FACILITATORS familiar with the Anglican Communion have been called in to help to ensure that a series of bishops’ conversations, held on Zoom, are a “safe space”, the chair of the Lambeth Conference Working Group, Dr Emma Ineson, has said.
All active bishops in the Anglican Communion have been invited to join the conversations, which will run every month from July to December, exploring the theme of the conference, “God’s Church for God’s World”.
The conversations are expected to shape plans for the 15th Lambeth Conference, delayed until 2022 by the Covid-19 pandemic (News, 8 July 2020).
The bishops will be assigned to groups of 20, each convened by a bishop and a facilitator. The Archbishop of Canterbury has emphasised that all bishops — including those not planning to attend Lambeth 2022, are welcome: “It does not commit you to anything more than that.”
On Monday, a series of films was released featuring members of the working group, which has designed both the conversations and the Conference. Dr Ineson, who was appointed Bishop to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in April (News, 23 April), described the sessions as “a chance for our hearts to meet”.
“It’s no secret that we have issues that we find challenging and we find contentious, and that have the potential to divide,” she said; “and, I think, my prayer, my hope, and my challenge is that we might allow ourselves to truly listen, not to sweep those issues under the carpet, but to come with humility, with a sense of listening, with a sense of love for fellow brothers and sisters, and to just see what God might do amongst us.”
Asked by Archbishop Welby how the meetings would be “a safe space for those who are feeling vulnerable and fragile”, Professor Jenn Strawbridge, Associate Professor in New Testament Studies at Mansfield College, Oxford, who has edited the commentary on the epistle 1 Peter, the biblical focus for Lambeth 2022, referred to “an international team of facilitators with excellent knowledge of the Communion, who are going to support the dialogue together”.
The meetings would begin with prayer and scripture, she said. “Unity in Christ overcomes all division and threats thereof; so the hope is that starting together in that common space will allow a safe space for conversation to be engaged.”
“Humanly speaking, it is not possible, or perhaps, I dare say, not even necessary or desirable, to always and without exception agree on everything,” Professor Joseph Galgalo, Vice-Chancellor of St Pauls University, in Kenya, said. “But it is incumbent upon us as people of faith to empathetically and respectfully express our differences where such arise.
“We are family. If we cannot actually face each other, and, in the most civilised way, engage each other, even when we disagree, and share our faith in the most humble way possible, then what kind of witness are we saying we are giving out there to the bigger world?”
The Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd Jackson Ole Sapit, is among the bishops who are not attending the Conference (News, 31 January 2020).
Professor Galgalo listed Covid-19, politics and power, peace and gender justice, and climate change as among the challenges facing the world and the Church.
Archbishop Welby described the world as “more fractured and less peaceful”, and suggested that George Floyd ‘s murder last year (News, 1 June 2020) had “in God’s purposes, focused people on the injustice not only of racism in the United States or the United Kingdom or the global North, but on world injustice and on our failure to see people as God sees them, to take seriously that we are a global community.”
He said: “In the Second World War, the Church began for the first time in many decades to engage with the reality of the world around it, and not pretend things were other than they were; and I think this is an opportunity for the global Church to do this.”
In one film, Professor Strawbridge reflects on 1 Peter and its themes of longing and suffering. “If you think about it, who hasn’t suffered, and who isn’t longing for something right now? Suffering can either tear us apart or it can drive us inward, and we become more and more isolated from one another. . . . It can also make us very fearful and very anxious . . .
“The answer that 1 Peter gives is a call to love and a call to hospitality, and hospitality just means love of the stranger. Within the Anglican Communion, we are still strangers to one another. We are a family, but we don’t know each other, and we are called to love each other. The love of that which is other and the love of that which is strange . . . absolutely breaks all of our narratives of isolation and of selfishness. . .
“1 Peter resounds more now than it ever has in this call to hope and to love and in a sense the courage to rise up against all that is trying to kill us.”
A hopeful note was struck by the Bishop of Amritsar, from the Church of North India, the Rt Revd Pradeep Samantaroy, who said: “I can see the Holy Spirit working already, and, therefore, I am seeing that by the time we physically meet, it will not be anything less than meeting in heaven.”
Watch the preparation videos here