Tonight (Monday, UK time) is a good time to write to you with some news about the Lambeth Conference and a request for prayer for one of our sessions tomorrow afternoon. (Thank you for your prayers to date!)
Teresa and I have been in Canterbury since last Tuesday, with Wednesday being a Welcome day, Thursday and Friday a retreat (bishops at Canterbury Cathedral, spouses at University of Kent), Friday night a keynote address from ++Justin to begin the conference proper. Then Saturday began our daily pattern of Bible study (plenary then small groups), seminars, “Call” sessions (more below), and optional events in evenings. Sunday morning we had our extraordinary opening service in Canterbury Cathedral. Each day includes opportunity for morning prayer, eucharist, evening prayer and night prayer.
It is wonderful meet old friends and make new ones. The University of Kent campus we are living in and meeting on is vast but the long walks to get to places is good antidote to the plentiful food we are eating. We have been blessed with dry weather (except for one evening), but the heat is tiring when there are so many meetings—and the English don’t have air conditioning in many buildings—none that we have experienced here.
The best part of the Conference (among many wonderful experiences) is seeing the Anglican Communion in its diversity—many races, many languages, many cultural contexts: Africa, Asia, North and South America, Oceania, UK/Ireland/Europe are all here. I loved hearing a talk at the bishops’ retreat given in Portugese—a beautiful language to listen to and one spoken by Anglicans in Brazil, Mozambique and Angola.
Inevitably and expectedly, there is theological diversity here. External mainstream media, conservative Anglican media and a host of commenters on social media are playing this up as solely focused on sexuality. But the diversity is present in a host of other ways, including in our discussions in Bible study groups as we work through 1 Peter.
I am interested to find that Archbishop Welby is taking a considerable lead as a conference speaker, both key note addresses and lead addresses for the Bible studies. It is clear, to me at any rate, why he is doing this: in various remarks in his talks, he is explicitly pushing for us to be a conference which finds unity even as we acknowledge deep disagreements between us.
As we work through the Calls—papers on various topics with practical applications or “calls” for Anglican provinces to consider—we are working hard as a conference to provide guidance for ourselves in the years ahead. Yesterday, for example, we looked at a Call paper on Safeguarding, one which both confirms directions we are already working in (ACANZP, our Diocese) and offers food for thought about further work to do. If all provinces respond well to this Call, we will begin to move beyond the painful legacy of the past, well documented in newspapers around the world in recent years.
Some external media comment has ridiculed the voting method we used in our first Call, then changed for our second Call, and changed again today. Let me assure you that within the conference itself, it does not feel ridiculous: it feels like a large body of people are working out as we go along how we best determine what the mind or mood of the Lambeth Conference is on each of the Calls.
Tomorrow afternoon, Tuesday 2 August, UK time, is, however, going to be a big test of both the Conference organisers and of the conferees themselves. It is this test that I ask you to pray about.
We will discuss a call entitled Human Dignity, and as you may have seen in reports, this Call has become subject to some editing and re-editing concerning a request from the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans that the conference vote to re-affirm the Lambeth 1998 resolution 1.10 concerning marriage and same-sex partnerships.
At this point in time the draft of the Call we are aware of has an accurate descriptive passage about the commitment of many in the Communion to this resolution while others disagree with it. (Text of the relevant paragraph is appended below). Nevertheless, the GSFA, led by Archbishop Badi (Primate of South Sudan) and six other Primates here, seem determined to press as hard as possible for the bishops to be offered the opportunity to reaffirm 1.10 and not merely assent to a paragraph describing the current state of the Communion on the matter.
As I write, I am aware of various behind the scenes conversations occurring, but I have no idea what will actually happen tomorrow afternoon. I am also concerned that some bodies of Anglicans outside the conference may be interfering in the internal workings of the conference.
I can imagine that one result of tomorrow afternoon will be that there are headlines implying that all we have done here is talk about sexuality. That is a very long way from the case. We have had important conversations about mission and evangelism, about safeguarding, and today about Anglican identity. Tomorrow we also consider a Call paper on Reconciliation (which may itself be controversial as we tackle questions of reparations for bad imperialistic behaviour of the past). In the second half of the conference we will be looking at the environment, Christian unity, Inter faith relations, discipleship, and science and faith. Despite some pundits trying to report on the Conference otherwise, this is not a one topic conference.
I also observe that despite some bishops and spouses not taking communion at the opening eucharist, this is a conference in which we continue to meet, talk, eat, and pray together as one conference.
I acknowledge that there are many concerns about tomorrow’s discussions and possible outcomes: many LGBTQI+ Anglicans have been hurt by these matters once again being aired in such a manner as to imply they are not welcome in our churches; some Anglicans wonder what the point of the Communion is if gatherings such as the Lambeth Conference call into question decisions made in provincial General Synods/Conventions; other Anglicans long for the Lambeth Conference to settle the conflict over 1.10 once and for all by re-affirming it as “the mind of the Communion.”
In conclusion, there are a few further things to say:
- whatever is decided tomorrow, it will not have binding effect on our whole church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia: only General Synod decisions have binding effect;
- there may be pastoral responses to make in our ministry units following whatever news comes out of the Human Dignity meeting;
- in my view, what is at stake tomorrow is the question of whether we are a Communion in which the decisions and discernments of individual Anglican provinces are respected, or a Communion which is different to that, and probably a very fractious one at that.
Please pray to God that at the end of tomorrow the Conference will have reached a place in which we remain one body in Christ even as we know and understand we are a body with deep disagreements.
Below are a couple of key links and the paragraph I mentioned above:
Lambeth Conference (for official news of each day):
Text of paragraph noted above, from the Human Dignity current draft:
“ Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998). Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.”