“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Peter 4:8-10
Dear Companions in Christ in ECCT:
We write this letter on the closing day of our participation in the 15th Lambeth Conference meeting at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. The Lambeth Conference is a gathering of the bishops from throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion called by the Archbishop of Canterbury approximately every ten years for the sharing of fellowship, Bible study, prayer, worship, consultation, and conversation. It was a blessing to participate in the Lambeth Conference as your bishops from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. It was a particular gift that the Archbishop of Canterbury also extended an invitation to Bishop-elect Jeffrey Mello to join in the conference. Your bishops and bishop-elect thank God and thank you, the good people of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, for the privilege of attending the Lambeth Conference. Your prayerful support has sustained us over the last twelve days at the Lambeth Conference.
The theme of the Lambeth Conference was: “God’s Church for God’s world.” The scripture chosen by the Most Rev. and Rt. Honorable Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, for us to focus on during the conference was 1 Peter. 1 Peter is an exhortation to a community of Christians to stand firm in the face of persecution, living lives of holiness and faithfulness in the risen Christ. This was a particularly apt book to study as many of our sibling bishops across the Anglican Communion live in extremely difficult circumstances of war, persecution, and environmental collapse. In 1 Peter 4:8-10 the author implores the followers of Jesus to love one another earnestly, showing hospitality to one another, and being stewards of God’s grace. With close to 650 bishops present from 40 Anglican churches and 165 countries throughout the world, this Lambeth Conference indeed gave us the opportunity to love one another in all of our manifold and God-given differences through the grace of God.
After a day of rest from our travels, the conference began on Thursday and Friday, August 28 and 29 with a retreat in Canterbury Cathedral. It was an incredible and moving experience to gather in the mother church building of Anglicanism for two days of prayer and quiet led by scholars from around the world reflecting on major themes in 1 Peter. Friday afternoon saw the proverbial picture of the gathered bishops in their white rochet and red chimere vestments. It was quite the scene (and no small feat taking hours in the hot sun) to line up and photograph the 650+ bishops. The high point was the photograph of women bishops with this Lambeth seeing close to 100 women bishops participating – an incredible change from the last Lambeth Conference in 2008 which had only 18 women bishops in attendance.
On Saturday, July 30, after a keynote address by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the challenges of being “God’s Church for God’s world,” we began to settle into the daily rhythm and schedule of the conference. Generally speaking, each day would begin with a plenary exposition for bishops and spouses (Bishop Ian and Bishop Jeff’s spouses did not travel to Canterbury) on selected key verses in 1 Peter led by the Archbishop of Canterbury accompanied by videos of Anglicans from around the world witnessing to their life of faith. Following each biblical exposition, we then went into Bible study groups to explore further the scripture and how it spoke to our own contexts and ministries. It was in these small groups of six to eight bishops that deep and meaningful conversations across our differences were shared, for the variety of bishops gathered in each group embodied the cultural and national diversity of the Anglican Communion. In Bishop Ian’s Bible study group there were bishops from England, Lesotho, Solomon Islands, and Sweden. Bishop Laura’s group was made up of participants from England, Ghana, Scotland, South India, and South Sudan; and Bishop-elect Jeff’s group had bishops from Australia, England, Myanmar, Scotland, South Africa, and South India.
Next on the day’s agenda was another plenary for bishops and spouses focusing on one of the chosen “Calls” of the conference. The Calls were designed as opportunities for bishops to discuss deeply, and find common commitment, if possible, on ten specific issues before the Church and the world. The Calls included Mission and Evangelism, Safe Church, Anglican Identity, Reconciliation, Human Dignity, Environment and Sustainable Development, Christian Unity, Interfaith Relations, Discipleship, and Science and Faith. Daily videos on each of the Calls offered by bishops in Province I (New England) can be found on our ECCT website here. Robin Hammeal-Urban provided leadership in the drafting of the Call on Safe Church and presented in the plenary and workshops on the same. In addition to consideration of the Calls, each afternoon and evening saw a series of different workshops on countless topics of interest to the bishops.
Before the conference began, we had significant concerns regarding both the process and some of the content in the Calls. Originally, we were told that the Calls would be study documents intended to help the bishops find common prayer and action on significant issues related to our faith and leadership. We were chagrinned to learn a week before the conference began that bishops would be voting on each call using an electronic voting device. In addition, in the Call on Human Dignity there was a problematic reference to Lambeth 1998 Resolution I:10 stating, falsely, that “It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible.”
The situation on the ground in Canterbury during the first few days was tense because of the Calls, as conference designers introduced the voting devises adding a “not affirming” option. In the vote on the first Call to Mission and Evangelism close to a third of the bishops present chose not to register a vote at all. The next two Calls on Safe Church and Anglican Identity did not fare much better as the voting devises were abandoned in favor of voice votes. Confusion over what the bishops were, or were not voting on, and how, remained. It was not until the Call on Reconciliation on Tuesday, August 2, that a constructive way to process the Calls was worked out. Wanting to model reconciliation, the Call on Reconciliation eschewed voting entirely, instead inviting bishops who were seated around tables in their Bible study groups to ask: 1) Where is Jesus for you in this Call? 2) Tell a story of how the Call relates to your context. 3) What might you prayerfully commit to in this Call? The new process seemed to be embraced by the bishops and voting on the Calls was abandoned in favor of prayerful reflection by the Bible study groups for the remainder of the conference.
While the voting process of the Calls was under scrutiny, a new version of the Call on Human Dignity was released with the problematic reference to Lambeth I:10 removed. The revised Call now read:
Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. … Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.
In remarks by the Archbishop of Canterbury before the bishops engaged the Call on Human Dignity around their Bible study tables, Archbishop Welby stated an important ecclesiological and theological truth for the Anglican Communion regarding human sexuality. It is worth quoting his remarks at length here. Archbishop Welby said:
“For the large majority of the Anglican Communion the traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, accepted and without question, not only by Bishops but their entire Church, and the societies in which they live. For them, to question this teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries would make the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For many churches to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.
For a minority, we can say almost the same. They have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature. For them, to question this different teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries is making the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For these churches not to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.
So let us not treat each other lightly or carelessly. We are deeply divided. That will not end soon. We are called by Christ himself both to truth and unity.”
This was the first time that the Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken publicly and forcefully that there are different perspectives on human sexuality across the Communion and both are acceptable in Christ’s call to unity. Archbishop Welby’s remarks set the stage for the remainder of the Lambeth Conference where unity in diversity was embraced and celebrated. We give thanks for Archbishop Welby’s leadership here and believe that with the Lambeth 2022 Call on Human Dignity, the Anglican Communion is in a more united and healthier place.
On Wednesday August 3, all the bishops and spouses traveled to Lambeth Palace in London (the home and offices of Archbishop and Mrs. Welby) for a gracious lunch in the palace garden concluding with a boat ride down the Thames River. Surrounded by the beautiful and ancient garden, the Call for the day was dedicated to the environment as we planted a symbolic tree inaugurating the Communion Forest project.
Back in Canterbury the bishops resumed their regular daily schedule with each day opening with the Eucharist and ending with Evening Prayer with liturgies, music, and leadership from different churches throughout the Anglican Communion. The last two days of the conference saw two concluding keynote addresses by Archbishop Welby further elaborating the theme of God’s Church for God’s World and calling us all to action for the sake of God’s saving mission in Jesus. The conference closed on Sunday afternoon, August 7, with a concluding Eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral and sermon by Archbishop Welby.
It might be asked: what did the Lambeth Conference accomplish and was it worth the time and expense? Your bishops and bishop-elect believe that coming together across our differences as bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion “loving one another earnestly as stewards of God’s varied grace” has strengthened the catholicity of the Church and empowered us to be more effective and faithful Christian leaders. Through relationships of love, respect, prayer, and understanding with bishops around the world who are very different than we are, our Anglican Communion is increasingly unified in God’s mission of reconciliation and restoration in our local contexts and in the wider world.
We are humbled by the gift of companionship in the Body of Christ with you and newly discovered siblings across the Anglican Communion. Thank you for making it possible for us to attend the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. God bless you.
The Rt. Rev Ian T. Douglas
The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens
The Rev. Jeffrey Mello
O God, by your grace and Spirit you have raised up witnesses and servants in many lands and cultures: Pour out your blessing upon the churches and provinces of the Anglican Communion, and upon their leaders as they gather for fellowship in the Lambeth Conference, that their diversity may enrich their common witness and service to the honor and glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.