The Lambeth Conference brought together bishops, spouses, priests and ecumenical partners. Participants, including the Anglican Church of Canada’s Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan (foreground) walk through Canterbury on the way to opening worship.
Nearly every Lambeth Conference has had a hot button issue. In 1948, bishops were divided over what to do with the bishop of Hong Kong’s decision two years earlier to ordain the first woman priest, Florence Li Tim Oi. In 1998, they were divided anew over women bishops. Yet, these and other conferences were able to ride out these storms and tensions, and Anglicanism survived. This year was no exception.
“Is this the end of the Anglican Communion?” a newspaper headline read at the start of this year’s conference held July 16 to Aug.3 in Canterbury, England. After all, more than 250, or one out of four, bishops decided to boycott it to protest the presence of pro-gay bishops.
But the Conference has proven that, despite being deeply divided over the consecration of an American gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions in a Canadian diocese, “There is no desire to separate.” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams quoted what most of the 670 bishops who attended the conference had told him. The retreat at the historic Canterbury Cathedral, daily Bible study sessions, and the introduction of indaba, adopted from an African method of addressing village issues, appears to have worked.
The problems did not disappear and there were no illusions that it would. But the desire to remain at the table and to reach out to those who chose not to show up is strong, the bishops said in the Reflections document released on the conference’s last day.
Although the controversial issue of human sexuality dominated the discussions and headlines worldwide, the bishops did many other important things. They marched through the streets of central London to urge world governments to live up to their promise to halve global poverty by 2015. They joined their spouses in looking at the abuse of power and violence against women. They engaged with and listened to leaders from other faith communities present as participants. They discussed how Anglicans can help address issues related to the environment, peace, and justice.
The bishops’ spouses worked equally hard – they looked at and tried to equip themselves in their roles as wives/husbands and, in most cases, as partners in ministry. On the side, they also got to have a bit of fun – tea with the Queen, and excursions through the British countryside.