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Lambeth Conference is here at last

by
28 July 2022

Pat Ashworth looks at what will happen in Canterbury over the next ten days

University of Kent

THERE will be 660 bishops present at Lambeth 2022: marginally more than in 2008, and with 83 spouses also in attendance. They will be joined by 45 ecumenical guests, teams of volunteers, and some 57 interpreters: some professional, and some volunteer. The Conference will be conducted in nine languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, Juba Arabic (South Sudanese), Swahili, and Burmese.

For the first time in its history, it will also be online, with a bespoke platform, including translation, for all delegates to access. Half a million words have already been translated, and, out of a resolve to reduce the use of paper, all the documents and videos will be online. “Interest has blossomed because the website has been much more informative, with lots of material recorded,” the chief executive of the Lambeth Conference Company, Phil George, said last week.

Formerly head of operations and executive director of New Wine, he accepted the job of managing the Conference in September 2017, when it was scheduled for 2020. From having “no staff and no mandate” five years ago, he has worked with a dedicated team of six, all of whom stayed on during the months of lockdown.

Half the participants have been enabled to come because of a bursary scheme that he describes as “remarkable, a blessing”. Donors have raised several millions, kick-started with a generous donation of £900,000 from the Benefact (formerly Allchurches) Trust. The median donation to fund tickets and flights has been £1000.

Getting visas had been challenging, Mr George acknowledged: the current UK backlog in passport applications had caused delays that meant more than 100 bishops and spouses had not received their visas last week. A team flew to Nairobi to pick them up, and managed to return with everything sorted. “Close to the wire,” Mr George said, with relief.

Five hundred bishops, in groups of 20, have been meeting via Zoom for many months: a phased “conference journey” of prayer which has laid and prepared the ground and built relationships — so much so, that, on day one, after arrival and before the bishops retreat, they have requested to meet each other face to face. They will have a great deal to pack in during the 11 days of the meeting, including 32 seminars.

A raft of Covid-19 protocols is in place with the University of Kent. All members of teams are being asked to test before they arrive, and regularly during the time they are there. Testing kits and, “out of respect”, face masks will be in all delegates’ rooms. A team of nurses, doctors, and paramedics is also on standby. “We want to be pragmatic, but without being draconian,” Mr George said.

The main meetings venue will not be the canvas tent of 2008: the Conference will, instead, be the first to use the permanent indoor tennis centre — a brand new stadium — for conference purposes. And memories of communal bathrooms in the student accommodation on the 5000-bed campus are long faded: bishops will be relieved that all rooms are now en suite.

 

Looking back to Lambeth 2008

THERE is a touch of déjà vu about contemplating Lambeth 2022. My own opening words for a first report from the 2008 Conference were: “It’s a bit like a phoney war at the moment, with bishops on retreat. . . Uganda is the only Province not represented: one Rwandan bishop is here, and certainly one Nigerian.”

Church TimesBishops arranged for the 2008 photograph

The Primates of those three African countries issued a joint statement in May reiterating their plans to be absent from this Conference, too, as the Communion had “failed to address with remorse and repentance the issues that necessitated our absence” in 2008. And the Conference would, it suggested, be focusing on “peripheral matters” such as the environment, poverty, and economic disadvantage (News, 7 June).

In that year of 2008 — in the wake of the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly partnered gay bishop — briefing papers on “The Anglican Way” spelled out the complexity of the tensions and drifts in the Communion.

They emphasised mutual accountability, observing: “The cost of genuine dialogue is considerable. . . If conservative voices are not to be driven out, it must be possible for an admonition about recent issues to do with homosexuality to be delivered, clearly argued from biblical sources. . .

“On the other hand, if progressive views are not to be ignored, new knowledge has honestly to be confronted. . . It has to be recognised as a cost of the engagement of the gospel with the world, that Christians remain open to changing ideas with their attendant uncertainties and controversies.”

Those documents grappled with how the Church judged which things lay closer to the heart of the gospel than others. There were reminders of the changed context and landscape since Lambeth 1998, where “too often, attempts to discuss theological differences degenerated into the parties’ issuing a series of assertions and counter-assertions at each other.”

The Archbishop of Cape Town at that time, the Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane, had warned four years earlier: “I fear that, if we struggle to deal maturely with our own internal differences, we will undermine our standing and ability to act in other areas of conflict. Our calling to bring good news to the poor, in a world where half the population live in poverty, must not be jeopardised.”

The late Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester, was on the representative group of bishops charged with creating the 44-page Reflections document that sought to capture the spirit of what was said and, as far as possible, held in common by the bishops at the Conference. The agenda had been broader than the issues surrounding homosexuality, he afterwards observed.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury had asked that it would be about ‘equipping bishops for mission and strengthening Anglican identity’, and I think we did engage honestly with this agenda in relation to mission and evangelism, human and social justice, the environment, ecumenism, relations with with world religions, the scriptures, and the nature of Anglicanism,” he reflected afterwards.

“But, inevitably, the focus was on the unity and threatening disunity of the Anglican Communion, and on measures that might enable us to hold together.” In a “gracious season of restraint”, the Conference accepted three moratoria relating to partnered gay bishops, public blessing of same-sex unions, and incursions into other dioceses and Provinces.

The moratoria of 2008 replaced the resolutions of 1998: definitive announcements such as Resolution 1:10, declaring homosexual practice to be “incompatible with scripture”. Lambeth this year will issue “calls”: declarations, affirmations. and specific calls to the Communion to pray, think, and reflect on a topic, and for each Province to decide on its response (News, 10 June).

The Conference, Archbishop Welby has emphasised, “is not there to order people about”.

 

Overview of the programme

EACH Lambeth call, the Archbishop said at a virtual press conference in June, would be “carefully structured to talk about scripture, about the tradition of the Church, and what the bishops assembled feel to be the way that God is calling them”.

Some calls on more contentious subjects would be issued “not with the aim of a dramatic change to the Church’s teaching, but on bringing us into deeper love for one another and understanding how God is calling us to be God’s Church for God’s World”.

The Conference will, therefore, seek to grapple with many world issues, as well as matters of common interest in the life of the Communion. It will address ongoing issues such as the pandemic, the climate crisis, poverty, economic injustice, conflict, and inequality.

“Journeying together, we must forge a new vision of Anglicanism that is equipped to respond to the needs of a 21st-century world — a much changed world: changed by crisis and by the advances of science. And we must invite the wider Anglican world to share wisdom and insights with us along the way,” the Archbishop emphasised (News, 15 January 2021).

Neil Turner/Lambeth ConferenceBishops arrive in Canterbury on Tuesday for the start of the Conference

He warned in October 2021 against power games: too often, the Communion had “slipped into being a tool of power, the absolute opposite of discipleship in the service of Jesus Christ. . . There is a danger of becoming a Communion that finds itself with a load of small groups that claim extra territorial jurisdiction.”

Further, after the Primates’ Meeting in March (News, 1 April), he expressed the determination that this year’s Conference should not be dominated by debates about human sexuality. Rather, he said, “[we look at] those things which are destroying tens and hundreds of millions of lives, and will do even more around the world.”

The Primates’ communiqué highlighted world turmoil, particularly the humanitarian crisis and other catastrophic effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the challenging issue of refugee migrations.

Speakers and special guests will include leaders from the faith, business, and charitable sectors. The Conference, as the literature points out, is happening against the background of a world grappling with a pandemic, racial inequality, gender injustice, socio-economic injustice, war and conflict, modern slavery, mass migration, rapid scientific and technological change, and the climate crisis.

The organisers point out that it will join the ranks of previous Lambeth Conferences that have met after times of global crisis. The 1920 Conference was delayed in the aftermath of the First World War. The 1930 Conference met in the wake of the Great Depression, and the 1948 Conference in the shadow of the Second World War. The programme includes a day of symbolic action on environmental and economic justice at Lambeth Palace, and opening and closing services in Canterbury Cathedral.

Bible exposition and study will be followed each day by a plenary on the theme, concluding in a Lambeth call. Spouses have a full programme, but same-sex spouses are excluded: a move that the Primate of Canada, Dr Linda Nicholls, has described as “unfortunate”, while acknowledging the “very awkward” position in which the issue placed Archbishop Welby.

 

A closer look at the Conference ‘Calls’

GUIDANCE and study documents released last week contain the draft text of the Lambeth calls, all relating to the theme of what it means to be “God’s Church in God’s world”.

Bishop Tim Thornton, an adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury who has co-ordinated the Calls Subgroup, said: “The study documents provide bishops with an opportunity to start to read, think, reflect, and pray on the different Lambeth calls that have been drafted.

“Each Lambeth call is being offered as a draft in advance, to maximise the time bishops will have to discuss them during the Lambeth Conference. The work of the Conference will give bishops attending the opportunity to contribute and add their voice to the calls.”

When it comes to Mission and Evangelism, for example — lead author the Archbishop of South-East Asia, the Most Revd Melter Tais — “every single church and worshipping community” will be asked to commit itself to “actions which purposefully present the good news of Christ so that all may hear the call of Christ and follow him”.

Garth Blake, who chairs the Anglican Safe Church Commission, is lead author for Safe Church/Safeguarding. Evidence of its importance is in the mounting of three seminars as well as a plenary session on the issue.

Bishops will be asked to affirm that they are “deeply mindful of, and guided by World Health Organization estimates that up to one billion children aged 2-17 years experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect in the past year, and that one in three women worldwide have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner violence in their lifetime”.

“Some religious workers have betrayed trust and abused children and adults for whom they had pastoral responsibility,” the guidance says. “Some religious leaders have denied or minimised this abuse and its consequences. Religious institutions have compounded the impact of the initial abuse by failing to effectively care for those who have been abused. The reputation of, and public trust in, many religious institutions has been damaged.”

The Safe Church Commission, established in 2016, has produced the Guidelines and Charter for the Anglican Communion. The Commission hopes to raise their importance and “provide the impetus for the bishops to implement [these] in a contextually appropriate way in their provinces”.

The director of Gender Justice for the Anglican Communion, Mandy Marshall, said, “I’m praying that at this Lambeth Conference, not only do we stand together as a global Church against all forms of abuse, and commit to making our churches safer places for everyone, but also challenge and transform our own culture, that can result in abuse being hidden and survivors not receiving the help and support they need.”

Archbishop Philip Richardson is lead author for Anglican Identity, with Dr Robert Heaney, Professor of Theology and Mission at Virginia Theological Seminary.

Dr Heaney, co-author of The Promise of Anglicanism, said: “At the heart of questions of Anglican identity are issues of continuity, contextualisation, and contestation. We often tell the Anglican story in terms of expansion or export, but, in a very real sense, the Anglican story is one of encounter across cultural differences, and the long struggle of contextualising the gospel in distinct settings.

“When we recognize the history of colonialism, and the shifting trends in global power and migration, questions of Anglican identity become very complex. At this Conference, I expect an affirmation of continuity with the past as a statement of our Catholicity. Equally, given the complexities of contextualisation and contested histories, I also expect a call for deeper consultation, with a stronger role for women, the laity, and contextual theologians. Questions, too, about the nature and purpose of the Instruments of Communion are likely to be raised.”

Church TimesBishops and their wives taking part in a day of protest in London during the 2008 Conference, combined with a garden party at Buckingham Palace

The Bishops will issue their calls to the Communion “in an era marked by authoritarianism, the vulnerability and activism of indigenous peoples, interreligious co-operation and conflict, mass migration, pluralism, the climate crisis, and enormous changes in science and technology”, he says. “It is time for the broad Anglican family to renew its vision and practice of Christian mission. In doing so, priority must be given to the voices of indigenous leaders, women, young people, and the laity.”

The call on Human Dignity, drafted by a group led by the Primate of the West Indies, the Most Revd Howard Gregory, was what created the stir last week, when it was realised that it was, in effect, inviting bishops to replay the 1998 debate that led to Lambeth Resolution 1.10. It invites bishops to affirm a call for: “(i) an Archbishop’s Commission for Redemptive Action; (ii) the establishment of an Anglican Innovation Fund; and (iii) the reaffirmation of Lambeth 1.10 that upholds marriage as between a man and a woman and requires deeper work to uphold the dignity and witness of LGBTQ Anglicans.”

A few days after the draft calls were released, and after criticism that included a statement from a member of the drafting committee for the call on Human Dignity, it was announced that the call would be revised (News, 25 July).

In the new version, released on Tuesday (26 July), reference to Resolution 1.10 is retained, but another of its clauses, welcoming all regardless of sexual orientation, is quoted alongside a reference to the 1998 wording that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. The direct reference to heterosexual marriage was no longer included (News, 26 July).

When it comes to Reconciliation, each Province will be invited to “an exercise of self-examination and reflection, listening respectfully to the experiences of those who have historically been, and continue to be, marginalised in their contexts and in their Church. And we call upon each Instrument of Unity in the Anglican Communion to a similar self-examining, listening exercise.”

Crucially, the Archbishop of Canterbury and/or the Standing Committee will also be called to “to begin a new conversation with the Provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda seeking a more full life together as an Anglican family of Churches”.

The guidance notes: “The legacies of colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade, and other abuses of power continue to impact our communities. Some have been enriched and some impoverished. International economic systems, built upon unjust structures of exploitation, have created dehumanising conditions.”

The Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, said: “Reconciliation involves all parties’ being given the space to speak their truths from the heart, all being heard, and then painstakingly working through their differences. I describe working for reconciliation as like ‘chewing the cud’, slowly and methodically working through a problem until we reach consensus.

“It is a style much more suited to most Provinces of the Communion, which, being autonomous and self-governing, are increasingly breaking away from those elements of Western debating procedures which they find alienating and divisive. In isiZulu, we call this process indaba, which we have appropriated for Lambeth 2022 by deciding to issue “Lambeth calls” instead of passing resolutions.”

The guidance on Environment and Sustainable Development begins unequivocally: “The world is now in crisis.” The distinctive perspective of the Anglican Communion means that “Member Churches of the Anglican Communion are involved in every part of the environmental emergency.

“We are the people facing devastation in disaster-stricken communities. We are all the polluters, especially in wealthy countries. We are people living in poverty and on the margins. We wield power and political influence. We are experiencing loss and damage of our land, homes, and livelihoods. We are investors with financial capital. We are first-responders to disasters and those who accompany communities on the journey of recovery and resilience.

Church TimesBishops gathered for the official photo during the 2008 Lambeth Conference

“We contribute to the problem. We contribute to the solution. We are both local and global. We connect with one another, share our experiences and can leverage our networks and Anglican identity to mobilise for action. . .

“By the next Lambeth Conference, increasing areas of the Communion will be uninhabitable, because of drought, rising sea levels and other impacts as we reach tipping points in climate change. . . The web of life is becoming so damaged by the loss of biodiversity that the integrity of creation is under threat.”

It describes the global response as “wholly inadequate — both in the level of resources dedicated to the response and in the level of urgency with which those with most power to make radical changes are taking action”.

Specific requests include a call on world leaders to make a commitment to finance and action to enable all nations of the world to be able to fulfil the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, including its vision to “leave no one behind” and to “recognise the strategic importance of faith actors and include them as key partners in sustainable development and in disaster preparedness, resilience and response”.

The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, leads on Christian Unity, together with the director of Unity, Faith and Order, and the Deputy Secretary General, the Revd Dr William Adam (who is about to become the Archdeacon of Canterbury). The Conference will hear from a panel of Anglican bishops and ecumenical participants on both the goal of full, visible communion, and the need for Christians to work together in mission and ministry.

“Each Province faces a different ecumenical scene, in terms of the predominant denominations present, and the history of interaction with them,” Bishop Gregory said. “The Lambeth Call will concentrate on the overarching call to deepen Communion between Christians, whatever the local context, and the imperative for Anglicans to be seen as friends and servants of our Christian sisters and brothers, whatever their background.

“Where Christianity is in a minority, or faces persecution, this is particularly important, and the support of the wider Anglican Communion for the local Church and its ecumenical partners is often hugely welcome.”

The strength and depth of ecumenical arrangement varied around the member Churches of the Anglican Communion and, indeed, within them, Dr Adam said. Some member Churches are already United Churches, and others that had relationships of communion already established with other Churches.

“A key difference in different parts of the world is who the key ecumenical partners are: there are places where, for example, Anglicans and Lutherans are present in roughly equal numbers, others where Anglicans exist in a predominantly Catholic context, or places where Christians are in a minority. The lived reality affects ecumenical relations, and provides both challenges and opportunities.”

The Most Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon leads on Interfaith relations, which includes the specific request “To leaders of other faith communities, to join with us in exploring how we can enable more effective collaborative work on tackling climate change and other challenges to our shared environment, alleviating poverty, and care for the vulnerable.”

The Archbishop of York leads on Discipleship, which is very much a call on Anglicans to be guided by the Five Marks of Mission. “Making disciples has always been the core vocation of the Christian Church, but it is also something that we need to keep being recalled to. What is implicit must be made explicit,” he said.

“And we also have much to learn from each other across the Communion. The Anglican Consultative Council has called for a season of intentional discipleship. It is that word ‘intentional’ that is important here.

“At the Lambeth Conference, we will intentionally seek to learn from one another and intentionally put discipleship at the centre of our own vocation as bishops in the Church and for the Churches we have been called to lead.”

The Bishop of West Malaysia, the Most Revd Ng Moon Hing, said: “We are expecting every Province would have automatically engaged in discipleship training, which is Jesus’s command according to the Great Commission. However, many have forgotten about discipleship, or have focused on other things. We are reminding every Province to return to the basics: i.e. Jesus’s concept of discipleship. Discipleship is not a module, or Bible study, or a certificate, but a process to the pathway of holiness, i.e. to Christlikeness. We need new strategy for an ‘old’ concept which is 2000 years old.”

In Science and Faith, Bishops will be asked to affirm that “We believe the perception of a rift between science and faith should be laid to rest in every part of our Anglican Communion over the coming critical decade, in order to fulfil our calling to be God’s Church for God’s world in this generation.

“This coming together of faith and science can only come about through partnership between scientists and church leaders and between the different churches of the communion, recognising the complicated history that science has played in many countries.”

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, co-chairs the Science Commission, which will be formally launched at the Conference. In an introductory video in May, Archbishop Welby reflected: “It is scientific advance that has lifted so many people out of poverty. It is scientific advance that has enabled the world to feed itself.

“It is widespread science that has enabled us to produce vaccines at a speed that even five years ago — a year ago — would have been thought unimaginable. It is science that has begun to give us a big picture of our place in the world. It is science that has driven our consciousness of the danger to the world from climate change — and what we can do about it in the future.

“In all these things, it is science which has been a gift to human beings. But the reaction of the Church has for many years — and many centuries, one might say — been very cautious about science and remains so today. Or there is fear.

“We talk about human beings’ playing at being God, we talk about loss of control, of changes to DNA. We talk about all kinds of things that lead to people being frightened. And particularly, as we move and look forward over the next ten or 20 years, if we think it has been quick so far, as President Reagan used to say: ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’

“That is a reason why Christians need to be both knowledgeable and able to ask questions and think about science.”

Dr Croft concluded: “Previous Conferences have referred to science in the final communiqués and resolutions, but haven’t been able to do very much to take forward a more positive approach. We’re hoping that the Commission will provide the means to do that in the coming decade.”

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