Mission Reflections: Two GEMN Board members on their experience of 2022 Lambeth Conference

“It’s all about Jesus!” – Helen Van Koevering

GEMN Board member the Rev. Canon Helen Van Koevering, D.Min., attended the 2022 Lambeth Conference as the spouse of Lexington Bishop Mark Van Koevering. 

Lambeth was many things: To this spouse, it was a joyful celebration of global friendships. Born and raised in England, my heart has been shaped by ordained pastoral ministry in urban Wales, rural post-conflict northern Mozambique, and now suburban Kentucky, USA. My missional mind has been formed amongst the poorest and the wealthiest, alongside the less-than-heard with an assumed ‘one story’ as well as beside the louder-voiced and well-published stories.

My experience of Lambeth was helped by the ‘Big Hello’, as the visits in the run-up week to Lambeth had been called. We spent a week in Durham and visited places key to my faith journey since university days: mining communities, St Nic’s, the Market Place, the Cathedral. I came to see my time in Britain this summer as a pilgrimage, described by a clergy woman in Durham as a walk where you ‘bump into people and thoughts that shape you’.

I loved that it began with the personal rootedness felt in the visual history and beautiful worship held in both the worn pectoral cross of St Cuthbert, and St Augustine’s Canterbury seat, and held the expected traditional Anglican choral music and the soul-moving spirituals of Geraldine Latty, the spouses’ gifted worship leader. And I loved that, in this pilgrimage, I glimpsed again the hope of the poor that is in the church. And that living hope is in Jesus.

The rhythm of Lambeth shaped our time in Canterbury. It fell into a pattern after the separate spouses’ and bishops’ retreats on Day 2 and 3, and the traditional photo sessions. One photo was of 97 women bishops – there had been only 18 present at Lambeth in 2008. With this visual, I was for some reason surprised to later learn that alternative episcopal oversight (‘flying bishops’) still exists in Britain. There are deep differences around the Communion, made visible at Lambeth. I believe many bishops, and know many spouses, did not attend Lambeth. I know some US bishops did not attend for ethical reasons as strong as those of the absent bishops from Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. They were equally absent in the photos and in the procession at Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday, Day 5 of the conference. Biased social media, divisive and provocative reporting, a non-missional disinterest in the stories of others, active outside campaigners as well as real Covid fears all seemed intent on frustrating the pattern of our program, table meetings and conversations.

Our daily program was pretty grueling, especially in the atypical heat of this English summer! I walked around 15,000 steps per day between Eucharist, Bible Expositions on 1 Peter; Bible studies for spouses, where I facilitated a group from Ghana, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and UK; plenary & keynote talks, and afternoon strengthening and resilience sessions for spouses led by Caroline Welby’s team. I also made daily visits to the Resources Tent, and the International Anglican Women and Global Partnership’s tables, meeting friends old and new. The bishops met for afternoon discussions on the various ‘Lambeth Calls’: Mission & Evangelism, Anglican Identity, Reconciliation, Environment and Sustainable Development, Christian Unity and Inter-faith Relations, and Discipleship. Each day ended with social events, guided tours, and conversations over meals and drinks.

I knew, after attending in 2008, that the Lambeth Conference was part of a long-prepared process to envision the Communion for the next decade. Or not. Tensions were brought to the campus through initial miscommunications (and anxieties?) with distant dioceses and provinces. Long-held hurts and power games were part of the baggage, part of the outside-initiated divisive letters to vote on differences, even after no ‘inside’ voting on the Calls had been decided. Everyone knew that Day 7, Tuesday of this conference, would be tense as human sexuality was to be addressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury after a morning of study on resistance, resilience and reconciliation.

I had expected all of the above. I hadn’t expected it to be a pilgrimage.

On Monday afternoon, Day 6 of Lambeth, a walk across the campus left me aware of the need for the ‘fresh start for the Communion’ that Archbishop Justin said was his dream for Lambeth 2022. I walked to one end of the campus for a spouses’ ‘strengthening’ meeting on reconciliation. The complexity of the next day’s issues came to me as I bumped into several folk on my return walk across the campus. The meeting ended with an exchange with a US spouse: I heard the non-reconciling choice offered by outside media as being ‘our way or the highway’, or, yet more crudely, ‘we pay for Lambeth, we should get the say’. I then walked with a Canadian spouse who reminded me that choosing agreement on human sexuality (whether in missional terms or orthodox statements) could be persecution, even death, in many contexts. At the Spouse’s Marquee halfway across campus, I greeted one of the uninvited same-sex spouses, experiencing Lambeth from such a different angle.

Reaching the dining room, I sat down with new friends and formed my thoughts: it’s all about Jesus. If Jesus is the living hope of the church, he is always and everywhere. Knowing God’s mission is to the world and to ech of us, looking outward, opening our imaginations to Jesus as we wpeak, hearing others’ sotries and thoughts – in all this our hope is in becoming a Communion shaped by Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.

I heard so much wisdom at Lambeth, in plenaries and in sound-bytes, from places and people I both expected and didn’t expect. I heard of the standing ovation, the tears of bishops, the masterful leadership of Archbishop Justin. I heard several TEC bishops speak of hope moving forward together. I heard His Eminence Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from Rome encourage us to develop humility and cultural intelligence, and to recognize that we are to be the home God wants to build for the suffering of the world. I heard music that made me cry with a focus on freedom. I heard an off-the-cuff plea for bishops to sign up to simply love God and love people. I heard a reminder that love’s opposite is not hate but indifference. And when picnic tables, shared meals, gifts, smiles and tears are exchanged, Jesus’s gift of peace, hope and love seem at least 1 degree closer. Differences don’t divide – they provide possibilities. If we choose hope. If we choose Jesus.

And now we’ve all returned home and the work of Lambeth 2022 begins. The pilgrimage continues.

“The visual of our worldwide church” – Jenny Grant

GEMN Board member Ms. Jenny Grant attended the 2022 Lambeth Conference as global relations and networking officer in the Global Partnerships Office of the Episcopal Church, the agency that was charged with representing the Episcopal Church as a whole at Lambeth. This reflection is from July 30, early in Jenny’s time at the conference.

I have been pondering what I would like to share from my experience thus far and I think more than anything it is a story of warmth and kindness. The warmth and kindness with which we have been welcomed in Canterbury is one I pray all gathered here have felt. I also recognize that within this gathering there is great pain and disagreement. It can be hard to reconcile. Yesterday the official photos were taken, and we were able to stand among all of the bishops gathered in a large field dressed in their robes. As I looked around, I heard more laughter and joyful chatter than anything else. It was a remarkable process to witness, and I am grateful for the simple opportunity to have the visual of our worldwide church in one place. We have spoken to bishops from almost every cultural context one could imagine, from the well-traveled in large cities to those who have never left their home countries and can only reach their churches by plane. My eyes, ears and heart will remain open, and I will look forward to sharing more. I have never felt so deeply that holding each other in prayer matters.

Note: Mission Reflections is a periodic email circular sent to all on GEMN’s mailing list, alongside Global Mission News and GEMN Member News.  Please feel free to send your own missional reflections to GEMN Executive Director Titus Presler: gemn@gemn.org. 

Posted in Lambeth Conference 2022, Mission Leaders.