By Mark Michael
While organizers of the Lambeth Conference still expect to go forward with an in-person gathering in July and August, they announced January 24 that plans have been scrapped for an ambitious pre-conference hospitality program that would have placed bishops and their spouses in parishes across Britain during the week before the conference.
In place of The Big Hello, a three-day relaxed event called “Welcome to Canterbury” will be held at the University of Kent from July 27-29, where the conference is scheduled to begin on July 30. Organizers are strongly recommending that bishops travel directly from their points of entry to the campus to minimize infection risks.
“In the months ahead, the pandemic will, sadly, continue to impact all of us. But it remains our hope and prayer that we will be able to welcome as many bishops as possible from the Anglican Communion for an in-person event in Canterbury,” said Archbishop Justin Welby in a video message. “I pray that everyone will take the opportunity to join us at Canterbury for this important time of pre-event prayer, preparation, and growing to know one another.”
The Rt. Rev. Emma Ineson, who is serving as Lambeth Palace’s lead for the event, told TLC, “We believe that our conference conversations will be hugely enriched by bishops being able to meet face to face, so that they can listen to and learn from one another’s contexts. Of course, the pandemic will continue to create ongoing uncertainties for us all, but the conference planning teams are also working hard to make some parts of the conference available online for those that might find it impossible to get to the conference due to travel or health reasons.”
Organizers noted that there are currently no countries in the U.K.’s red zone (which would completely forbid travel). Even non-vaccinated travelers currently are admitted to the country without a required quarantine if they have a recent negative COVID test. Planning staff are also working with Britain’s national Health and Security Agency to be sure health risks are minimized, and that all venues for conference events follow relevant health protocols.
The Conference will still include a day in London, based at Lambeth Palace, but no mention was made of the tea party with the queen at Buckingham Palace that has been a highlight of the gathering in recent decades. Queen Elizabeth, who would be 96 at the time of the conference, has significantly curtailed her presence at public events since the death of her husband, Prince Philip, in April 2021.
The Lambeth Conference, a gathering of bishops from around the world, is one of four Instruments of Communion for the global Anglican Communion. It has met roughly every 10 years since the first conference in 1867, although the most recent conference was in 2008. The conference organizers have said they expect more than 600 bishops to attend, plus their spouses.