Lambeth Opening Service Marked by Praise, Division

Archbishop Justin Welby smiles while standing at St. Augustine’s throne at Canterbury Cathedral. | Tim Stubbings photo for the Lambeth Conference

By Mark Michael

Prayers and songs in nearly a dozen languages echoed across the ancient aisles of Canterbury Cathedral, as a congregation of over a thousand joined in the Lambeth Conference’s Opening Eucharist Sunday morning. The Zimbabwean Zinafe Choir danced in procession after ranks of bishops in scarlet convocation robes, while ruffed choirboys and a praise band lifted hymns to God.

Though the service was acclaimed by many as a demonstration of the Anglican Communion’s diversity and vitality, a different note was struck at the time for distributing Holy Communion. Lines of mostly white worshipers filed past scores of bishops and their spouses from the Global South who remained seated, silently protesting the Communion’s divisions over human sexuality.

Immediately before inviting the congregation to receive the sacrament, Archbishop Justin Welby said, “As we come to Communion, we are all aware that some who are here will not feel able to receive Communion. There are some [who are bound] by the rules of their own Church among our beloved and valued ecumenical guests.

“And there are others among us because of our own divisions. In this moment, let us as we take Communion remain in silence when we are sitting in our place and pray for the healing of God’s Church, not only the Anglican Communion but of the Church catholic and universal, that we may find by God’s power the moment when we can come together throughout the world as one.”

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Vicentia Kgabe, Bishop of Lesotho, preaches the opening service’s sermon. | Tim Bishop photo for The Lambeth Conference

Drawing on the widow of Zarephath’s generosity to Elijah in 1 Kings 17 and Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet in John 13, Bishop Vicentia Kgabe of Lesotho in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa focused her sermon on hospitality and servant leadership.

“How do we as the church — the Anglican church — demonstrate hospitality in a world that is going through and experiencing some serious pain and strife? We do this by following the model that has been set for us by our Savior, and this model is not self-centered nor inward-looking,” she said.

“It calls us to first seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all the things that we wish for, that we yearn for, that we call, for that we hope for, will be given to us, but first we seek the kingdom.”

Kgabe added, “As the Anglican Communion we can, and we have it in us to, heal and serve the world. We do this by sharing what we have freely without the fear that we will run empty. Because our God is a God who provides and assures us that ‘those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed.’”

Archbishop Samy Shehata, first primate of the Anglican Province of Alexandria, which covers most of North Africa, received a primatial cross during the service. Archbishop Welby said that few leaders from across the Communion had been able to participate in the province’s inauguration service in Cairo in November 2021, due to COVID restrictions.

The Most Rev. Samy Shehata, Archbishop of Alexandria, holds the Primatial Cross he received from Archbishop Welby. | Tim Bishop photo for the Lambeth Conference

He commended the hundreds of church plants that have been launched in Southern Ethiopia among Sudanese refugees and the Egyptian church’s long tradition of ecumenical and interfaith cooperation. Shehata was joined during the presentation by his Eminence Angelaos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, one of the conference’s ecumenical participants.

Music for the service included beloved Anglican hymns in English and Shona, Maurice Duruflé’s anthem “Ubi Caritas,” and — in a nod to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s roots in English evangelicalism — Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons” and Charles Wesley’s rousing “And Can it Be.”

Bishop Greg Brewer of Central Florida said, “I think the service today was glorious — global Anglican worship at its best. The Spirit of God was strongly present. I was particularly moved by Archbishop Justin presenting Archbishop Shehata with a cross, as well as inviting Archbishop Shehata to join Archbishop Justin in offering the peace.”

“I am deeply saddened by the refusal of some bishops choosing not to receive, though I think I understand why,” he added. “I understand that there are those in leadership who are working towards the deepest possible unity in the midst of our unhappy divisions. That work is something I deeply support.”

Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe of Central New York noted, “As a female bishop, I have had many people refuse to receive Communion from me. I’ve had people go to the other line to receive Communion from someone else. Unfortunately, there’s this mistaken idea that the Communion rail is the place to have a statement, when we are being invited to Jesus’ table. But that’s a theological difference also.

“I pray — and I prayed this morning — for the folks who do not feel they can come forward. I pray they could find a way where they could feel they are welcome. Not because they aren’t already welcome, but because they find a way to a more compassionate understanding of what Eucharistic theology really is.”

Bishop Cleophas Lunga of Matabeleland in the Province of Central Africa pointed to a sign of hope: “One can choose not to come and boycott totally, but if one comes and then leaves for one little bit within the entire system, that is not extremism. People can disagree but be together in one room. That made me realize we can move forward, even though we have different views.”

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