Canterbury Cathedral at night, as viewed from the University of Kent.
Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade meeting of Anglican bishops worldwide that has attracted hordes of media captivated by Anglican fissures over the issue of homosexuality, began quietly on Wednesday, July 16, at the University of Kent campus.
Shortly before a closed door opening ceremony presided by the Archbishop of Canterbury, bishops, their spouses and guests could be seen milling about, exchanging pleasantries or going for pleasant walks on the tree-lined campus, which stands on a hill about two miles outside the historic city centre.
The serene start is something that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Lambeth Conference Design Group have planned for and are hoping will continue during the three-week conference. Archbishop Williams has repeatedly stated that he wants the conference to be one that is “essentially a spiritual encounter” and not “a time when we are being besieged by problems that need to be solved and statements that need to be finalized.”
Three days prior to the opening service on July 20, which is traditionally held with great pomp and circumstance at Canterbury Cathedral, bishops and their spouses will be holed up in Bible study groups. After all, Archbishop Williams has said, Lambeth has traditionally been “a place where bishops come to pray together, to read the Bible together and quite simply to help one another to be bishops.”
To equip bishops for their mission, the conference has adopted the African concept of indaba, where people “get together to sort out the problems that affect them all, where everyone has a voice and where there is an attempt to find a common mind or a common story that everyone is able to tell when they go away from it,” said Archbishop Williams.
The conference will also attempt to be light on plenary sessions and resolutions, he said, underscoring that the conference “has never been a legislative body, though it has made decisions and recommendations. It has never just been a talking shop.”
Just how successful Archbishop Williams will be in achieving this goal is something that remains to be seen, some bishops have said.
The boycott by more than 200 of the 800 bishops invited to the conference has been well-publicized; what is unknown are the sentiments of other bishops who have decided to attend despite their sympathies for conservative Anglicans angered by the consecration of Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of the American diocese of New Hampshire, and the approval of the blessing of same-sex unions in the Canadian diocese of New Westminster.
(Anglican Journal contributor Beatrice Paez has some photos of the first day of the Lambeth Conference posted at Eyes on Lambeth, the blog of Anglican Journal staff writer, Marites N. Sison.)