The Lambeth Conference was a series of remarkable surprises and examples of God’s gracious action as we gathered before God’s face and prayed. There was a beautiful and deeply moving sense of coming together, and in so doing truly meeting each other — learning from each other, committing ourselves to love across difference
The Lambeth Conference was a series of remarkable surprises and examples of God’s gracious action as we gathered before God’s face and prayed. There was a beautiful and deeply moving sense of coming together, and in so doing truly meeting each other — learning from each other, committing ourselves to love across difference.
In these gatherings, formal and informal, we learned again that the Church is built first and foremost on the grace of God, expressed in honest relationships. We are above all to “love one another deeply from the heart” (I Peter 1.22). The early-morning eucharists, led by a different Province each day, moved many to tears of empathy, joy, and lament at others’ suffering.
The forecast crisis over human sexuality and marriage became a moment of transformation. We honestly admitted that there is deep disagreement and a plurality of views across Anglican provinces — but we remained committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree despite these deep disagreements.
THE aims were clear. First was renewal of spiritual life amongst the bishops and spouses. A huge number come from areas of war, persecution, impending or actual famine. Spouses have found themselves leading the women of many dioceses, without resources, without training, and often without education — and very often at great risk of sexual violence.
What all of us, bishops and spouses, needed most was to know afresh that we are loved and called by God in Christ. Entirely by grace, there seems to have been a considerable renewal.
The second main aim was to turn to face outwards after decades of looking in at ourselves. The best way of dealing with internal challenges is to seek God. It is God who turns us to serve God’s mission in the world — and contextualise our internal struggles in the knowledge of the overwhelming horror and suffering.
That aim may have made progress, but we will see more clearly over the third stage of the Conference, which will explore how the Calls can be taken forward.
We committed ourselves to action on mission and evangelism, reconciliation, climate change, the impending scientific and technological revolution, education, health, safeguarding, unity between Christians and with those of other faiths, discipleship and prayer, to name but a few.
The third main aim was to be honest about our internal challenges, especially over sexuality. A small proportion of our time together was spent on this subject: there was one paragraph in one out of ten Calls, and it took up about 90 minutes in total of the plenary sessions over 11 days.
There is no doubting that these are matters on which there is profound disagreement among us, and that was clear in the run-up to that session. But again, by the grace of God we “walked in the light” and committed ourselves to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreements.
So much for the aims of the Conference. Just as importantly, there were signs of where the Holy Spirit may be leading us in the years to come.
First, in ecclesiology. The Conference was clear in its affirmation of the longstanding definition of Anglican identity. Anglicanism’s duration is contingent: we are an incomplete part of the Church. Its character is Catholic and Reformed. Its doctrinal basis is found in the scriptures, properly understood; supremely, in the creeds; the two dominical sacraments as a minimum; and the historic episcopate, locally adapted. This is the so-called Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1887-88.
Its mission is defined by the Five Marks of Mission. It is a Communion of Churches, autonomous and interdependent, all of which are in communion with the see of Canterbury. It recognises it is a fragment and temporary, and seeks the organic, visible unity of all God’s Church.
There was also another renewal apparent at the Conference when it comes to the values of our common life.
We emphasised solidarity. We belong to one another in Christ. The ecumenism of suffering is founded in our common baptism. As Fr Raniero Cantalamessa said in his sermon at the opening of the General Synod in 2015: “In many parts of the world, people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God.”
Implicitly, we also accepted subsidiarity, the principle that we should be as local as possible. Place matters because we are incarnate beings, and our true incarnation is made possible and blessed in the incarnation of Christ.
A third value which came out at the Conference is justice. If we are, in the words of 1 Peter (quoting Leviticus), to be holy as God is holy, we must act justly in each Church, and advocate for justice in the world.
These three values are all demonstrated in various ways in the Calls. If the Lambeth Conference clarified that the Anglican Communion as a communion of Churches makes decisions locally, it is also true that the bishops gathered in Canterbury showed a genuine desire to be one with our fellow Christians, working together for a more Christ-like world.
I believe the Conference was a success: not because it produced a great outburst of agreement, but because it showed, in a very fractured world, that disagreement without hatred is possible, diversity is a gain not a problem, and that we can find greater organic unity if we look outwards and give ourselves to the missio dei.
Most of all, after 14 years in which world crises have come with remorseless regularity for all of us, we rediscovered the love of God in the face of Christ.
First published on Church Timeson 19 August 2022. Visit the Church Times website to subscribe today.