|My Lambeth Conference Bible Study Group|
The 2022 Lambeth Conference ended this past Sunday. I am still putting together my thoughts for a more general assessment. But here are some gleanings from conversations I had with other bishops from around the Anglican Communion. Interactions like these were as much as anything what the Lambeth Conference was about.
· A bishop of the Church of North India told me of the challenges of being a church in the context of Hindu nationalism. When they start a new church, for example, they have to be careful not to call it a church so they call them community centers. There are also legal restrictions on evangelism and conversion.
· From indigenous Canadian bishops, two women, one man, I heard stories of despair and suicide, especially among young people.
· At the retreat before the Lambeth Conference formally began, we were invited to share a story of suffering in our life with our neighbor. I was sitting next to a South Sudanese bishop. We introduced ourselves. I asked if he had anything he wanted to share. He did. His mother and two of his brothers were killed last month in a raid that was part of a conflict between herders and agriculturalists. His mother's home was burned. He has been unbale to bury these family members. Rather than share whatever I might have offered as an example of personal suffering, I prayed and laid hands on this brother.
· In our Bible study, the question was asked why it is hard to love others. We might have talked about how some personalities are hard to love or disagreements about this or that. But a South Sudanese bishop offered, “Maybe this person killed your mother or your father. How can you love them? But with God’s help people do when the person confesses and repents." This was not a theoretical statement.
· Another question in Bible study was what the church might do in your context that would get people’s attention and attract them. Again, one of the South Sudanese bishops (a different one) said, “In the church we belong to one another and support and encourage one another. For example, maybe your mother or father has died and you are left an orphan and unable to bury them on your own. The church helps you with the funeral and supports you in your grief.
· Many bishops of South Sudan are unable to live in their dioceses full time due to instability, violence, and lack of infrastructure. So, they live elsewhere and visit as they can. One bishop in my Bible study is only 36. When I asked him how he became a bishop so young, he simply said there was no one else in the area with theological training. His diocese has been devasted by civil war – schools, health centers, and churches destroyed.
The wife and baby daughter of this young bishop in South Sudan left the Lambeth Conference to return to a refugee camp in Uganda. The bishop divides his time between living and ministering to his people in the camp and crossing the border to minister to those who remain in his diocese.
That same young bishop spoke of negotiating with rebel leaders who control part of his diocese so he could cross into “their” territory to serve the people.
The challenges many of these bishops and the people in their dioceses face are hard to fathom. Their focus is on the most basic of needs and they have almost no resources or infrastructure to address them.
· Another bishop of South Sudan talked about the problem of women being illtreated and disrespected. There need to be more women leaders, including more priests and bishops, he said. There is one woman bishop in South Sudan, but he thinks there should be more.
· Another South Sudanese bishop shared that his diocese is growing by 10% a year and his concern is that he cannot train leaders fast enough.
· I had a conversation with a bishop of Kenya whose diocese is mostly rural and agricultural and borders Lake Victoria. We talked about how much our dioceses are alike.
There is so much hardship and suffering in the world. And the church in the thick of it supporting and encouraging as it can. And preaching the gospel. Every bishop I have spoken to has spoken of the goodness of God and they express a generosity of spirit in spite of all the challenges they face.
See also my reflections going into the Lambeth Conference: