Lambeth Conference, 2022
Leslie and I are on our way England to participate in the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. The Lambeth Conference is a gathering of the bishops of the Anglican Communion which is made up of 41 provinces around the world of which the Episcopal Church is one. It has been held approximately every 10 years since the first one in 1867. Due to a covid delay and other things it has been 14 years since the last one.
I am excited to be a part of this. The connectedness, the sense of belonging to something bigger – the catholicity – of the Anglican Communion is one of the things that drew me to the Episcopal Church. The Anglican Communion is a reminder that to be a Christian is not an individual affair. It is to be a member of the body of Christ, the church. It is to be bound to allegiances that transcend national boundaries as well as other loyalties. Episcopalians in Wisconsin are fundamentally united to members of the Anglican Communion around the globe by a common heritage of faith, by bonds of affection and by the water of baptism which is thicker than blood. We belong to one another. The gathering of bishops at the Lambeth Conference is a sign of that belonging.
What we will be up to
We will be stayin g at Kent University in Canterbury. There will be a retreat for the first couple of days. The Conference itself will include worship at Canterbury Cathedral, prayer, small group Bible Study (Leslie and I have each been asked to be facilitators of our respective groups), connecting through informal and formal conversations and listening, discussing issues that face the church and the world. The focus will be on exploring what it means to be ‘God’s Church for God’s World’ in the decade ahead. Bishops will discuss several themes that are to result in a set of “Lambeth Calls”. Those themes are:
• Mission and Evangelism
• Safe Church
• Environment and Sustainable Development
• Christian Unity
• Inter-faith Relations
• Anglican Identity
• Human Dignity
We received the drafts of these calls last week. I expect nearly all of them will receive near unanimous affirmation. Controversially, the draft Lambeth Call on Human Dignity includes the suggestion that we vote on affirming Lambeth 1:10 – a resolution from Lambeth 1998 that says Christian marriage is only between a man and a woman. This is a surprise to many of us. We certainly expected to have conversations about a wide range of issues and it is not surprising that this might be a topic of discussion. But voting on it strikes many of us as problematic.
It should be no surprise that many bishops will want to affirm the historic understanding of marriage and this might well be a majority. On the one hand, this would not be news. We know that the position the Episcopal Church and others have come to that that historic understanding can be faithfully expanded to include same-gender marriages is still a “minority report” within the Anglican Communion.
But such a declaration of a majority will do nothing to lessen the threat to the lives and flourishing of LGBTQ people who are members of every province of the Communion. It may well exacerbate it. Therefore, many bishops have expressed concern and are committed to finding a different way. I am committed to finding a different way.
I expect that if there is a “vote” it will reveal that the majority of bishops believe what is generally referred to as the traditional view. But I also expect it will reveal that that majority is not overwhelming, and we are far from one mind. A vote will not change the reality in the Episcopal Church and other provinces like Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Korea, Scotland, Wales that have come to similar conclusions. It will not change the trajectory of other provinces, including the Church of England. In fact, there is a diversity of views on this in every province. I hope that before there is a vote, the language is amended to better represent that diversity of conviction and practice in our Communion.
What does this mean for us?
The Anglican Communion is not like the Roman Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not the Anglican pope. The office is more like Patriarch of Constantinople in the Eastern Orthodox Churches– respected and taken seriously but with no direct authority beyond the Province of the Church of England. Similarly, the Lambeth Conference was never meant to be an authoritative body.
What the bishops affirm together is not insignificant, and we will want to take each affirmation seriously. But nothing the bishops say there will be binding on every province. The dioceses of Wisconsin, including Fond du Lac and Eau Claire have made it clear that LGBTQ people are welcome in our congregations, most of which have declared themselves prepared to celebrate same-sex marriages. It will also not change the fact that we will continue to recognize that many of our members disagree with that position. They, too, are welcome. Nor will it change the fact that we will continue to strive to engage one another with honesty, charity, generosity, and holy curiosity.
That posture of honesty, charity, generosity, and holy curiosity is what Leslie and I will be adopting and practicing while we are at the Lambeth Conference. Perhaps it is fitting that the bishops and spouses will be studying 1 Peter together which includes one of my favorite lines from the Bible, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Communion is hard
To be a Christian is to be called together as members of one another in the body of Christ. The body that is the Anglican Communion is made of a wide variety of people from almost every continent with different theological convictions and a profound diversity of cultural and political contexts. That can make belonging to one another challenging. But it is also beautiful. And it points to God's desire that human diversity will be lived as a rich, harmoniuos solidarity. Leslie and I look forward to experiencing a slice of it at the Lambeth Conference.