Round-up: the two personalities of Lambeth

In many ways the Lambeth Conference had dual personalities. There was the listening, engaging personality of the Indaba groups, along with the Bible Studies, the worship. Then there was the organizational side where the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Communion Office and the Bishops attempted to find a structure by which the Communion could hold together.


Parellel processes, not always in sync

The majority of the blogging bishops was that the Indaba process was a very good thing, surpassing the expectations of many. The process allowed for bishops to meet face-to-face and to engage difficult issues meaningfully. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, in her closing statement to the Episcopal Church said,

Many bishops came to this gathering in fear and trembling, expecting either a distasteful encounter between those of vastly different opinions, or the cold shoulder from those who disagree. The overwhelming reality has been just the opposite. We have prayed, cried, learned, and laughed together, and discovered something deeper about the body of Christ. We know more of the deeply faithful ministry of those in vastly differing contexts, and we have heard repeatedly of the life and death matters confronting vast swaths of the Communion: hunger, disease, lack of education and employment, climate change, war and violence. We have remembered that together we may be the largest network on the planet – able to respond to those life and death issues if we tend to the links, connections, and bonds between us.

But, as she also says, this process was only a beginning and that many issues were not solved which she likens to the birth pangs of something new:

We have not resolved the differences among us, but have seen the deep need to maintain relationships, even in the face of significant disagreement and discomfort. The Anglican Communion is suffering the birth pangs of something new, which none of us can yet fully appreciate or understand, yet we know that the Spirit continues to work in our midst. At the same time patience is being urged from many quarters, that all may more fully know the leading of the Spirit. God is faithful. May we be faithful as well.

At the same time the Indaba groups were going on, there was a consistent push for a centralized solution coming from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Windsor Continuation Group. Documents were fed to the Indaba Groups for feedback but with no real opportunity to affect their outcome. Bishop Alan Wilson, Buckingham, CofE, wrote on August 1:

Yesterday afternoon’s meeting to share creative ways forward felt rather stuck, with three potential ideas nobody seemed to much want developed in detail. It was OK, but essentially consisted of the same old win/lose thinking from the same old people, the vast majority US or UK. It’s a grim thought but without the indaba process we could have been spending two weeks like this.

This experience does at least establish that we can’t make anything different without thinking different, which was pretty obvious, I suppose.

And Bishop Tim Stevens of Leicester, CofE wrote on August 3:

But it is frankly not clear what we have achieved. The last few days have involved a drafting group in spending many hours trying to write a reflection paper on the conference for all the bishops to take home with them. It describes our discussions and concerns in some detail. But on the big issues around how we hold things together in the future there isn’t yet clarity. This conference has passed no resolutions and issued no generally agreed statements. It is therefore uncertain as to what is the mind of the conference on some of the most difficult issues. Today we shall see the final version of the document which reports the conference, but there has been no process by which the members of the conference can agree the text!

So the Conference had two parallel processes going on: the Indaba process and the Bible Studies with the backstage process happening concurrently. Folks backstage would develop documents and possible solutions, sending them down to the groups for feedback. It appears that the documents being considered that the realities of the discussions were not always in sync. The final production of documents happened backstage and was again presented to the Bishops without any way for the whole group to reflect or agree on the final document.

Which leaves open the question of which process will be remembered: the Indaba or the papers? And of the two, which will have more lasting influence as the Communion attempts to address both our divisions and our mission?

The Indaba Process, Worship & Study

ENS summarizes the greatest strength of the Lambeth Conference in this way:

Days began and ended in worship. There was retreat time, 19 days of meetings and two weeks of themed sessions. Bishops engaged topics such as evangelism, social justice, the environment, interfaith and ecumenical relations, Scripture and human sexuality. A papal envoy and an American evangelist led evening plenary sessions. The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered presidential addresses. There were also daily Bible study and indaba discussion groups, a joint session with spouses on abuse of power and even a little social activism, with a 'walk of witness' against poverty.

From Angola to New York, Melanesia to Maryland, Colombia to the Philippines, a diversity of bishops said the regular rhythm of Bible study, prayer, and indaba discussion groups created community, enriched their lives and broadened their ministries.

Bishop Daniel Sarfo of Kumasi, Ghana said he wasn't the least bit surprised by the resultant mutuality because indaba is a tool "used in all of Africa. If anything happens in a family, the heads of the family will call the people together to ask the family how to resolve" the situation.

For Bishop Andre Soares of Angola awareness of each created mutuality through the Bible studies, which "were very important, to share our difficulties and our hopes."

Way back on July 22nd, Brian McLaren led the evening plenary, which Kirk Smith described:

Then tonight, in a plenary session, we heard Brian McLaren's presentation on the dynamics of making disciples in a rapidly changing world. His point, not a new one but one which he convincingly presented, is that the ways of the modern world, to which the Church for five hundred years has accommodated (or over-accommodated) are losing their currency. He also suggested that in the three basic cultures in place in the current world--non-modern, modern, and whatever it is that you want to call the one after that--the Church has yet to find a voice. He pointedly challenged this Conference to work in finding one, saying that the Anglican way has within it distinct gifts to do so. The coexistence of the three cultures, he also said, has in it the makings of many of the conflicts in a world-wide communion like ours.

ENS reported on what McLaren said:

McLaren told participants that "on our one planet now we have three worlds co-existing:" a pre-modern world, a modern world and an emerging world. He said evangelism may feel "effortless" when pre-modern people are entering the modern world because "the Christian church so effectively became connected with modern culture."

Meanwhile, churches in the modern world are either "static or declining," he said, noting that most church growth comes from people shifting denominations and "evangelism is hard to come by."

"Our structures for evangelism and for the formation of disciples are becoming tourist attractions," he said.

At the overlap between the modern world and the emerging world, "you might say the evangelism is almost non-existent because the Christian faith is, to be very frank, almost non-existent," McLaren said.

He told the story of a tortoise in an African zoo that resisted even acknowledging the presence of an orphan baby hippo that zookeepers had found wandering on a beach and placed in the placid tortoise's enclosure. Over time the young hippo's persistence in searching for companionship changed the tortoise's attitude from rejection to adoption. The institutional church could be compared to the tortoise, he said, and the emerging global culture to the orphaned hippo.

McLaren said the emerging culture "has been orphaned by religion -- religion has stopped answering its questions, it stopped making sense, it was very willing to withdraw into its shell and have the world fall apart." He said the culture has also been orphaned by science "that promised solution but ended up giving only more deadly weapons. And it turns out that many of yesterday's solutions caused today's terrifying problems." Members of this world have also been orphaned by technology, economic systems and consumerism and by "governments that continually promised them the world and continually deliver pitifully mediocre results."

McLaren told the participants that he spoke to them "on behalf of the people who never show up in your church…the multitude of people who have been created in the image of God, but who have never known the redeeming of the spirit of God through the good news of Jesus Christ."

He urged the bishops and others to avoid being caught up in what he called "internal institutional maintenance" because of what he called the church's "outward mission of forming disciples among all people" is the only way to save the world. That mission, he said, is also "our only hope of saving the church from division, diversion, implosion, irrelevance, and triviality."

Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks said in the Plenary on July 28th:

And now we must extend that friendship more widely. We must renew the global covenant of fate, the covenant that began with Noah and reached a climax in the work of Joseph, the work of saving many lives.

And friends, that is what we began to do last Thursday when we walked side-by-side: Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians and Baha'i. And yes we don’t share a faith, but we surely share a fate. Because whatever our faith or lack of faith, hunger still hurts, disease still strikes, poverty still disfigures, and hate still kills. And few put it better than that great Christian poet, John Donne, the perfect epitomy of the covenant of fate: 'Every man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.'

Friends, if you have a chance to look at Genesis 50, you will see that just before he says the great words of reconciliation, the text says: 'Joseph wept.' Why did Joseph weep? He wept for all the needless pain he and his brothers had caused one another. And shall we not weep when we see the immense challenges that humanity has been faced with in the 21st century – the challenge of poverty, hunger, disease, of environmental catastrophe. And what has the face religion all too often shown to the world? The face of conflict -- between faiths, and sometimes within faiths.

And we, Jews and Christians, who have worked so hard and so effectively at reconciliation, and reached it, we must now take the lead in showing the world there is another way: the way of the covenant of fate - honouring humanity as God's image, protecting the environment as God's creation, respecting diversity as God's will, keeping the covenant as God's word.

The Bishops marched in support of the MDGs and did the hard work of meeting one another. Bishop Pierre Whalon said:

Three things, dear Reader: first, nobody is pulling punches or playing nice, though the conversations are respectful, earnest, and free-flowing. Second, the fine biblical study materials, and the discussions that result, are rich loam from which a lot of fresh teaching and preaching will spring up, especially for me. The Lambeth bishops are working hard. Third, there is already emerging some tentative trial balloons for a new way forward.

A big test of the Indaba process came on July 22nd when Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul said that if he were in Gene Robinson's shoes he would resign his post for the sake of the Communion. This immediately highlighted the divisions in the Communion, and for a time it looked as if the process might fail. The Media, on the outside of the fence, jumped on it while many of the Bishops on the inside did not know even know about it until they read about it or asked about.

Given the friendly and deep relationship between the Church of Sudan and the Episcopal Church the statement came as a shock. There were fears that things were coming apart at the seams. But these fears were proved wrong as the strength of the conference design allowed for diplomacy and turned the situation into preparation for the Bishops to have intense and open discussions about sexuality.

Stephen Lane of Maine wrote about this incident in his Indaba group, where some Bishops in his group lashed out the American Church for creating the problems we face:

Like most explosions , however, this one was unfocused and it soon spread into chastising the Episcopal Church for creating all the disagreement in the Anglican Communion and keeping it going. The Episcopal Church was repeatedly charged with not responding to the Windsor process. The actions of our General Convention 2006 in responding to Windsor are not well known and are often received as new information.

The Episcopal bishops in my Indaba received this critique in respectful silence, without defensiveness, and responses actually came from other churches. The gist of the responses was that all of us are shaped in our ministries by the people and culture of our communities. Each of us is struggling to be faithful as God has given us the light. So there were voices of support, but it was a long session.

The Structural Approaches

Early in the Conference there was word of a group tentatively called A Faith and Order Commission that was supposed to help deal with disputes within the communion. The Windsor Continuation Group, composed almost entirely of Bishops, none of whom support the ordination of gay and lesbian people to ordained ministry, said that the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral needed "strengthening." Jim Naughton wrote:

"It is a flag raised to see who salutes at this stage," said the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury."I think there is a kind of head of steam behind [it], said Williams, adding that he was "quite enthusiastic" about the proposal.

He said without additional governing structures "we shall be flying further apart."

"There have to be protocols and conventions by which we recognize one another as churches," Williams added.

While borrowing the name from the ecumenical movement, it was characterized in some quarters as an 'Anglican Holy Office' and met with near universal disapproval. Bishop Dean Wolfe of Kansas blogged:

In an afternoon meeting, bishops from Canada and the U.S. shared candidly their responses to the Windsor Report, and it became abundantly clear that the U.S. is not the only Province having difficulties with the Windsor process. Bishop after bishop recounted violations of jurisdictional boundaries, and it became evident that conservative or “orthodox” bishops have experienced this as frequently as “liberal” bishops.

There is a great deal of conversation about the proposed Anglican Covenant, and agreement and acknowledgment that the Anglican Communion has done very well for nearly 400 years without one. There is a desire to be able to say what we do hold in common but also a sensitivity to violating the spirit of the blessed ambiguity that characterizes Anglican theology and thought.

The idea did not go away. After being sent back upstairs, the idea came back as a "Pastoral Forum," a kind rapid response group to deal with sudden divisions with the Communion.

We make the following suggestions for situations which might arise in different parts of the Communion:

the swift formation of a "Pastoral Forum" at Communion level to engage theologically and practically with situations of controversy as they arise or divisive actions that may be taken around the Communion. Such a Forum draws upon proposals for a Council of Advice (Windsor), a Panel of Reference (Dromantine), a Pastoral Council (Dar es Salaam) and the TEC House of Bishops' statement (Sept 20070 acknowledging a 'useful role for communion wide consultation with respect to the pastoral needs of those seeking alternative oversight.

The existence of such a forum might be included in the Covenant as a key mechanism to achieve reconciliation.

Part of the role of a forum might be for some of its members, having considered the theological and ecclesiological issues of any controversy or divisive action, to travel, meet and offer pastoral advice and guidelines in conflicted, confused and fragile situations.

This idea gained steam, although it's unclear how much of that steam came from the groups or from the ABC, the WCG and the bureaucrats. David Rossdale, CofE Bishop of Grimsby blogged:

The conference ends in four days time and concern that there should be a ‘product’ from the Conference is mounting. I find it ironic that whilst such concern comes from across the spectrum of opinion here, it includes those who are convinced that the church must not be influenced by contemporary culture. Yet this idea that you cannot meet without a purpose and an outcome is totally driven by contemporary culture, influenced by an economy which only values an activity if it ‘feeds the bottom line’.

From the start of the Conference, it was clear that Williams, while certainly not seeking a legislative approach, had some sort of enhancement of the Instruments of Unity in mind built around an Anglican Covenant. During his second presidential address, the Archbishop said:

...speaking from the centre requires habits and practices and disciplines that make some demands upon everyone — not because something alien is being imposed, but because we know we shall only keep ourselves focused on the centre by attention and respect for each other — checking the natural instinct on all sides to cling to one dimension of the truth revealed. I spoke about council and covenant as the shape of the way forward as I see it. And by this I meant, first, that we needed a bit more of a structure in our international affairs to be able to give clear guidance on what would and would not be a grave and lasting divisive course of action by a local church. While at the moment the focus of this sort of question is sexual ethics, it could just as well be pressure for a new baptismal formula or the abandonment of formal reference to the Nicene Creed in a local church’s formulations; it could be a degree of variance in sacramental practice — about the elements of the Eucharist or lay presidency; it could be the regular incorporation into liturgy of non-Scriptural or even non-Christian material.

Some of these questions have a pretty clear answer, but others are open for a little more discussion; and it seems obvious that a body which commands real confidence and whose authority is recognised could help us greatly. But the key points are confidence and authority. If we do develop such a capacity in our structures, we need as a Communion to agree what sort of weight its decisions will have; hence, again, the desirability of a covenantal agreement.

John Howe of Central Florida wrote his impressions about the path forward for the Anglican Communion:

First, positions taken ten years ago have not significantly changed. The great majority of the Bishops here would still agree with Lambeth 1:10, and indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury was very clear in repeatedly saying, "We are not here to revisit Lambeth 1:10; it is the position of the Communion." At the same time, there is a strong minority position, held not only in the US and Canada, but by some in nearly every part of the Communion, that believes it is a justice matter, a "gospel imperative" to work for the "full inclusion" of all people, particularly "LGBTs".

But secondly, the atmosphere in which those differences are held is vastly different than it was a decade ago. Today, in some of the Indaba groups there was a real willingness to listen to and appreciate the convictions of those holding opposite views on issues of human sexuality. (This, I think, was true of those who worked together in the sub-section on Sexuality last time; but it certainly was anything but true of the Conference as a whole.)

Thirdly, there is no question that those who are here care deeply, even passionately, about the Anglican Communion. They want it to continue, to be healed and robust, and they want to be part of it.
....
Most of the GAFCON folks have stayed away. My sense is that most of them - not all, thank God - have given up on the Communion, and they are working toward a "new ecclesial structure." But those who are here do not see that as a Communion solution; it will be another basically protestant denomination (or denominations) with quasi-catholic ceremonial.

Larry Benfield of Arkasas blogged on August 2nd:

The Episcopal Church just might be the crucible in which we test the validity of how the Spirit is working. It may be the case that affirming people in new types of relationships can lead to an effective gospel witness. It may be the case that a partnered gay bishop can be an effective gospel witness. And conversely, it may not. What we are asking is that we be offered the space by the Communion to see if this is indeed the case; if it is of God, we will eventually know it. If it is not, we will eventually know it as well. Either way, it can be our gift to the Communion. If we trust that in the long run God’s desire will be known, we have nothing to fear and much to gain.

As the final document emerged as a gathering the voices of the Indaba groups, some highlights began to emerge.

First, it is clear that the Bishops came together best around mission. The bulk of the reflections document express a passion for mission, a commitment to evangelism and the strong desire to remain in Communion despite difficult questions, tough disagreements and differing local solutions.

Second, there is strong support for continued moratoria on same-gender blesses, consecrating partnered gay bishops and border crossings, although the terms and breadth of moratoria is unclear.

Since four of the five Primates who have crossed borders stayed away from Lambeth, it is assumed that the border crossings will continue. And it is equally unclear about what constitutes a blessing. Archbishop Williams differentiates between formal rites that in his view expresses the teachings of the Church and informal pastoral events where an individual couple is blessed. How pastoral care can be provided in an Anglican context without ritual, formal or informal, remains to be seen.

Third, that there is a sense that the instruments of unity can be strengthened through some sort of covenant and some kind of Pastoral Council. There was concern that the Primates Council should restrict itself to supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury and the council should not take on to itself prerogatives beyond the authority of any of the member Primates. On the other hand, the groups seemed interested in building up and supporting the Anglican Consultative Council.

Two personalities: not in sync but in tension?

Watching all of this unfold, whether in person or on line, has been a little like (to coin a phrase) touring a sausage factory. The Indaba groups, the presence of Bishops blogging their own experiences as they occurred and the need for journalists to file stories showed that this could have been either the last modern or the first post-modern Lambeth Conference. It will take some time to sort out what all of this means.

The choice to undertake Indaba at such a critical juncture in our history was a risky one. But it has paid off, perhaps in ways we cannot know so close to the conference. Williams said in his closing sermon:

It’s broken not when we simply disagree but when we stop being able to see in each other the same kind of conviction of being called by an authoritative voice into a place where none of us has an automatic right to stand. Christians divided in the sixteenth century, in 1930’s Germany and 1980’s South Africa because they concluded, painfully as well as (often) angrily, that something had been substituted for the grace of Christ - moral and ritual achievement, or racial and social pride, as if there were after all a way of securing our place before God by something other than Jesus Christ.

Now all this might help us to see why Christian communities express their unity in so many visible, tangible ways. They read the same Bible in public and private, and shape their words and actions in conformity with it - or at least they try to. They seek for consistent practices around the sacraments, so that the baptism or eucharist of each community can be recognised by others as directed in the same way, working under the same authority. It happens in different ways and different degrees in different Christian confessions and families of churches; but all Christian communities have some such practice.

And this is emphatically not about forcing others to conform ; it is an agreement to identify those elements in each other’s lives that build trust and allow us to see each other as standing in the same Way and the same Truth, moving together in one direction and so able to enrich and support each other as fully as we can. What I am saying, in effect, is that every association of Christian individuals and groups makes some sort of ‘covenant’ for the sake of mutual recognition, mutual gratitude and mutual learning.

The final statement by Integrity indicates a concern that the tension between dialog and proscription be maintained as we move forward:

The 43 page “Lambeth Indaba: Capturing Conversations and Reflections ” provides a snapshot of the diversity of opinion and perspective held throughout the global communion and resists the temptation to offer – much less insist – on the means to reconcile the differences that challenge us. We call on our bishops to resist the temptation of those who will try to turn this descriptive document into a proscriptive edict.

This is particularly critical in the language around moratoria. The inclusion in this set of descriptions of the conversations in the bishops’ Indaba groups of the “desire to enforce a moratoria” on further consecrations of bishops who are gay or lesbian and on the blessing and celebration of same sex unions is an accurate reflection of how some in the communion would prefer we moved forward.

So is the reflection about “the positive effects in parts of [the Communion] when homosexual people are accepted as God’s children, are treated with dignity and choose to give their lives to Christ and to live in the community of faith as disciples of Jesus Christ with fidelity and commitment.”

And while the Archbishop of Canterbury in his concluding address expressed his own preference for moratoria as a way forward, we are reminded that we are, as Anglicans, bound together in bonds of affection rather than authority.

The Primates will soon gather and in September, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church will come together to reflect on their experience and to address a few structural issues of our own.

It is too much to expect that an entirely appreciative approach would ever replace an entirely proscriptive approach, so perhaps it was inevitable that Lambeth would have had two personalities. It may be that the most significant contribution to the future of the Anglican Communion is that, by risking to emphasize listening and engagement as the heart of what it is like to be in communion, it will be much harder to impose purely legislative solutions on the whole Communion.

Comments (2)

While I value the new and renewed relationships, and the sense that everyone felt heard and respected, I fear this Lambeth will be better known for what didn't happen than for what did.

Helpful summary, Andrew.

Hearing the "bishops blogging" reports out of their indaba groups, was when Lambeth was at its best.

Hearing Rowan at the end, though, it sounded more like the indaba reflections (already boiled down in a simplistic fashion, IMO) were tossed into the "cylindrical file".

The next HofB meeting will provide TEC's bishops the opportunity to say "What we experienced in indaba, was NOT what we heard back, from Rowan. DID he hear ***us***, or only what he wanted to hear?"

Lord have mercy!

JC Fisher

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space