What is the Lambeth Conference?
As Anglican Christians we’re part of a highly organized church that, yes, has a hierarchy headed by bishops, people consecrated to shepherd the flocks in their dioceses. Since 1867, active Anglican bishops, now numbering around 1,000, gather about once every 10 years to consult about matters of shared interest and seek God’s will for the life of the Anglican Communion as a whole.
The first conferences were held at Lambeth Palace, the headquarters of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London, hence the Lambeth name. As the Anglican Communion has grown, they are now held in and near Canterbury in Kent. Anglican provinces are autonomous, so the Lambeth Conference is consultative, not legislative, and its decisions are advisory, not mandatory. The last Lambeth Conference was held in 2008. This year’s conference was originally planned for 2020, but was postponed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It opened yesterday and continues to August 8. Here’s a link to more background.
Why should Episcopal global mission activists care about Lambeth?
At least two reasons:
- The conference is global, and God’s mission is likewise global, so we’re always alert for how this global conference may highlight God’s global mission.
- Historically, Lambeth Conferences have had an impact on global mission. For instance, in recent history:
– Many Companion Diocese Relationships began as bishops met at Lambeth.
– The Anglican Five Marks of Mission were endorsed by Lambeth.
– Lambeth promoted the model of Partnership in Mission for the 1970s and 80s.
– Mission was affected by sexuality debates at Lambeth Conferences.
Two GEMN Board members are at Lambeth 2022:
We’re delighted that two GEMN Board members are at Lambeth:
- Ms. Jenny Grant, networking officer for the Episcopal Church’s Office of Global Partnerships, is staffing that office’s exhibit at Lambeth as part of the Episcopal Church’s representation.
- The Rev. Canon Dr. Helen Van Koevering will be at Lambeth as the spouse of Lexington Bishop Mark Van Koevering, and she will be at the International Anglican Women’s Network exhibit.
Jenny and Helen have GEMN brochures with them to share. As bishops from around the world explore global relationships, it’s good for them to be aware that the many global initiatives from the Episcopal Church – reaching out from dioceses, agencies, congregations, religious orders, seminaries and individuals – have a network for sharing information and supporting one another.
Lambeth 2022’s theme is inherently missional:
“God’s Church for God’s World: listening, walking and witnessing together” is this year’s conference theme. “God’s Church for God’s World” emphasizes that a central purpose of the church is to serve the world. As William Temple, archbishop of Canterbury in the early 1940s, said, “The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.”
Listening is cited more and more today as a crucial first step in mission and evangelism. Walking together signifies companionship and solidarity, keynotes of Anglican mission today. Witnessing together is likewise central in mission and evangelism, recalling Jesus’ commission to his disciples at the Ascension: “You will be my witnesses.”
So Lambeth is not about housekeeping. It’s about mission. Ideally anyway!
“Lambeth Calls” = Appeals to the global Anglican Communion:
Seeking to avoid the divisiveness of debating resolutions, which always smell legislative, even though technically only advisory at Lambeth, the planners for this year’s conference organized the work into 10 “Lambeth Calls,” the word call in this sense meaning a summons or an appeal to the church around the world. And if we hear “calls” as a verb, the phrase means “Lambeth calls on Christians to . . .”
The themes of the 10 Calls are: Mission and Evangelism, Safe Church, Anglican Identity, Reconciliation, Human Dignity, Environment and Sustainable Development, Christian Unity, Interfaith Relations, Discipleship, and Science and Faith.
Here’s the link to the 34-page preparatory booklet, which you can download. “Lambeth Calls” was issued on July 19, and a revised version was issued today.
Mission & Evangelism heads the list of Lambeth Calls:
The first of the Lambeth Calls is on “Mission and Evangelism,” which should encourage all mission activists.
While mentioning mission, this call focuses almost exclusively on evangelism, which it defines as “the proclamation of the gospel of the one who was dead but is now alive – Christ Jesus and the Kingdom of God he inaugurates.” Evangelism is indeed the first among the Anglican Five Marks of Mission – “To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.” Alongside reconciliation and creation care, evangelism is the first of the three current priorities of the Episcopal Church, and the Global Mission Conference sponsored by GEMN in 2019 focused on evangelism.
The drafting group for this call was headed by Archbishop Melter Tais of the Anglican Province of Southeast Asia. Anglicans in the Two-Thirds World – Africa, Asia and Latin American – are generally more committed to evangelism than Christians in the One-Third World of Europe and North America, a difference that was evident in the Decade of Evangelism of the 1990s. Those of us in the West should learn from the Majority World’s evangelistic passion.
Nevertheless God’s mission is broader than evangelism, and the first Lambeth Call unnecessarily reduces mission to evangelism. Mission activists can be reassured, however, that a number of the other Lambeth Calls focus on other dimensions of God’s mission – in particular, the calls to Reconciliation, Environment and Sustainable Development, Christian Unity, and Interfaith Relations.
Naturally there’s plenty of obligatory boilerplate prose throughout the Calls, but noteworthy in Mission & Evangelism section:
– Insistence at 2.6 that every church in the Anglican Communion has its origin in evangelistic proclamation, a truth that should strengthen our commitment to evangelism. After all, none of us would be Christian without the evangelism of someone, whether in our own lives or in the past of our family and lineage.
– Request at 4.4 that “Every Christian joyfully understand that they are a witness to Jesus Christ and pray that through this at least one other person each year might come to faith and grow as a disciple.” This is a simple, practical and reasonable expectation.
Missional notes recur throughout the Calls:
Anglican Identity: 3.1 Request that an Anglican Congress be convened in the Global South to highlight voices of indigenous leaders, women, young people, and the laity to address issues such as authoritarianism, climate change and mass migration. The Anglican Congress held in Minneapolis in 1963 generated the missional model of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, and perhaps another such congress, now in the Majority World, would be similarly helpful.
Anglican Identity: 3.2 Request to “revitalize the Five Marks of Mission” with a review of “the Anglican balance of Word and sacrament, missional priorities discerned by the Provinces, diverse cultural expressions of the Gospel, ecumenical commitments, and inter-faith co-operation.” It’s not easy to see how these important commitments would modify the Five Marks, but it’s an intriguing possibility.
Reconciliation: 4.6 Request for work on deconstructing historic legacies of colonialism and continued complicity in British and American empires. See also Human Dignity 2.0 and 2.1 on this theme, with particular reference to colonial mission. How does this relate to reconciliation? Because truth and justice are prerequisites to reconciliation and there is much truth to discover and much justice needed around the legacies of Western colonialism and imperialism.
Reconciliation: 4.7 Request for renewed conversation with churches of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, currently alienated from the Anglican Communion over issues of sexuality and boycotting Lambeth 2022. Here the focus is on reconciliation within the Anglican Communion.
Human Dignity: 2.3. on Sexuality revises an earlier and immediately controversial version that called on the conference to reaffirm Lambeth 1998’s disapproval of “legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions.” The current version acknowledges differences of opinion and practice and expresses a commitment to “continuing to listen and walk together” amid differences. The revision may avert or at least temper conflict over the issue at the conference.
Environment and Sustainable Development: These entire sections should be read carefully by mission activists, for they are perceptive, urgent and inspiring around issues of climate change, poverty and injustice. Especially notable is how the section on Sustainable Development centers, at 4.2, on the Five Marks of Mission as a guide.
Christian Unity: This Call is disappointing in its omission of any reference to churches sharing in God’s mission across denominational divisions as a means toward the organic unity that the Call affirms. Historically, the ecumenical movement of the 20th century began with the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. In other words, mission gave birth to ecumenism, and the implementation of this Call would do well to follow that example.
Interfaith Relations Call, by contrast, has a strong missional ethos, with requests for forthright witness alongside learning from other faiths, developing friendship with leaders of other faiths, and collaborating with people of other faiths on issues of poverty, pandemic, injustice and climate change. See sections 3 and 4.
Science and Faith: 4.1 is striking in setting its robust affirmation of the importance of science in the context of the Anglican Five Marks of Mission.
Much more could be said, but this overview may whet your appetite for engaging the Calls and following news of how discussions at Lambeth go. Let’s keep the participants in prayer.