The Lambeth Conference is a once-a-decade gathering of the world's Anglican bishops. They've met fourteen times since the first conference in 1867. This year the conference took place at the
|The traditional conference photograph always has at its centre the Archbishop of
Well, it's arrivals day here at the Lambeth conference on the campus of the
A lot of effort has gone into this conference and particularly to try to build community and friendships before the conference proper begins. A lot has been written about this Lambeth Conference. Probably no previous one has received this much attention from media, internet bloggers and pundits. There's a temptation, perhaps, to see it in largely political terms but perhaps a better way to look at it is through a spiritual lens. It's an opportunity for bishops to come together, in the presence of God, to deepen our faith and our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ by being in conversation and dialogue together.
I've now met my bible study group. We begin each day together in a tiny cubicle of a room in one of the campus dormitories and we're studying the Gospel of John. The facilitator of my group is a bishop from
"We are responsible to each other," he said, "not just to an abstract norm or standard of faith." In private conversations with others here there seems to be a general air of hope and even expectation. There's something quite refreshing about starting with a retreat and to focus on first things in a spiritual atmosphere rather than on controversies or differences.
We had the official opening service of the Lambeth Conference held in Canterbury Cathedral. And I can only tell you I'm glad I've lived long enough to hear the sermon that was preached there. It was given by Bishop Duleep de Chickera from
He issued three challenges: rigorous self-scrutiny; unity in diversity; and prophetic ministry. By prophetic ministry, he said, "it was having the courage to become a voice for the voiceless and the powerless in the world and also speaking truth to power to people who have control over the lives of others." It was delivered in a simple, spiritual and powerful way by someone who lives in the very centre of tragedy and conflict and it got spontaneous applause from bishops and even longer applause from the huge congregation in the nave of the cathedral down below.
On Monday we continued with the bible study groups. I'm blessed with a very fine group including a bishop from Zimbabwe who's told us tiny fragments of the situation in that country under the leadership of Robert Mugabe. And I have to be circumspect in my comments here because this is a life or death situation for that church but Anglicans in
A bishop from
The Indaba, or larger discussion groups, began today and this is where we will begin to examine the proposed Anglican Covenant and the Windsor Report. This is the point, I suppose, where the process might become political or adversarial but, so far, the emphasis has been on finding common ground and it's been calm and collegial
My Indaba group is going quite well. However, one bishop got up the other day and tried to rush us on to the difficult questions but he was not successful. We are trying to build common ground at this stage and to explore themes together on which we are in large agreement. One of the challenges of the design of the conference is that you only get to know what's happening in your own group.
On Thursday we all went up to
It was apparently the largest religious demonstration ever seen here, very colourful, with bishops in cassocks and many spouses in their national dress. It was a good humoured stroll through the city and it ended with a rousing speech from Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister. It's inspired me to encourage us to do more about the MDGs in our diocese at home and to get every parish engaged in some aspect of putting them into practice.
Tea with the Queen at
|Bishop Duleep de Chickera from Sri Lanka gave the opening conference sermon in Canterbury Cathedral|
There are seven official languages in the Anglican Communion: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, and Arabic. Many bishops and their spouses don't speak English at all or only very slightly so we all carry around headsets and there's a large body of translators assisting every large gathering though not all of the small ones. There's also a marketplace here, an area where different groups display their goods and services or their ministries and missions. I always leave my wallet at home and I go in there, of course, because there are some outstanding books and vestments for sale as well as people who want to influence bishops in one way or another on matters before the communion.
In the evenings there are fringe events: plays or concerts or presentations of one sort or another. Bishop Gene Robinson has appeared at a few of these, speaking, in my view, very well. Some non-western bishops have come to listen, to make up their own minds. One of the bishops, who has come from
Yesterday, the Windsor Continuation Group brought forward their proposals for unifying the communion. They're calling for a complete ban on same-sex blessings everywhere in the world, a ban on the ordination of gay or lesbian people in partnerships, and an end to all incursions by bishops in other dioceses. They see these things as equivalent evils. I spoke to these proposals, although they were only handed to us as we entered the building, and we were only given three minutes to comment. Needless to say, I don't think they'll work.
Last night was a highlight of the conference for me, a speech by the Chief Rabbi of
Yesterday and today we have been trying to find a form of words we can agree on about what to say with respect to the gospel and human sexuality and what form an Anglican Covenant should take. Needless to say there are many and diverse voices. Some want a complete reaffirmation of Lambeth 1.10 from 1998 and punitive action against the Episcopal Church and the
That's the political side of the conference. The spiritual side, the relational opportunities, and the deep concern for Christ's mission remain very strong. A bishop from
The conference has ended now with the final plenary in the big tent and the Closing Eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral. The Anglican Communion exists at many levels. Jane Williams said this afternoon in her closing remarks that whatever gets decided or not decided by the bishops, whatever declarations and statements are made, the spouses are clear that communion is about relationships. They will remain together whatever happens.
Archbishop Rowan, in his final address, said something similar. A covenant, he said, can take many forms. Individual bishops can covenant with each other for prayer, mutual support and common mission. He seemed to be suggesting that, whatever the political outcomes of the current disagreements-the Body of Christ is capable of sustaining many layers of relationship.
The Archbishop's closing address was both clear and, at the same time, highly nuanced. He would like to see official rites for same-sex blessing withdrawn and invading bishops go home. At the same time, he recognizes this may not be possible for everyone for the sake of conscience. While calling for uniformity he also recognizes that the Church needs the questions of its innovators and the voices of its prophets. He seemed to chastise us but, also, to rule us on-side. I'll try to bring Lambeth home, and we'll have to consider deeply what it wants us to do. But for now, I want to thank all of you for your prayers.