own cultural context. “None of us contain all the divine. The only way to know God is to see more of the pieces of God through each other and creation. As an island people, with literally thousands of islands, we understand diversity in language, people and culture as life facts that do not divide but bind us one to another. We are bound by water as a connector. The ocean gives us this life, leading us to discovery of one another in the multiplicity of creation.” He went on to claim that the church cannot become enamored by ideological conflict, for in doing so any group “creates an idol in its own image.” Rather, we must facilitate engagement by honoring one another.

Then, Katherine Grieb of Virginia Theological Seminary gave a brilliant talk based on Habakkuk. Her insightful question, “what would be on Habakkuk’s billboard today?” was exposing, raw, and truthful. Exploring our moral vision and our blindness to it, she pointedly asked the prophet’s questions to today’s audience. She then concluded with a list of suggested places for our work to begin, from unjust criminal justice systems to enculturated injustice and systemic prejudice to creation. She concluded with the five marks of mission, challenging all to hear the prophet’s warning and begin the hard work before us.



Finally, The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby moved me, twice. First, before dinner, he spoke to me personally at length. We began with civilized cocktail chatter. As the conversation continued, he asked what I thought of the presentations. “I think they are refreshing and far more respectful of diversity and inclusion than I imagined,” I replied. He looked a bit puzzled and then asked, “Why shouldn’t they be?” And a deeply personal conversation about diversity and inclusion followed. I felt heard, respected, and deeply honored. And just an hour later in his remarks to all, he was humble, expressing disappointment and frustration, and asking forgiveness for not being able to solve all the challenges of holding the Communion together. The conversation with him along with the presentation was a glimpse into the real man, Justin Welby, surely always the Archbishop, but so beautifully standing before us as a vulnerable broken human, despite the office, yet also so filled with the hope of grace.

I left that evening thankful. For the opportunity to be there. For the chance to hear new perspectives and dreams from across the communion. And for an Archbishop who saw me for who I was, and I him. I found myself belonging. Called to something bigger, wider, stronger than any of us.

The compass was guiding after all, despite all my doubts.

We walk on.

The Compass Rose Society supports the programs and ministries of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the organization that sets the goals and direction for the Communion.

The Society helps the ACC in three important ways – raising funds, mission projects and building community.

The 2023 Compass Rose Society annual meeting will be held in October in London.