In the final three days of the Lambeth Conference, one was aware of moving from phase 2 “listening together” towards phase 3 “witnessing together”, responding to the conference’s calls to action. The Conference itself, with its opportunities to meet and talk face-to-face, had been a time of sharing experiences for bishops from different parts of the world.
It had also been an opportunity to gather resources (from the excellent exhibition stalls) and go into seminars to gain enlightenment or training on key topics that might help the diocese back home. For the spouses too, there had been opportunities to share. When I asked one of them how they were finding it, she replied: “the problems we have, I find they are the same world over.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s second keynote speech, delivered on the Friday evening, was a call to action.
“The greatest challenge we face is to be converted. That means we must be becoming churches that live by what they say, and are constantly revolutionary.
“It means that our church institutions do justice. That we do not tolerate what is wrong because it fits the culture or we have always done it that way, or because our lawyers say so. We are to remain revolutionaries.
“The tune we sing is the Magnificat. In it Mary, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophesies:
– He has shown strength with his arm;
– He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
– He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
– He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
“That is the statement of a revolutionary. The East India Company forbade its singing at Evensong in the churches of the parts of India it ruled, lest the local people got the idea that God was like this. It means we are revolutionaries.
“Let us be clear. The Church is a place of revolution without violence. It is called to set the world the right way up, for the tunes to which we march to become the tunes of all the world. We are those who call out ‘But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’.” (Amos 5:24).
“We are revolutionaries. But, unlike secular or political revolutions, the Christian revolution runs on grace, mercy and forgiveness, generosity and engagement. The aim of this revolution is not human power, influence or position.
“Our beginning and end is the King and his Kingdom – the greatest revolution the world has ever seen.”
Words into action
Stirring words indeed. But how does it work in practice? A glance at the Seminar 3 programme which followed on the next day shows that the bishops and their spouses were given ample choice of which topic to engage with, such as:
“Safe church- providing support where there is abuse”
“…sustainable development goals”
“An act of hope in the face of Climate Crisis”
“Building a confident, science-engaged church”
“Theological education in Africa”
“Mission through Anglican schools”
“Just relationships between women and men, girls and boys”
“…mental health concerns…”
“Unity, faith and order- dialogue and action.”
These were not open to the Press but one can guess that they were follow-ups to the Plenaries on these subjects, all of which can be found livestreamed.
For some of these there has already been work done by the ACC (Anglican Consultative Council) which follows up with implementation, or the Anglican Alliance (specifically set up to work on poverty and sustainable development).
A new initiative on science
There is one new area of work introduced in 2022 with the setting up of a new commission on science, to be chaired by the Bishop of Oxford, Stephen Croft, billed as “Scientists and theologians join forces for a new Anglican Communion Science Commission.” The bishops involved come from every continent, and the scientists from many different disciplines such as medicine, nanomaterials, virology, ocean engineering.
So, it is evidently going to work on Climate Change, the Environment, the Blue Planet etc. The gap that I notice is that no one in that list is into robotics and AI which is also a looming challenge to the way we humans live.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day”
Historians of the Anglican Communion may notice that a Lambeth Conference may inaugurate a new topic, and then decades may be spent in following through. Examples of this through the twentieth century are:
- 1920 onwards – Call for visible Unity of Christians
- 1968 onwards – Ordination of Women to the priesthood
- 1984 onwards – the four marks of Mission
- 1998 – Marriage and Sexuality
On some of these, there is visible progress – such as in the numerous women bishops at the Conference. Others are still in process, such as the Human Dignity topic on homosexuality.
Marks of mission: 4 + 1
The marks of Mission were reiterated by Archbishop Welby in his third keynote speech:
- TELL – proclaim the gospel, which started with the apostles as told in the Acts of the Apostles, continued with notable saints such as St Thomas going to India, St Benedict founding monasteries amid the collapse of the Roman Empire, St Francis challenging the corrupt church of his day, the missionary expansion of the nineteenth century, including episodes of local martyrdom (in Uganda, and Melanesia).
- TEACH – to teach, baptize, nurture “to enable the hearers to … decide the how of understanding it for themselves.” (Welby) He told us of the growth of Christian Universities in S Sudan
- TEND – respond to human need by loving service. He told us how he went into the London hospitals that are near Lambeth Palace during Covid to pray with patients and staff.
- TRANSFORM – to overthrow unjust structures, often with costly actions
- TREASURE – the integrity of God’s creation, and renew the life of the Earth.
Although the first four were inaugurated in 1984, Lambeth 2022 is significant in adding point 5. The launch of the Anglican Communion Forest on the Wednesday was a symbolic act to push this forward, “led by those who see the world as God’s gift.”
Ten themes to guide them
It is important not to think of a Lambeth Conference as like a Parliament making new laws. Instead, what they do is make “Calls” which have been drafted in advance by working groups, and these were then discussed in small groups, with comments to be collated by the ACC after the event. The Calls are on these themes:
- Mission and Evangelism
- Safe Church
- Anglican Identity
- Human Dignity
- The Environment and Sustainable Development
- Christian Unity
- Interfaith Relations
- Science and Faith
and the texts of them can be found here.
Statements of support
On the last Saturday morning, there was also a session for the Statements of Support. There were 14 of them, concerning:
Congo, Nigeria, Jerusalem and the Middle East, Egypt, Ukraine, Sudan, Pakistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, Tanzania, indigenous people of Canada, shootings in USA, refugee and migrant crisis.
The sponsor of each was the archbishop or bishop of the country concerned, with the exception of the final one on migrants which Welby himself sponsored, and Ukraine sponsored by Robert Innes, Bishop in Europe. Some of these make harrowing reading, and one understands the force behind Welby’s repeated statement that many – perhaps the majority – of the bishops at the conference come from places of suffering and strife.
My next and final article on Lambeth 2022 will be about the magnificent closing service at Canterbury Cathedral.