In this third feature in a series that examines the upcoming Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Journal looks at the efforts of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to set the tone of the international gathering of Anglican bishops.
The Journal will be covering the conference, scheduled July 16 to Aug. 3; please check anglicanjournal.com/lambeth2008 for updates.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has asked Anglicans around the world to pray for the decennial meeting of bishops scheduled in Canterbury this July so that it becomes 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.”
Archbishop Williams issued the plea for prayers amidst the deepening rift among Anglicans over the issues of homosexuality, in particular the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of a gay bishop in the United States. Archbishop Williams’ message was posted April 23 on YouTube, a popular video sharing Web site.
In his message, Archbishop Williams also expressed his hope that the Lambeth Conference, scheduled July 16 to Aug. 3, would be a time “when people feel that they are growing in their ministry” and “a time when people are encountering God as they encounter one another.”
The archbishop has issued invitations to more than 800 bishops and as of late April, “well over 600 have fully registered,” according to Canon Jim Rosenthal, director of communications for the Anglican Communion office.
Bishop Gene Robinson of the diocese of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop of the Anglican Communion, was not extended a full invitation to attend the conference. Bishop Robinson at first declined Archbishop Williams’ invitation to be present in the conference’s “Marketplace” exhibit section. Bishop Robinson, who plans to enter a civil union with his long-time partner this month, later said he plans to be in Canterbury during the once-a-decade gathering “to participate in various ‘fringe events’ and informal gatherings.” He said that his partner of 20 years would be joining him briefly.
Despite Bishop Robinson’s exclusion from the conference, however, at least seven primates (national archbishops) and some bishops opposed to his consecration and liberal attitudes towards homosexuality, have said they would boycott the conference. Instead, they have planned a meeting called Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) from June 15 to 22 in Jerusalem. (Some bishops said they plan to attend both conferences.)
Setting the tone for the three-week Lambeth conference, Archbishop Williams said that the gathering has been “a place where bishops come to pray together, to read the Bible together and quite simply to help one another to be bishops.” He underscored that the conference “has never been a legislative body, though it has made decisions and recommendations. It has never just been a talking shop.”
He added: “We have never been a body that is bound together by firm and precise rules and that is often, as it is in the moment, a matter of some real concern and some confusion in our life as a communion.”
But he said that while he does not want the Lambeth Conference to create a lot of new rules, there is nonetheless a need to “strengthen our relationships.” He said that the bishops would discuss the proposal for a covenant between churches belonging to the Anglican Communion. (The Anglican Communion Web site, www.anglicancommunion.org, counts 80 million Anglicans in 44 regional and national member churches in more than 160 countries.)
Archbishop Williams said this year’s conference aims to be an occasion “when bishops learn how to be better bishops.” This can happen, he said, “when they are learning from one another – learning from people working in very different contexts with very different ideas and challenges to deal with.”
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. This means that bishops will meet at various levels during the conference, he explained – small Bible study groups “where people will, we hope, feel safe enough to share some of the most intimate things about their faith and their situation,” and middle-sized groups for discussion of larger issues.