On Lambeth’s Closing Day: Relationships, Mission

Bishops and spouses walk through Canterbury on their way to the Lambeth Conference’s closing service. | Andrew Baker photo for the Lambeth Conference

By Mark Michael

The 15th Lambeth Conference closed with a joyful multilingual Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral and a final keynote address by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Archbishop Justin Welby focused on the renewal and revival of the Church through a commitment to deepening relationships and the practice of the Anglican Communion’s five marks of mission. Meanwhile church leaders from the Global South announced that 125 bishops had signed a statement reaffirming traditional teaching on human sexuality.

Bishops dressed down in purple cassocks and most sat with their spouses in the nave of Anglicanism’s mother church for the final service, which acting dean Jane Hedges said was intended to be more relaxed. Archbishop Thabo Magkoba of Southern Africa served as celebrant, assisted by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Archbishop Welby spoke about Jesus’ exhortation to the disciples, “Do not be afraid,” noting that “when we fear we cling to what we know. We clutch at what makes us feel in control.” Our fears, he said, ultimately keep us from engaging with Christ and one another.

When Christ comes to us, though, “we are liberated to look outwards. To imagine a new way of relating to the world around us, as well as among us. To imagine what it means to be given the kingdom in his world.

“In this command, ‘do not fear,’ our eyes are opened to God’s promise. We are called again to conversion to life, a conversion … that says, whatever happens, I trust that in some wonderful and mysterious way you feed me for eternity, with a wafer and wine over which a prayer has been said. That in the host I see a crucified God,” he said.

“This conversion expands our world. We have met, over the past weeks and days, with people from all the corners of the globe, from contexts and experiences that are totally alien to us. And in these meetings, we have found the antidote to fear. We find in John: perfect love casts out fear.

“As we grow in love, our fear shrinks and the kingdom of God finds space, finds its rule in our hearts and in our lives as God’s people,” he said.

Music for the service was led by a praise band as well as the massed choirs of the cathedral. The congregation sang classic hymns as well as praise choruses in several languages, and the choir offered a Mass setting by the German Romantic composer Josef Rheinberger and S.S. Wesley’s “Blessed be the God and Father,” a setting of portions of 1 Peter, the conference’s key biblical text.

In this video screen capture of the closing Lambeth Conference eucharist, a group of bishops and spouses can be seen sitting on the right side of the aisle during Holy Communion, with empty seats in front and behind as others walk to the altar

As during the opening service on July 31, some bishops and their spouses remained in their seats when Holy Communion was distributed, as a sign of their impaired communion with leaders of Anglican churches that have rejected Lambeth I.10’s traditional teaching about human sexuality. The number of non-communing bishops appeared to be smaller than at the opening service, and many of these were from the Episcopal Church of South Sudan.

Despite their differences, the congregation closed the service by marching out of the cathedral vigorously singing the South African hymn “Mayenziwe ’ntando yakho” (“Your will be done on earth, O Lord”).

Deepening Relationships

Welby delivered his final keynote address in the morning, focusing on several themes emerging from the gathering.

“Whatever else comes out of this Lambeth Conference and as we go forward in this next period,” he said, “at the heart of it must be the deepening and the building of relationship as our first objective; that we love God and love one another.”

Welby noted that the conference’s greatest failure had been the absence of bishops from Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda. “Discussion might have been more complicated. But if we love one another, we will all find renewal. And that really matters,” he said.

He also said the Lambeth Conference had unexpectedly “become a time of intense ecclesiological development, and thinking and reflection for the Anglican Communion. We are a communion of churches, Catholic and Reformed, autonomous and interdependent: and we must keep to the principles of both.”

The Anglican commitment to autonomy, Welby said, reflects the Catholic social principle of subsidiarity, that work is best done at the most local level possible. The principle of solidarity, or mutual support, underlies the commitment to interdependence, as the member churches work together toward the common good. “We accept a level of mutual accountability without mutual control,” he explained.

Using a series of verbs also present in one of the Lambeth Call texts, Welby urged the church to “tell, teach, treasure, tend, and transform the world.” He cited a series of examples from Church history and continuing initiatives included in the Lambeth Calls to illustrate the ways in which God can awaken his people through a deepened commitment to mission.

He invited all bishops to participate in the final stage of the Lambeth journey, an 18-month digital conversation focused on continuing to build relationships and putting the Calls into practice.

“It’s not an action list, it’s a relationship approach. But we will have the aim of seeing how we can put into practice contextually, in our local area and in the right way, those things we have agreed. … Most of all, it will keep us facing outwards, going outwards; it will enable our relationships to draw us towards greater holiness and unity,” he said.

GSFA Releases Lambeth I.10 Poll

The Global South Anglican Fellowship released the results of its digital poll to reaffirm Lambeth Resolution I.10. As of 1 p.m. August 7, 125 bishops from 21 provinces who were present at the conference had indicated their support for the Anglican Communion’s traditional teaching about human sexuality.

Collectively, the 125 bishops have 7,872,629 members under their pastoral care (though the GSFA noted that bishops from Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda, who support the resolution but did not attend the conference, have 27 to 30 million members in their churches).

By far, the largest number of signing bishops — 51 — are from South Sudan, and 10 were from the Anglican Church in Mozambique and Angola. The third-largest number, eight, were bishops of the Episcopal Church. Most other provinces, including many that are prominently represented in the GSFA’s leadership, had fewer than five signatories.

The GSFA said the launch of the poll was delayed by changed meeting times and Wi-Fi problems, and that it plans to release updated numbers in due course, if other bishops decide to register their support after the conference concludes. The group will also develop a process for bishops who did not attend the conference to register their support.

A counter-statement affirming LGBT+ people was issued April 2 by a group calling themselves inclusive bishops, and had been signed by 175 archbishops and bishops by August 7. Some of those signing the letter did not attend the Lambeth Conference, and there is no indication of the number of Anglicans under their care.

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