Closing Session Focuses on Fellowship, Crises, and Science

José Mcloughlin, Bishop of Western North Carolina, and Maria Tazu Sasamori, Bishop of Hokkaido (accompanied by an interpreter), talk with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby about what they will take home to their dioceses. | Neil Turner photo for the Lambeth Conference

By Mark Michael & Kirk Petersen

After more than a week of struggle over the issues of human sexuality, and whether and how to vote about it, the Lambeth Conference devoted much of its final day of meetings August 6 to reinforcing a sense of fellowship for the road ahead.

“I’ve recognized that the Communion is not necessarily when we sit formally. The Communion is when I sit with someone who thinks differently than me, at a picnic table, and we talk things through,” said the Rt. Rev. José McLoughlin, Bishop of Western North Carolina, during the morning plenary. He was one of two bishops invited to the podium by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to talk about what they will take home from the conference.

“I will say to my diocese that the Communion is strong, and it is not what people who have said who are not here, but the real change of heart, and the real sharing, and the real desire to enter into real relationship, even ones that are very messy,” McLoughlin added.

Speaking through an interpreter, the first female bishop in Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Japanese church, echoed the sentiment. Bishop of Hokkaido Maria Tazu Sasamori, who was consecrated in April, “hopes that when she goes back, she can take the message that even though we have different stories, and different cultures, we can continue to walk together,” her interpreter said.

At the first of two afternoon press conferences, the Rt. Rev. Susan Bell, Bishop of Niagara in the Anglican Church of Canada and a supporter of same-sex marriage, sat amiably between two bishops who oppose it: the Rt. Rev. Humphrey Peters, Bishop of Peshawar, and the Rt. Rev. Zechariah Manyok Biar, Bishop of Wanglei in South Sudan. Bell and Biar both joked about having “a lively discussion” at a table group.

“I will always be deeply and profoundly grateful for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s leadership — spiritual and moral — for leading us through what could have been a very difficult week together,” Bell said. “Anglicans fight hard to stay together and to love each other, and to bear with one another across difference.”

Biar also praised Welby, albeit slightly less effusively, speaking of “the intelligence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, especially when we talked of human dignity. … What he did was to stand in the middle and put out a little to this side, another little to this side, and at the end of his speech, we got confused, I think, all of us … whether to be angry or to be happy,” he said with a smile. “I think we have started a dialogue, and that is how people come together, when you can talk and understand yourselves.”

At the final press conference, Welby faced two pointed questions about the dissatisfaction of some bishops in the Global South. “I think it depends on where you get your view of the Global South from,” he said. “I had a conversation with one of the primates last night, which … would indicate a level of unease. And then I’ve had conversations with other Global South primates, who say this has put us into a really good, new position.”

Two of the three largest Anglican provinces in the world, Nigeria and Uganda, boycotted Lambeth, as did the smaller Church of Rwanda. Welby said the boycott gave him “a sense of failure,” and took pains to extend an olive branch. “They were in my heart. Not a day or session has gone by without me missing them, and regretting that. And that’s not a case of numbers, it’s just that they’d have brought so much, they would have been a powerful and wonderful presence, and I’m so sorry.”

Nigeria has been a major focus of Welby’s entire tenure as archbishop. He said he has visited the country more than 80 times, and in response to a question he spent nearly six minutes lamenting specific acts of violence there, naming city after city in describing terrorism and factional fighting.

Welby quoted an unidentified senior figure who told him, “I never go out in the morning without first praying with my wife, knowing well that I may not return.”

“My heart breaks at looking at the appalling situation of the poorest and the most vulnerable in Nigeria. And it is such a wonderful country, it is such an extraordinary, marvelous country,” he said.

Sunday will feature a closing keynote address by Welby, some free time, and a closing worship service at Canterbury Cathedral. The conference nominally ends on August 8, but that is strictly a travel day.

Justin Welby presents retiring Secretary General Josiah Idowu-Fearon with an honorary doctorate for his services to the Anglican Communion. His wife, Comfort, is at right. | Neil Turner photo for the Lambeth Conference

Support amid Crisis

The bishops also issued 14 statements of support, addressing a series of political and social crises in various parts of the world. These were presented by their sponsors in a series of sometimes emotional floor speeches during a morning session. The bishops also prayed for their colleagues in Brazil, Kenya, and the Philippines, where social tensions are high amid contested elections. They observed two minutes of silence in observance of the 77th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

The statements of support include calls for an end to ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Myanmar, and Mozambique, and for Sri Lanka’s new government to implement social and economic reforms in response to public protests strongly supported by the Church of Ceylon.

Welby sponsored a statement expressing sorrow about the Church of Nigeria’s absence from Communion gatherings and concern about “the security, economic, religious, and political challenges” faced by the nation. A statement by Bishop Robert Innes of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe recognizes Ukraine’s right of self-defense against Russian aggression and backs a World Council of Churches proposal to gather church leaders in Kyiv and Moscow for peacemaking talks. Archbishop of Jerusalem Hosam Naoum’s statement about conflict in the Holy Land reaffirms a commitment to the two-state solution for the region’s future.

Several statements address challenges posed to Anglicans living in Muslim-dominated regions. One celebrating the inauguration of the Province of Alexandria also advocates for its recognition by the state as an independent church body, a process complicated by a 2016 ruling that placed it under the civil jurisdiction of Egypt’s Presbyterian church.

The government of Sudan is urged to lift restrictions on church construction and visas for religious workers. A statement sponsored by the Church of Pakistan’s moderator, Bishop Azad Marshall, calls for legal protection for girls against forced marriage and an end to abuses of the blasphemy law. Marshall has long been a public advocate about both issues.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry sponsored a statement that grieves over “continued news of mass shootings in the United States … and of the ongoing turmoil and pernicious divisions that exist in various ways throughout the country, and contribute to the anxiety experienced by many.”

Primate Linda Nicholls of Canada expressed regret for the role Anglicans played in suppressing Indigenous cultures and celebrated the progress made toward establishing a self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada.

Faith’s Wisdom for Science

Bishops also considered the 10th and final Lambeth Call, on Faith and Science, Saturday morning. They celebrated the launch of the Anglican Communion Science Commission, which brings together scientists, theologians, and church leaders from around the world for consultation, especially on moral issues posed by scientific and technological developments.

“Science and technology raise enormous questions about what it means to be human, what it means to be a person, and the Christian faith has huge resources to bring,” said its co-chairman, Bishop Steven Croft of Oxford.

“We believe as Christians that almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, creator of all things, became a human person, and that one truth changes all of our perspectives on what it means to be human. So, as we encounter questions of climate change, of human enhancement, and human dignity — in all of those things, the Church has a very powerful message and a contribution to make.

“But in order to make it, we have to be confident in the sciences that we’re engaging with. Otherwise, nobody can hear what we’re saying.”

The Call invites Anglican churches “to recognize within science God-given resources for the life of faith and to offer the wisdom of faith to the work of science.” It notes with concern the increasing perception of a gap between faith and science, and urges increased partnership between scientists and church leaders as a remedy.

It calls on each province to designate a lead bishop for science and asks seminaries and theological colleges to prioritize training in this area. It also says an Anglican Communion Science Project will be established at two or three major universities to coordinate further research under the commission’s direction.


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