Lambeth Conference – July 29 to August 7, 2022

‘God’s Church for God’s World’ was the theme of the 15th Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion that took place at Canterbury, England from July 29th to August 7th, 2022 and brought together nearly 1500 international participants. I had the privilege of being an ‘ecumenical guest’ at this Conference having been invited by the Vatican Dicastery for the Unity of Christians to be part of the Catholic Delegation. The other ecumenical guests were representatives of the Orthodox Churches, the Old Catholic Church, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches. The Catholic Church was invited because we are in dialogue with the Anglican Communion since the 1970’s under the banner called ‘Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’ which has produced many documents of ‘convergence’ almost bordering on ‘consensus’; but the dialogues have slowed down in recent years because of issues of doctrine (e.g., ordination of women) and morals (e.g., homosexuality and same sex marriage) which have caused tensions within the Anglican Communion itself and with the Catholic Church. For instance, the Anglican Provinces of Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda did not participate in the Lambeth Conference 2022 because of their firm opposition to same-sex marriage which some other ‘liberal’ Provinces have fully approved. It is important therefore, that we pray for healing in the Anglican Communion and the grace to witness to Christ in unity of faith, doctrine and moral teachings.

Besides ARCIC there are other platforms of ecumenical cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion e.g., The International Anglican Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).

In the Vatican Council II document on ecumenism called Unitatis Redintegratio (The Restoration of Unity) it is clearly stated: “Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place.” (UR 13). Hence in the dialogues with the Anglican Communion there is so much of the Apostolic Tradition that the Catholic Church finds as a common heritage of the two Churches because, though influenced by the 16th century Reformation, the Church of England remained as a good blend of the Catholic and Protestant ecclesiologies.

The Lambeth Conference is one of the instruments of communion of the worldwide Anglican Church spread in 165 countries (the Church of North India and the Church of South India are part of the Anglican Communion). It is convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury to bring together all the serving Anglican bishops who are linked by faith, tradition and culture to the Church of England to renew their commitment to Christ and his Gospel within the Anglican charism but with the will to be united with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury is only a spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion with no jurisdiction over the autonomous Anglican Churches (Provinces) outside England and Wales. This mammoth event takes place every ten years since 1867 when the first Lambeth Conference was held in the ‘Lambeth Palace’ of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London. Since 1978 the venue has been shifted to the University of Kent at Canterbury. Lambeth Conferences have always been opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury presiding from the chair of St Augustine in Canterbury Cathedral. This Cathedral, as you know, is the place of martyrdom of St. Thomas a Becket in the 12th century.

The first Lambeth Conference met in 1867. The Conference has subsequently met at roughly

ten- year intervals till 2022, except when World Wars or a pandemic have prevented it. The 1920 Conference was significant for its Appeal to Unity, which in many ways anticipated what Vatican Council II would say years later in Unitatis Redintegratio:

• That all Christians are bound to one another through baptism and through the fundamentals of faith and tradition that all share and which are articulated in the Scriptures and the ancient creeds.

• That division is caused by sin and that Christians are therefore called to acknowledge guilt for the sins that cause division and to do penance.

• That God intends his Church to be a sign for the world, and that its unity must therefore be visible

• The goal must be a “Church, genuinely Catholic, loyal to all truth, and gathering into its fellowship all ‘who profess and call themselves Christians,’ within whose visible unity all the treasures of faith and order, bequeathed as a heritage by the past to the present, shall be possessed in common”.

As Unitatis Redintegratio differentiates the Churches of the East from the communities of the Reformation, so the Lambeth Appeal distinguishes episcopal from non-episcopal churches. The Conferences of 1930 and 1958 were significant in addressing the issue of contraception.

As the 15th Lambeth Conference has just come to a close, I earnestly request all our people to pray for the unity of the Church, and also for the unity of the world to which the Church is intrinsically related. Ecumenism or the movement for the unity of the Church is not an optional element in our Christian life but an imperative of love which flows from our relationship to Christ himself in baptism and which impels us towards unity with all our brothers and sisters within the Body of Christ. We cannot close the doors of our hearts to this summons to LOVE which is the foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ.

The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby – the current Archbishop of Canterbury - in his welcome to all the delegates, underlined the role of the Lambeth Conference as an instrument of unity and an opportunity for bishops (and their spouses – for the Anglican bishops are usually married) to meet for Bible study, worship and fellowship. He reminded all that the Lambeth Conference has always been a gathering that wrestles with issues of common concern. In 1920, in the aftermath of the First World War, the Lambeth Conference met at a time of immense human need. Hence, the Church had to grapple with what it meant to work for peace and reconciliation in this world at that time.

However, one century on, and the global issues are not less significant – climate crisis, impact of Covid-19, conflict, discrimination, modern slavery, poverty and economic injustice. The Church’s voice has to be heard in the midst of these complex issues and she has to stand firmly for the hope that Christ brings to the world. The task of the Conference was to shape a new vision for how the Anglican Communion engages with the world in the decade ahead. It requires deep listening, bold reimagining, and faithful prayer.

Inspired by the 1st Letter of St. Peter which was like a pivot on which the entire dynamics of the Conference revolved, the delegates tried to reflect deeply on what it means to be ‘God’s Church for God’s World’ as the churches walk, listen and witness together. The discussions centered on church and world affairs but more importantly it was once in a lifetime opportunity to share stories from different cultures, ministries and traditions.

Basing himself on the 1st Letter of St. Peter, Archbishop Justin Welby inspired the audience with his soulful reflections on faith, hope, love, hospitality, holiness, suffering, authority, pastoral ministry, discipleship, mission, justice, peace, reconciliation, faith and science, sustainable development, unity of the Church, unity of humankind.

The Conference did not pass resolutions, instead focused on ‘Calls’ on the following themes: Mission and Evangelism; Reconciliation; Safe Church; Environment and Sustainable Development; Christian Unity; Inter-faith relations; Anglican Identity; Human Dignity/Identity; and Discipleship. The ‘Calls’ suggested that the decisions are not binding on the Provinces and each province can decide on its own response.

The traditional Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality already given in Lambeth 1998 (which saw an acrimonious debate on homosexuality) and Lambeth 2008 was discussed but not put to vote because of its sensitivity and the insistence on the part of Archbishop Justin Welby and other prominent Bishops on ‘Biblical faithfulness’. The Archbishop made his mind clear with a special address on this issue to the Conference.

The daily Bible Studies on themes from the 1st Letter of Peter in ecumenical groups were the nourishment for the soul everyone looked forward to with great delight. The questions were aimed at a deep examination of conscience and repentance. The first day was dedicated to the theme ‘Called into Hope and Holiness in Christ’. It had three parts: Hope, Holiness and Mutual Love. The second day had the theme ‘A Holy People following Christ’. The three parts were: Living Stones, Honourable conduct and Suffering for doing what is right. The third day focused on the theme ‘Resistance and Resilience in Christ’ and the parts were: Empire, Authority, Hope. The fourth day was on the theme ‘Suffering in Christ’. It had four parts, namely, Suffering, Suffering and Community, Suffering and Joy, Suffering and Hospitality. The fifth day was dedicated to the theme ‘ Authority in Christ’. It had three parts: Shepherd, Humility, Roaring Lions. Every session ended with a beautifully formulated Concluding Prayer.

The Collect of the Eucharist at the Opening Service of the Lambeth Conference on July 31 at the Canterbury Cathedral truly encapsulated the missionary dynamism of the Church:

Loving God, in your goodness you call us to your service, and in your mercy, you provide for our needs. Grant to all those who minister in your name the courage to speak your words, the humility to wash the feet of others, and the love to work for justice and reconciliation in the world, that you may be glorified in all things; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever . Amen.

Let us pray that the Lambeth Conference of 2022 may mark a significant step forward in the journey towards the visible unity of the whole Church as was envisaged by the Lambeth Conference of 1920 over a hundred years ago.

And very specially, the presence of the Catholic observers at the Conference may help to heal the divisions within the Communion and strengthen within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church a common sense of mission as expressed in the theme: ‘God’s Church for God’s World’.

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