THE Anglican Communion should not be a “tool of power” for “small groups that claim extraterritorial jurisdiction”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.
In an article published on the Lambeth Conference website last week, Archbishop Welby writes that the Conference, which is to be held in Canterbury from 27 July to 7 August 2022, “will seek to find a way forward on the issues that have divided us for so long over marriage, sexuality and relationships”.
He continues, however: “It is unlikely that we will have a single common understanding. We are a global communion with more than 2000 languages and such deeply embedded and possibly different views of what is right and wrong, both culturally and in our understanding of the Bible. But this is what marks the Church out as different. We are called to find ways of continuing together, knowing that we belong to one another and obeying the commands of Jesus to love one another, and where we disagree, disagreeing well.”
The Archbishop also argues that participants “need to be clear about what it should mean to be part of the Anglican Communion as part of God’s Church”. Too often, he says, the Communion “has slipped into being a tool of power, the absolute opposite of discipleship in the service of Jesus Christ.
“Some groups are intent on changing the way in which the Anglican Communion works, so that those outside of a province may interfere with its actions and tell people what to do. There is a danger of becoming a communion that finds itself with a load of small groups that claim extraterritorial jurisdiction.
“This goes against the understanding of the Church from the New Testament onwards, set out clearly in the great councils of the Church. It reverses the understanding of what it is to be Anglican which was established from the first Lambeth Conference. It tries to narrow us from being a global church with open doors and a welcoming heart of love for the needy to one that — rather than depending on Christ and the Holy Spirit to draw in those who are not yet members — sets its own tests based on its own way of doing things.”
The Lambeth Conference will discuss more than internal church matters, however. Other themes that will be discussed, the Archbishop writes, include evangelism; persecuted Christians; reconciliation and peacebuilding; the climate crisis; and response to the pandemic.
The 2022 Lambeth Conference will be the first to have taken place since 2008, and the first presided over by Archbishop Welby.
“The normal ten-year cycle would have seen a conference held in 2018, but it was recognised, after extensive consultation, that to hold a conference then would be premature,” Archbishop Welby writes. “The deep divisions that have existed for many years go far wider than simply the issues of sexuality and derive in many ways from the structure of the Anglican Communion and the need for a continued journey towards a postcolonial model of global church. These required more work and preparation.”
The Conference was, therefore, scheduled for 2020, but was postponed until 2022 because of the pandemic (News, 10 July 2020).
The plan is for the bishops to meet in person, with Covid safety measures in place: “Meeting in person will be the most fruitful way to build relationships and discuss important themes in our life as the Anglican Communion.”
Given changes in travel and quarantine requirements, and the unequal distribution of vaccines around the world, however, there are plans for parts of the Conference to be available online for bishops who are unable to travel to Canterbury.
In recent months, about 500 bishops from around the Communion have been taking part in conversations, held on Zoom, exploring the theme of the conference, “God’s Church for God’s World” (News, 11 June).