THE Lambeth Conference has been postponed until next year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Archbishop of Canterbury has told bishops of the Anglican Communion.
The Conference, attended by bishops from every Province in the Communion, had been due to take place in July and August in Canterbury.
In a letter to the bishops on Monday, Archbishop Welby writes: “In recent weeks we have been prayerfully thinking through the impact of COVID-19 on the plans and preparations for the Lambeth Conference.
“The conference is a hugely important opportunity and meeting of Anglican bishops — and yet every day as the pandemic worsens — we face increasing challenges for the event, to which we must respond.
“Following consultation with the conference Design Group, Primates and Trustees, I have taken the difficult decision to reschedule the Lambeth Conference until the summer of 2021.
“As I write to you, I know that you all — as church leaders — have a vital pastoral role to play in your Provinces and Dioceses. The imperative at present is that we care for each other and for bishops to care for those given to our trust.”
In a video message posted on the Lambeth Conference website, Archbishop Welby says: “Because of the coronavirus, travel around the world is deeply restricted and the amount of time that we will face these limitations is unknown.
“For these reasons, so that we may be good shepherds as bishops in the Anglican world, and to encourage the Church to be there for God’s suffering world, we have decided to reschedule and postpone the conference and to put it forward till 2021 at pretty well the same time.
“We’ll write to the bishops with the exact dates as soon as we have them fixed: in other words, a delay of one year. We are absolutely not cancelling.
“When we come together, it will be in a world reshaped by what is going on at the moment, and it is ever more important that we meet to pray, to study the scriptures, to hear the word of God, to comfort, to gain a fresh vision of what it is to be God’s Church for God’s World.
“Someone pointed out today that the Lambeth Conference of 1920, delayed from 1918, met in the shadow of the First World War; that the Conference of 1948 met in the shadow of the Second World War. Both of them having seen terrible events, God send that we do not see anything like that. But let us remember that as we come together and share our wisdom, we will need to hear from the Spirit through each other to think and ponder and study, to worship and pray.”
The conservative GAFCON movement has announced that an alternative conference that was scheduled to take place in Kigali, Rwanda, has been postponed “until such time as it becomes possible to reconvene”.
A letter from GAFCON’s general secretary, the Archbishop of Jos, the Most Revd Benjamin Kwashi, says: “As the coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate, we are seeing international travel being drastically reduced and severe restrictions being placed on people gathering, especially in large numbers.
”In the light of these developments, the Gafcon Primates Council has reviewed plans for our Bishops Conference in Kigali 2020 and with much regret have decided to postpone the conference until such time as it becomes possible to reconvene.
”We also have in mind the need to act responsibly and not risk adding to infections in our host nation, Rwanda, nor risk delegates to the conference becoming infected and spreading the disease in their home countries.”
Full text of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter:
A Letter to the Bishops of the Anglican Communion about the Lambeth Conference
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, your Graces,
Responding to the corona pandemic is a shared responsibility that we are all taking very seriously across the Anglican Communion.
In recent weeks we have been prayerfully thinking through the impact of COVID-19 on the plans and preparations for the Lambeth Conference.
The conference is a hugely important opportunity and meeting of Anglican bishops – and yet every day as the pandemic worsens – we face increasing challenges for the event, to which we must respond.
Following consultation with the conference Design Group, Primates and Trustees, I have taken the difficult decision to reschedule the Lambeth Conference until the summer of 2021.
As I write to you, I know that you all – as church leaders - have a vital pastoral role to play in your Provinces and Dioceses. The imperative at present is that we care for each other and for bishops to care for those given to our trust.
Indeed, the place of a Bishop at a time of difficulty is the place of a shepherd when a wolf is attacking the flock. It is to be alongside them. To love them. To suffer with them.
The words of 1 Peter – the Biblical focus for the Lambeth Conference – feel particularly significant: “Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it — not for sordid gain but eagerly” (1 Peter chapter 5 vv.1-2).
At a time of extraordinary circumstances, it is not appropriate to continue our lives in what we thought was a “normal” way. God is calling us to be “God’s Church for God’s World” in new and responsive ways.
My wife Caroline and I send our greetings to all the bishops’ spouses that are also attending the conference. Together, we say may God keep you and bless you.
I know that you will all join me in praying for the Anglican Communion worldwide. May we show courage and bravery, knowing that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
Through God’s grace, we will meet together in 2021, when I look forward to welcoming you to the Lambeth Conference.
Yours in the peace of Christ,
The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury