By Neva Rae Fox
The 15th Lambeth Conference, the gathering of Anglican bishops and archbishops from across the world, convenes July 26 to August 8 under the theme “God’s Church for God’s World: Walking, Listening, and Witnessing Together.” Postponed from 2020 because of COVID, the conference has attracted an estimated 658 bishops and 480 spouses to the University of Kent and Canterbury Cathedral.
Speaking before the event, bishops and archbishops from around the world described their goals and aspirations for the first Lambeth Conference since 2008.
“I hope that the conference will be a space where bishops are able to share together the hope we have in Christ, and to pray with each other about the challenges facing our dioceses, our communities, and our world,” said Emma Ineson, bishop to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and a member of the Lambeth Design Group.
“It is a time for the bishops and their spouses from across the Anglican Communion to meet and transact business, informed by the happenings in the ministry context in the past 10 years or so for the mission and ministry strategic planning for the next decade,” said Bishop Paul Korir of the Anglican Diocese of Kapsabet, Kenya.
Bishop George Sumner of Dallas, who served on the Lambeth Design Group, mentioned three hopes. “First, 2022 recalls the historical conference of 1920, in the wake of the trauma of the First World War,” Sumner said. “I hope for a similar galvanizing call to ecumenical awareness, perhaps by thinking about the global crises we face together.”
Second, “We need a renewed sense that we, as Anglicans, are a global communion, koinonia. This remarkable gathering from the four winds itself will testify to this.”
Third, “The teaching of the Communion on marriage is that attested by Scripture. But there is work to do. I hope Lambeth 2022 will commence a decade of considering how we can live together as a communion with more candor, charity, and theological supports.”
“We are living at a time of huge challenge,” Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said. “We need to raise our attention as a church beyond the church walls — and to the needs and issues that our communities are facing. Meeting as a collection of bishops from around the world gives us the chance to share local experiences and think about the global picture. How can we combine our efforts to make a real difference to the world today?”
Bishops indicated a fervent desire to address spiritual, societal, and global issues at Lambeth.
Ineson said, “The conference will be addressing many topics in the Bible expositions, in the keynote addresses by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the plenary sessions, and in the seminars — everything from theological education to science and technology to the concerns of young people, mental health, unity, reconciliation, and witness.”
Korir said, “The issue of climate change cannot be ignored at all, and I pray that the role of the church can be addressed and how the Anglican Communion can resource the Anglican Church in the developing world to address this issue.”
Cottrell hopes the assembly addresses “intentional discipleship.”
Korir agreed. “I would love to see addressed discipleship and ministry to the children, youth, and refugees. Until and unless the Anglican Communion places the children and youth ministry and the plight of the refugees at the center of discussion and decision-making, the future of the church will remain under threat.”
Bishop James Barnaba Almasi of the Anglican Diocese of Masasi in Tanzania said, “The topic which I would like the assembly to address could be ‘What is the meaning of the church, and what would be a proper meaning of the word unity?’ The reason for choosing these two words would bring an outcome of knowing what are causes of our division within the Anglican Communion.”
At a June 22 media conference, Design Group member Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of the Anglican Church of South Africa said the Anglican Science Commission will discuss how to “harness, mobilize, and encourage people on issues of science and faith.”
While admitting there are divisions among them, many bishops have confidence the overall message from Lambeth will focus on solidarity and Christian living.
“I hope we will joyfully uphold unity of purpose and commitment,” said Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. “I also trust that we will witness to ways to discuss the tensions of our diversity — trusting that each is seeking to be faithful to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, asking questions where we do not understand or differ — and committed to remaining at the table of Christ as siblings even when we disagree, for it is Christ who has called each of us there.”
Cottrell hopes the message is “that the church is called to be one, that we must be bearers of hope, that the church is at the heart of communities around the world.”
Whether a bishop is attending Lambeth for the first or second time, enthusiasm runs high.
“I attended the Lambeth Conference of 2008 as a very new bishop,” Nicholls recalled. “I am delighted that the pre-Lambeth Bishops’ Conversations have built relationships with a number of bishops prior to arriving at Lambeth, so there are familiar faces and a sense of community already begun before arriving.”
Korir is looking forward to his first Lambeth. “I expect this conference to be issue-based and more outward-looking than the previous one, which seemed to have focused mostly on the previous resolution and internal differences of opinion, hence being more inward-looking. I make this observation respectfully.”
This will be Almasi’s first Lambeth as well. “My hopes would be many, but first and foremost is that I think always Lambeth has been a bishops’ fellowship, where all bishops within the Anglican Communion meet and pray together. So, I will be meeting with my fellow bishops, to pray and share our goodness as ministers, sharing our challenges and blessings we are experiencing as we serve. I will learn more as I listen from others, their stories and witnesses.”
What will the bishops take home from Lambeth 2022?
“The takeaway for me would be that the Anglican Communion would have a well-articulated action plan for the next decade on the ministry priority/agenda of the church,” Korir said. “It is my wish that our differences of ideology and perception and ministry context shall not be lifted over and above our rich history, diversity, and the mission mandate, the Great Commission.”
Ineson added, “My prayer is that we will have wrestled with some of our differences together — over human sexuality, for example — but will have committed to walk together in prayer and witness.”
Not all, however, are packing their bags for the trip to England. Three Anglican primates, leading the Provinces of Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda, have indicated they will not attend because of the presence of bishops who ordain gay priests and authorize same-sex weddings. COVID precautions will prevent bishops from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia from attending.
Bishop Prince Singh, bishop provisional of the Diocese of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, has protested that the Archbishop of Canterbury has not invited the spouses of gay and lesbian bishops.
“I’ve decided not to go to Lambeth later this year because my LGBTQ community of bishops have received notification from Canterbury disinviting their spouses to the gathering. I just wanted to make my simple moral witness to this call. I feel Jesus provides for us to pursue a holy way of life.”