THE LAMBETH CONFERENCE 2008 will be remembered for many things – four in particular.
First – The incredible leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In a pre-conference retreat, the Archbishop described a bishop’s vocation as “someone around whom it should be possible to see what the church is.” He also reminded us that we are called “to be bishops in fellowship, in communion one with another.” He spoke of this conference as not only celebrating communion “but working and praying for its restoration and its deepening.”
Second – The very different style of engaging our work in this conference. It was not report- and resolution-driven. It was grounded in Bible study focussed on the “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel, and rooted in an African style of meeting called indaba, meaning “a meeting for purposeful conversation among equals.” In groups of 40 bishops we discussed a number of themes including the interpretation of scripture, evangelism, working with other churches and world religions, the care of creation, human sexuality and the proposal for a covenant among the provinces of the Communion. The final report was a distillation entitled “Capturing Conversations and Reflections from Lambeth Conference 2008: Equipping Bishops for Mission and Strengthening Anglican Identity.”
Third – The awesome experiences we shared in daily worship. The opening eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral will be remembered most notably for the gospel procession. The Melanesian Brothers and Sisters received the Book of the Gospels in a boat and carried it down through the choir and into the nave, singing and dancing all the way. At the final eucharist, these same brothers and sisters presented the names of their seven brothers who put their lives on the line in the political unrest in the Solomon Islands in 2003.
Fourth – The march in support of the Millennium Development Goals. At the invitation of the Archbishop, all the bishops and spouses, together with ecumenical guests and conference support staff, travelled to London and walked from Whitehall past the Houses of Parliament and across the River Thames to Lambeth Palace. Lynne and I were just ahead of a group of bishops and spouses who began singing “Siyahamba” – “We are marching in the light of God.” Through and beyond us this wave of song flowed to the front line of the march.
Great Britain Prime Minister Gordon Brown described the march as “one of the greatest public demonstrations of faith this great city has ever seen.” Commending people of faith for their actions in the name of justice and peace for all, he then challenged us, saying, “So we need a march not just on Lambeth, to New York on Sept. 25 when the United Nations will meet in an emergency session to address poverty.” He asked us to go back to our own countries to ask our governments “to make good the promises that have been made, to make good the Millennium Development Goals that are not being met.”
In the spirit of rising to this challenge, I will be in Ottawa on Sept. 25 participating in a service in Christ Church Cathedral, a walk with other church leaders and an act of public witness on Parliament Hill calling on our prime minister and other world leaders to establish a time line for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.