What happened? No one quite knows

06 August 2008

Pat Ashworth looks at some of the first reactions to the Conference

Wrapping things up: Dr Williams praises the work of the group that acted as midwife for the bishops’ reflections ACNS/GUNN

Wrapping things up: Dr Williams praises the work of the group that acted as midwife for the bishops’ reflections ACNS/GUNN

THERE was no great jostling to be the first to comment on the Lam­beth outcome: an acknowledge­ment, perhaps, that the 42-page Reflections document needed much more than a superficial glance.

GAFCON’s response was a brief press statement that read: “The Primates’ Council of GAFCON will wish to study the outcome of the Lambeth Conference carefully and consult with those they are leading. They are meeting towards the end of August and will make their response following that meeting.”

The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, who also boycotted the Conference, was slightly more expansive. “We have been praying for the Lambeth Conference, and now that it has ended we look forward to talking with those who were there. It seems it has fulfilled the desires of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and we also look forward to hearing from him,” a statement on Monday said.

It continued: “Our absence focused minds on the problems within the Communion and spoke louder than our presence would have. However, the issues which have caused such division are still before us and require decisive action so that the mission of the Church will not be further impaired.”

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, said that many bishops had come to the gathering “in fear and trembling, expecting either a distasteful encounter between those of vastly different opinions, or the cold shoulder from those who disagree. The overwhelming reality has been just the opposite,” she said.

“We have prayed, cried, learned, and laughed together, and discovered something deeper about the body of Christ. We know more of the deeply faithful ministry of those in vastly differing contexts, and we have heard repeatedly of the life-and-death matters confronting vast swaths of the Communion.” It was “suffering the birth pangs of something new, which none of us can yet fully appreciate or understand”.


Eleven Primates of the Global South, all present throughout the Conference, issued a statement on Sunday. The group comprised the Archbishops of the Indian Ocean, Burundi, Congo, South East Asia, Myanmar, Tanzania (two), Sudan, and West Africa, the Presiding Bishop in Jerusalem and the Middle East, and the Moderator of the Church of South India.

The 11 fully affirm the Windsor process and “urge the official endorsement of the proposed Anglican Covenant by ACC 14 in May 2009”. They further urge endorsement of the interim proposals for the Pastoral Forum.

They say: “We deeply regret that during the Conference proceedings substantial theological voices outside of the Western world have not been present in the evening plenary sessions. . . We are con­cerned with the continuing patron­is­ing attitude of the West towards the rest of the Churches worldwide . . . We regret attempts to cause divi­sions and break the bonds between Churches in the Global South.”

The Bishop of New Westminster, the Rt Revd Michael Ingham, whose diocese had voted to allow same-sex blessings, said that it must “consider deeply” what action it should take in response to Lambeth. While he had found the indaba groups “a great success”, he criticised the Windsor Continuation Group for “rigidity and a lack of wisdom. . . The primary mindset of the Windsor Group is conformity or expulsion. As yet, they display no capacity for creating space, only for taking it away.”

The Rt Revd Marc Andrus, Bishop of California, where the state has legalised same-sex partnerships, said that the final document had “real significance” and reflected the “searching, prayerful conversations over a two-week period of over 600 Anglican bishops. The points of substantial agreement are thus worth our attention. . . At the same time, the document is not legislation. We will pay close attention to it, but we must not reify the agreement points in it into laws.”

Integrity USA said that “in spite of extraordinary pressure to do otherwise”, the Archbishop of Canterbury had managed to achieve a Conference of reflection rather than resolutions. It called on the bishops to resist the temptation to turn the Reflections from “into a proscriptive document”.

Speaking on Premier Christian Radio, the Revd Rod Thomas of Reform expressed disappointment that there was “no very clear outcome from it other than to call for the sorts of things that have been called for in the past”. The Revd Dr Graham Kings of Fulcrum commented that, if nothing was done, the Communion would split: “But I think the Archbishop has done enough to hold it together but to move things on.”

The Bishop of Southwark, Dr Tom Butler, in his Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday, likened its Conference’s pilgrimage to the chrysalis stage of a butterfly’s life-cycle. “At Canterbury, the Anglican Church allowed itself to risk being changed through the liquid of conversation and challenge across cultures and beliefs,” he said.

“It’s not at all certain that minds were altered, but positions might have been softened, and, if so, there’s a chance that something beautiful might emerge in the future. . . The Anglican Communion might yet fly anew, better fit for purpose.”

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