August 8, 2008
Leading churchmen reflect on what was, and was not, achieved by the recent Lambeth conference
Interviews by Bess Twiston Davies
Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester
After the acrimony and expectations of schism which preceded the Lambeth Conference, the actual experience of the conference took many of us by surprise. The honesty, candour and quality of the conversations between bishops from different cultures and contexts was remarkable. The opportunity for collective witness on behalf of the Millennium Development Goals attracted the attention of the world’s media. Will this hold the communion together? It is too early to say. But it is clear that all of us who attended left valuing this worldwide network of family relationships as a priceless contribution to the world — especially to the world’s poor and marginalised. Whether it will now hold together depends mostly on our collective will and the value which we as bishops attach to the common good.
Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester
The conference was an effective if low-key holding operation, which brought home to those in North America and elsewhere the depth of disunity which their actions were causing. Only future events will show whether the tide can be fully turned towards increased unity — and truth. There were some excellent plenary addresses and visiting lecturers. The highlights, as ever, were in the shared meals and conversations, and in new friendships.
Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Eygpt and Primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East
The conference was an excellent opportunity to engage in frank discussion with people with different points of view. After many indaba sessions it was clear that we are not of one mind. Many people, especially North Americans, request that we should accept diversity, and we are ready to accept diversity but not unlimited diversity. Diversity on matters which are not essential is OK, but on essential matters we must have unity. On the last day of the conference I did feel that we had not achieved much and we were very much hoping something would come up to bring hope. I found the last presidential address by Dr Rowan Williams was excellent, clear and very fair. He spoke with authority and yet with love and clarity. He said very clearly that unless we meet at the cross of Christ,we cannot achieve unity. He spoke very clearly, expressing the mind of the majority in favour of moratoriums for same-sex blessing and the ordination of homosexuals. I found it very very encouraging that he is going to call for a primates’ meeting early next year. It is an important step in demonstrating that the primates have a role in solving the conflict in the communion.
Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales
This was a much better conference than the last one mainly because there were no resolutions so people were free to speak about their standpoints without the pressure to make a decision. The conversations were open and frank: there was a good Christian spirit. It is up to the Windsor Continuation Group and the Covenant Design Group to present new proposals in the light of those discussions. Then there has to be equally open discussion in each diocese. How much we feel we own the process or have been listened to will depend on the reports that come out of it and the extent to which they have been modified.
Carlos Touché Porter, Anglican Archbishop of Mexico
For me the conference was like an extended retreat. In my group we listened respectfully to one another and were listened to respectfully. Positions might not have changed but attitudes did. I’m glad no vote was taken, that this was just a time of reflection. That was what was needed: to reflect on where we are and on the situation that had got us there.
Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn
There is little doubt that the Anglican Communion is in better shape now than a month ago. Much of this is due to the wise and humble leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I have many memories, mostly happy, of the conference. First, meeting bishops and their spouses from all over the globe. We heard of bishops and clergy ministering in areas torn by war, genocide, rape, cyclones and HIV/Aids. Many told us about real poverty. I met two or three bishops who received no income at all. All this made me want to ensure that we as a diocese might become more aware that we are part of a worldwide communion of churches where many are living in conditions that we just cannot begin to appreciate. I recall on the first day, one bishop’s wife could hardly eat the meals, which were standard conference food, because she was just so amazed to see so much and could only say “What food!” It made me feel ashamed that I had complained that morning that the shower was cold.
My second abiding memory came when all 650 bishops and their spouses from 135 countries marched in London in support of the eight millennium goals. I dare to hope that Lambeth 2008 started to bridge some of the divisions between certain provinces, and clearly good work was done on the proposed Covenant, which I believe is necessary for unity. We need to listen carefully to the words of Cardinal Kasper, that we remain faithful to our Catholic roots and that there could be serious consequences following the ordination of women bishops and a range of innovations in the area of same-sex relationships. The Apostolic Faith is received and faithfully passed on and proclaimed afresh in each generation. It is not changed. If the Lambeth Bishops can show they have not lost this vision to re-engage with our roots, then I am sure the next Lambeth Conference will not have any absentees or talk of divisions needing to be healed.
Peter Beckwith, Episcopal Bishop of Springfield, Illinois
I was not planning to attend the Lambeth Conference because I did not think the results would justify the cost of time and money. Although, on that basis alone, it may not have been worth it, I now believe it was important that I participated because: I was able to register what I understand to be important for the preservation of the Communion’s ministry; and I discovered there are many more orthodox bishops than I thought—even a solid majority.
More was accomplished than I thought would be achieved, but it may not be sufficient to keep the Communion together. The question that must be answered sooner rather than later for the Communion to hold together is this: Is non-celibate homosexual behavior a wholesome example for Christians and blessed by God or not? Bishops representing a majority of the Communion’s membership did not attend the Lambeth Conference because they are not willing to continue in a relationship with those who think it is. Many more were present who will withdraw if this question is not answered or is answered in the affirmative. Many important global concerns were addressed. However, until the Communion addresses the issues of moral theology that threaten its very existence, our integrity will be questioned and what we have to say to the world won’t be taken seriously.
The observance of the moratoria contained in the “Reflections” paper is essential to the future of the Communions’s unity. If The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada do not stop ordaining non-celibate homosexuals, blessing same sex relationships and dioceses are not free from outside interference, the crisis in the Communion will only grow. The proposed covenant holds some promise. The question is: Will it be too little too late? Consider the following: If the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 did not guide the actions of The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, will a covenant be an effective influence on future actions even if it forthrightly addresses the difficult issues? If the covenant does not contain a means to hold Provinces (and dioceses) accountable, it is unlikely the actions which are threatening the Communion so seriously will cease. If the covenant is submitted to Provinces of the Anglican Communion for endorsement rather than to individual dioceses of each Province, as has been suggested, further intra-Provincial instability and defections will continue. If it takes four years to put a covenant in place, as has been projected, it may be too late. Those who embrace the orthodox faith are frustrated by waiting and listening with no prospect of an acceptable resolution being achieved.
My hope is the Anglican Communion will be strengthened by the Communion’s “Instruments of Unity” taking bold action which is so sorely needed. If that doesn’t happen, the GAFCON initiative will expand at the expense of the Anglican Communion. In the meantime, I am committed to praying while encouraging others to do the same that God will grant all the leaders in the Anglican Communion godly discernment and the courage to act.