Bishops rally behind Dr Williams as Conference starts

by
17 July 2008

by Bill Bowder

Into the sun: Dr Williams welcomes visiting bishops to Canterbury Cathedral, on Wednesday PA

Into the sun: Dr Williams welcomes visiting bishops to Canterbury Cathedral, on Wednesday PA

THE Lambeth Conference opened this week in Canterbury on a rising tide of support for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The final number of bishops stands at just over 650 out of a possible 880 (though an unknown number of these sees are vacant). Absentees are from the provinces of Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda. A number of bishops from Kenya, requested to stay away by their Archbishop, the Most Revd Benjamin Nzimbi, have made their way towards Canterbury. The Bishop of Owerri, a sole bishop from Nigeria, where all the 100 bishops have been ordered to stay away by their Archbishop, said he intended to come anyway, for unity’s sake.

Bishops who were approached at random were universal in their praise of Dr Williams. The Bishop of Kurunegala, the Rt Revd Kumara Illangasinghe, described the Archbishop as “the right man, in the right job, for the right purpose, at the right time”.

The Rt Revd Kay Goldsworthy, the first female bishop in Australia, said that he was doing “a remarkably great job”. And the Bishop of Trinidad & Tobago, the Rt Revd Calvin Wendell Bess, described him as a “very capable leader”.

The icing on the cake came on Wednesday, when The Independent quoted Pope Benedict XVI as expressing what has been interpreted as firm support for Dr Williams. On his arrival in Australia, the Pope said that the Anglican Communion must avoid “further schisms and fractures.

“The words and the message of Christ are what offer the real contribution to Lambeth . . . and only in being faithful to God’s words can we find a mature way, a faithful way to find a road together.”

A countrywide hospitality programme has proved popular among the overseas bishops, who spent last week in UK dioceses. The Bishop of Waikato, New Zealand, the Most Revd David Moxon, said after a service in Lichfield Cathedral on Sunday: “I don’t see formal schism lying ahead, so long as we have evenings like this one.”

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The bishops are now halfway through their three-day retreat in Canterbury. The Conference formally begins on Sunday, with a service at Canterbury Cathedral. From then on, until Sunday 3 August, the bishops will meet in prayer cell-groups, larger indaba groups for debate, seminars, and full plenary sessions.

Subjects under discussion include Anglican identity on Monday, evangelism on Tuesday, social injustice on Wednesday, God’s mission on Friday and the environment on Saturday.

Next Thursday, 24 July, is London day, when everyone will meet for lunch at Lambeth Palace and take tea with the Queen at a Buckingham Palace garden party. There is also an optional “walk of witness” led by Dr Williams to support the Millennium Development Goals.

Towards the end of the Conference, on Friday and Saturday 1 and 2 August, the bishops are scheduled formally to tackle what many see as the most pressing item on the agenda: Anglican governance, focusing on the draft Anglican Covenant, which grew out of the Windsor report.

The Primate of Canada, the Most Revd Frederick Hiltz, said: “At a time of great tension and strained relations, it is hoped that the Covenant would enable us to maintain the highest degree of communion possible.” The bishops’ feedback will be incorporated into fresh proposals to go before the Anglican Consultative Council next year in Jamaica. Ultimate decisions about adopting the Covenant must be made in each province.

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