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Angela Tilby: Lambeth ’98’s gift to Living in Love and Faith

22 July 2022

Anglican World/Harriet Long

Archbishop Carey presides at the eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral at the 1998 Lambeth Conference

Archbishop Carey presides at the eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral at the 1998 Lambeth Conference

LAMBETH 1.10 is back on the agenda for Lambeth 2022 (News, 15 July). This was the famous resolution on marriage and same-sex relationships which was passed at Lambeth 1998, to much rejoicing from the global South and disquiet from liberal progressives.

This was the only Lambeth Conference I have ever attended. I was there in a media role, commissioned by the Anglican Consultative Council to make a video of the proceedings. It was a hot summer, like this one, and I was glad to have had the forethought to buy a small fridge, which was kept full of tonic and ice (the gin was kept elsewhere) to help chosen guests to recover at the end of the day, and shed themselves of some useful gossip and speculation.

My doughty production team, recruited from Westcott House ordinands, got wind of the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury was trying to head off a conservative but relatively mild motion on human sexuality, prepared under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of York. Archbishop Carey had little sympathy at the time with homosexuality, and was, anyway, convinced that nothing other than a resounding restatement of tradition would be acceptable.

On the day of the debate, there were prayer meetings all over the Canterbury campus, an invasion of journalists, radio, and television, and colourful protests from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. Richard Kirker went head to head with an African bishop who appeared to be trying to exorcise him. Liberal-minded Church of England bishops speculated that it might be good for their post-imperialist credentials to be seen “not to win” this particular debate.

We crowded into the debating chamber, where it very quickly became obvious that the conservative case would win. But there were amendments. Most were intended to reinforce the victory by further references to biblical standards.

But, in the middle of it all, a lone figure stood up and proposed an amendment that included the words: “We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons. . .”, and went on to emphasise the importance of pastoral care. This was Michael Bourke, the Bishop of Wolverhampton. It was clear from the atmosphere in the chamber that some thought even this was too much of a concession, but it got through. So great had been the victory of the conservatives over the progressives that most thought this small concession to be of no consequence.

I think that, in the long term, Bishop Bourke’s amendment has proved significant. After all, the whole Living in Love and Faith process is predicated on patient listening. You cannot easily “other” those to whom you listen. The issue is not solved, and perhaps never will be this side of heaven. But I am grateful for his intervention. It would have been so much easier to have sat tight and said nothing.

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