Lambeth Conference to go ahead with most of the bishops present

by
23 January 2008

Paul Handley previews this summer’s gathering in Canterbury

Going forward together: Dr Williams leading a group of overseas bishops at Lambeth Palace on Monday. On the left are the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest, and the Archbishop of Melanesia, the Most Revd Ellison Pogo; on the right are Jane Williams and Margaret Sentamu PA

Going forward together: Dr Williams leading a group of overseas bishops at Lambeth Palace on Monday. On the left are the Archbishop of the Indian Ocea...

SEVENTY PER CENT of bishops have said yes to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to attend this year’s Lambeth Conference.

At a press conference at Lambeth Palace on Monday, Dr Williams said that, in addition, he knew of others who intended coming. To those who had declined (on the grounds that the bishops of the US Episcopal Church were attending), he said: “I recognise their absolute right to choose in good faith and in conscience whether or not they can be there. The invitation is on the table. Naturally, I would be delighted to see more rather than fewer bishops there. That’s their choice, but the door is open.”

The threat of non-attendance by conservative bishops has overshadowed preparations for this year’s conference, which takes place at the University of Kent in Canterbury from 16 July to 4 August. The recent announcement of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Israel in June has been seen by some as an alternative to Lambeth, although most of its organisers, such as the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, have yet to announce their intentions about Lambeth.

There was a clear message to the conservatives in the inclusion of the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest, on the panel at the press conference, representing the Design Group that has planned the conference agenda. Archbishop Ernest is a conservative who took part in the recent African consecration of “missionary bishops” for the United States. He had earlier signed a letter asking for a postponement of the conference.

In answer to press questions on Monday, he said that, “being part of the design group, and after talking to the Archbishop [of Canterbury], we thought that, in order to ease the tension we should meet, we should be engaged with each other, in order to see how best we can serve the Communion. Nothing has changed, except that I still love my Communion, and wanted to be in the meeting.”

Advertisement

Another prominent Evangelical, the Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, has also countered the impression that “the GAFCON movement” is the cradle of biblical orthodoxy. Writing in this week’s Church Times (Comment), he states: “Some who want to go to Lambeth are under primatial pressure not to do so, and to go to GAFCON instead.”

On the subject of GAFCON, Dr Williams said merely: “I do have real concerns that in this case there are unresolved issues for the local Church, the Church in Jerusalem, that have pinpointed some real anxieties about having such a conference at this time in the Holy Land.”

Dr Williams fielded questions about those bishops who had not been invited to the Lambeth Conference, most notably the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, a gay man with a partner. “It’s proving extremely difficult to see under what heading he might be invited to be around.”

As for those bishops consecrated by African Primates to work within the United States, Dr Williams said: “The Windsor report, and a whole succession of agreements by Primates, Lambeth Conference resolutions, have discouraged this sort of intervention. I can’t really sit light to that.”

On the subject of homosexuality, Dr Williams said that the agenda included a day set aside to consider “sexuality questions as they affect the ministry of bishops”, part of which will be the results of the listening process asked for by the Lambeth Conference in 1998. In addition, he said, “it’s inevitably going to be part of the conversations informally, day by day, as people will bring to the conference what their anxieties are, and what their hopes are. . . There will not be a resolution on the subject.”

Are conference organisers right to try to avoid resolutions? Vote here

The conference in detail

The conference in detail

THE 2008 Lambeth Conference has two aims, said Dr Williams: “strengthening the sense of a shared Anglican identity among the bishops from around the world, and helping to equip bishops for the role they increasingly have as leaders in mission, involved in a whole variety of ways in helping the Church grow”.

The focus is very much on the bishops themselves. The chairman of the Design Group, the Most Revd Sir Ellison Pogo, spoke of the hope that the bishops would “tell stories together, share more at a personal level, and have a sense of fellowship by sharing what we have in common, but also our differences”. Archbishop Ernest said that it would be “an opportunity for the bishops to resource themselves in prayerful confidence with each other”.

Advertisement

What it will not be is a law-making body, said Dr Williams, since it never has been. There would be a few plenary sessions, he said, and “there will be resolutions. We’re hoping that we won’t have quite such a formidable line-up of plenary sessions dealing with resolutions in the last few days.”

THE TIMETABLE

A typical day will run:

Eucharist

Breakfast

Bible study in groups of eight

  (indaba groups, a SiZulu word   meaning an important  gathering)

Coffee

Extended indaba groups  (each containing 48 bishops)

Lunch

Free time

Self-selected sessions

Evening prayer

Evening meal

Free time (and fringe events)

THE PROGRAMME

10-15 July the “Hospitality Initiative”, during which bishops will be accommodated in dioceses

16 July Bishops arrive in Canterbury

17-19 July The first three days will be spent in retreat, “reflecting on God’s mission and a bishop’s discipleship”

20 July opening celebration in Canterbury Cathedral

24 July London day

27 July Sunday hospitality in local parishes or at the Cathedral

3 Aug evening eucharist followed by farewell event

4 Aug bishops leave

Daily themes

21 July Celebrating common ground: the bishop and Anglican identity

22 July Proclaiming the good news: the bishop and evangelism

23 July Transforming society: the bishop and social justice

25 July Discerning our shared calling: the bishop, other Churches, and God’s mission

26 July Safeguarding creation: the bishop and the environment

28 July Engaging with a multifaith world: the bishop, other religions, and Christian witness

29 July Equality in God’s sight: when power is abused (jointly with spouses)

30 July Living under scripture: the bishop and the Bible in mission

31 July Listening to God and each other: the bishop and human sexuality

1 and 2 August Fostering our common life: the bishop, the Covenant, and the Windsor Process

THE COST

The total cost of the event is put at £5.6 million: £4.4 million for the bishops and £1.2 million for the spouses. To this the cost of travel must be added. Bishops are expected to be self-financing, though in reality an estimated 42 per cent of them will need some form of subsidy.

The Anglican Communion office hopes to raise 600 bursaries at £3500 each, to cover the £1970 conference costs and help with travel. In the past, a large portion of this subsidy has been funded by the Episcopal Church in the US. It is not clear how forthcoming Episcopalians are likely to be this time, given the ambivalence with which they have been viewed over the past year.

Advertisement

A statement from the Anglican Communion Office this week said: “Fund-raising is definitely ongoing as we draw closer to the event. The fact is the meeting is self-funding; yet we all know many simply can-not afford it. The generosity of many continues to flow, for which we are grateful.” The Church Commissioners have agreed to cover the costs of all English bishops, leaving the dioceses free to contribute to the costs of overseas bishops.

Efforts are being made to make the conference completely self-sustaining, including planting in a forest to offset the carbon cost of drawing bishops from around the world.

Spouses conference

On Monday, Jane Williams and Margaret Sentamu introduced the programme for the bishops’ spouses (600-odd wives plus half-a-dozen men). “Some of you may think of the spouse’s conference as basically Jam and Jerusalem, ‘more tea vicar’, or mitre-making and flower arranging,” said Mrs Williams. Instead, it would be a chance to meet “some of the most interesting, committed and dynamic people in the Anglican Communion”.

Efforts are being made to make the conference completely self-sustaining, including planting in a forest to offset the carbon cost of drawing bishops from around the world.

Spouses conference

On Monday, Jane Williams and Margaret Sentamu introduced the programme for the bishops’ spouses (600-odd wives plus half-a-dozen men). “Some of you may think of the spouse’s conference as basically Jam and Jerusalem, ‘more tea vicar’, or mitre-making and flower arranging,” said Mrs Williams. Instead, it would be a chance to meet “some of the most interesting, committed and dynamic people in the Anglican Communion”.

Mrs Sentamu spoke of different perceptions of bishops’ wives. In parts of Africa, for example, they were regarded as the mother of the diocese. As a consequence, there will be much in the conference programme to equip them for their tasks, in parallel with their husbands. The programme will include training in management, microfinance, mission, IT, and different forms of ministry. They will look at fair trade, slavery, and climate change.

Mrs Sentamu spoke of different perceptions of bishops’ wives. In parts of Africa, for example, they were regarded as the mother of the diocese. As a consequence, there will be much in the conference programme to equip them for their tasks, in parallel with their husbands. The programme will include training in management, microfinance, mission, IT, and different forms of ministry. They will look at fair trade, slavery, and climate change.

They will also study issues such as sexual abuse and gender violence. Since these are not just women’s issues, they will join up with their husbands for such discussions.

They will also study issues such as sexual abuse and gender violence. Since these are not just women’s issues, they will join up with their husbands for such discussions.

Mrs Williams also spoke enthusiastically about a creative project to foliate a tree during the conference with leaves containing contributions from the spouses.

Mrs Williams also spoke enthusiastically about a creative project to foliate a tree during the conference with leaves containing contributions from the spouses.

Forthcoming Events

9 October
The Parish: Has it Had its Day?

Join us for a Moral Maze-style debate at St Mellitus College, London. Tickets £10 (£5 for students/ordinands). Read more and book tickets

The Church Times Podcast

The Church Times Podcast, hosted by Tim Wyatt and Ed Thornton, features a mixture of interviews and news analysis. Listen online

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read seven articles each month for free.