Bishop Rachel and I have our bags packed and we are about to head off to Canterbury to join some 650 other bishops and 450 bishops’ spouses from around the globe for the Lambeth Conference, the gathering of Anglican bishops that has taken place every 10 years or so since 1867. This will be the fifteenth.
It is important to recognise what the Lambeth Conference is, and what it isn’t. It’s something which reflects what the Anglican Communion is and isn’t. We are a communion, a family of interdependent, autonomous and self-governing churches with a common identity and structure.
The Lambeth Conference, as one the four ‘Instruments of Communion’ (with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates meeting), speaks out in our world as a witness to the Gospel of Christ. It can encourage and guide, but it cannot compel or bind.
This understanding will be crucial to the way we will be working over these coming days. We will begin in retreat and then, from Saturday, we will be meeting daily in worship, sharing the bread and wine of communion; in Bible study where we will root ourselves in the First Letter of Peter; in plenary sessions on matters of concern to the Communion including mission, reconciliation, unity, safeguarding, discipleship; and in considering ten ‘conference calls’. These conference calls are not resolutions but ‘encouragements’ offered to the member churches of the communion for their consideration. These cover a wide range of concerns, many coming from the plenary discussion.
My hope and expectation is that, in large part, there will be a common mind among the bishops not least in being, as is the conference theme, God’s Church for God’s World, promoting justice, mercy, peace, in the words of the Magnificat (Luke 1) exulting the humble and filling the hungry with good things. Inevitably, there will be some things on which, coming from our different perspectives, the Communion will not be of a common mind. For these I have two desires. First that we work for the unity of the Church for which Christ prays, and secondly that we safeguard the dignity and the inclusion of all within the Church as a reflection of God’s love, won in the victory of the cross, for each and every individual, without exception, that all may know life in all its fullness.
1 Peter begins with these words: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’.
Please keep us and our brother and sister bishops in your prayers in these coming days, that this hope, rooted in Jesus Christ, may sound clear from our deliberations, that we may be a beacon of hope for a world and for so many in such desperate need, and please be assured of our continuing prayers for you and for this Diocese in which we serve.