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Lambeth 2022, closing reflections: ‘It might have been difficult, but it surprised me’

09 August 2022

Andrew Baker/Lambeth Conference

Bishops and spouses making their way to Canterbury Cathedral for the final eucharist on Sunday

Bishops and spouses making their way to Canterbury Cathedral for the final eucharist on Sunday

THE Lambeth Conference had exceeded all his hopes, the Archbishop of Canterbury told a final press conference on Saturday.

“From day one, I had expressed the hope for everyone here to have a sense that they had met with God,” he said. “They found the grace of God in each other, too, and acceptance of each other, even while continuing to disagree very profoundly on the issues discussed.”

There was a scramble to accentuate the positive as events drew to a close. The Primate of Canada, Dr Linda Nicholls, recalled tensions at the 2008 gathering as very much present, including “low-level tensions about women being priests at all”.

But the past 14 years of continuing indaba — a South African method of informal discussion — and bishops in online dialogue had built relationships across difference. Archbishop Welby had been able “to sum up the truthfulness of where we are in this moment”.

The Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, who chairs the Lambeth Design Group, said that he was returning home upbeat. “One of the ecumenical partners said to me, ‘You are resting in the faith. It’s a good faith.’ A lot of people have come to me and said they felt like they belong.”

Bishops from contrasting regions of the world measured expectations against outcome, and spoke of the reality of their lives and ministry back home. The Bishop of Peshawar and Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, the Most Revd Humphrey Peters, highlighted the credence that came from having the public support of the Anglican Communion over issues such as the blasphemy laws, and pleaded for advocacy to enable UK support to go to marginalised communities.

The Bishop of Wanglei, South Sudan, the Rt Revd Zachariah Manyok Biar — one of the 30,000 “lost boys” who walked to Ethiopia in 1987 to flee the fighting — highlighted the lack of attention from his own government to the suffering of its people, and his anxiety at the prospect of support from Britain and the United States being scaled down.

He had come “thinking we might be in for a difficult time, but it surprised me. What the Archbishop did [over the Human Dignity Call] was stand in the middle. In a state of contrition, we found unity. We’re not yet sure of [the state of affairs] but we have started a dialogue.”

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, who sits in the House of Lords, had been “aware that I would have a reset of my world-view” having met fellow bishops living in incredibly challenging circumstances.

He spoke of an encounter with a Melanesian bishop whose land was already disappearing as a consequence of climate change; and with bishops in countries where Ebola was rife: by contrast with Covid-19, “if you had Ebola, eight out of ten would die,” they told him. Drought in the Horn of Africa would affect every part of the world: “We can put pressure on governments and call for joined-up thinking,” Dr Smith said. “It is in all our interests to work it out, tell the story of what is going on.”

There was opportunity, as things drew nearer to a close, to elicit further reflections on the Call on Human Dignity. The Coadjutor Bishop of South-Eastern Mexico, the Rt Revd Julio César Martin, had felt uplifted that “we have aired our differences and shown that we have more in common than not, even as Christians.

“The good aspect is that we have talked about the poor, exploitation, marginalisation; we have looked for a common position on issues which affect the world. On a personal note, we have been able to respond to each other and to see that each other follows Christ, despite many differences.”

Neil Turner/Lambeth ConferenceThe Canadian Primate, Dr Linda Nicholls, at the closing press conference on Saturday

He wanted vehemently to disabuse anyone of the idea that “the global South” was of one mind, or that any individual could speak for “the global South. . . There is plurality of opinions in the South, as much as in the North. The values of upholding the human dignity of our LGBTTQ+ siblings are not only Western, Anglo, white, or heretic, but they are gospel inspired,” he said. “And we are orthodox, Latin, Asian, African from the South.

“We believe the fullness of divine revelation is Christ. But we believe that, in our daily relationship with Jesus, we are still understanding the truth in that unique revelation that is Christ himself. We are continuing to understand that revelation.”

And he denounced Lambeth 1.10. The bishops who affirmed it in 1998 had no intention of harming anyone, he believes, but “it has had the effect of putting people’s lives at risk. And imagine the message this is sending to young, teenage gay people who believe they are not important, who now believe ‘My love will send me to hell.’ It’s an unintended but negative consequence. This is not a conceptual, academic discussion.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury had shown, in inviting bishops in same-gender relationships to the conference, that he recognised them in public, to the world, as bishops — something that did not happen in 2008. “That was a huge step,” he said. “But, at the same time, Lambeth 1.10 is still there.

“That Archbishop Welby and other bishops were not there in 1998 does not let them off the hook. We as a Church need to apologise to LGBT people for what that conference decided. My concern is young people and the message they are getting. It’s terrible. That’s all.”


Francis Martin writes: 125 bishops at the Lambeth Conference have signed the Global South Fellowship’s statement that reaffirms the impermissibility of same-sex marriage, it was announced on Sunday. The signatories are anonymous, but their Provinces and the number of worshipers they “represent” has been released. Fifty-one of the bishops are from the Province of South Sudan. Their Archbishop leads the Fellowship.

The organisers reported that three bishops from the Church of England had signed the statement, which affirms the teaching of Resolution 1.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Bishops were asked to provide an estimate for the number of worshipers within their diocese, but no specific methodology was given for establishing these figures, and nor are they independently verifiable.


Pat Ashworth writes: The last word on the subject goes to the Area Bishop of York-Scarborough, in Canada, the Rt Revd Kevin Robertson, one of the seven gay, partnered bishops and the member of the Call on Human Dignity drafting group who raised the alarm over the appearance of Lambeth 1.10 in an undiscussed draft (News, 29 July). He ministers in Toronto, the largest city in Canada, and the most diverse.

His own preparations began in 2018, in advance of a conference due to take place in 2020. It had already been established that same-sex partnered bishops but not their spouses would be invited. In early 2019, the couple had an invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss things, and came to Lambeth Palace in July that year as his guests.

“We appreciated his hospitality,” Bishop Robertson said warmly. “He didn’t need to make time for us but he did. One of the things he reminded us of was the fact that, in 2008, the only openly gay partnered bishop, the Bishop of New Hampshire, wasn’t invited to the conference at all. So, 14 years later, there are seven of us.

“I think the Archbishop saw that as movement. I think he felt the invitation of our spouses was just a bridge too far, and if that took place, others would choose not to come.”

He described the Conference as: “Amazing. Like nothing I have ever experienced before. I was in Canterbury three years ago for the new bishops programme, with 35 bishops from around the Communion, almost all of whom are here. I’ve renewed friendships from around the world, including the US, Japan, India, and Pakistan. It has been wonderful.

“I knew that because some people know who I am and where I come from, there might be some difficult conversations along that way. I’ve had a few, but none disrespectful. Nobody has insulted me, or told me I’m a heretic or anything like that. For the most part, the position of bishops from parts of the world where same-sex marriage is not celebrated — perhaps not even known — has been one of questioning.”

Part of the “chipping away” at attitudes and perspectives “is simply having people meet LGBTQ people and realising they don’t have six heads and they’re not from another planet. We face the same joys and struggles as other married couples, and our lives together are wonderful and faithful: raising our children [they have ten-year old twins], and trying to be good members of the Church and of society.”

There had been sadnesses that illustrate the sensitivities around the issue. “There was a bishop from Sudan I was chatting to for about ten minutes, and we were talking pretty frankly. He said to me: ‘I can’t be in a photograph with you,’ and I said, ‘That’s fine.’ It couldn’t be a public conversation; it needed to be a private one.

“But, for the first time, we have a Lambeth Conference statement recognising that other Provinces have done the work of prayer and theological reflection and reception. I do believe that this is an emerging view — a minority view but an emerging view. I get great hope from that. For it to be recognised within the Anglican Communion is a huge step for us.”

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