Since leaving #LambethConference2022, Teresa and I have been able to enjoy some annual leave - still in the heat of the mad English/European scorching summer. As this post is published, however, we are en route to Heathrow and the flights home. (Where NZ readers know it has been very cold - not quite a global warming winter this year!) What follows are bits and bobs of things which interest me, especially but not exclusively in relation to Lambeth.
First, some news: Christopher Wells has been appointed executive director for Unity, Faith and Order for the Anglican Communion. Some years back I corresponded with Christopher Wells, mostly in relation to The Living Church, an Anglican/Episcopalian magazine based in North America. This conference I met him in person. In my view, this is a very good appointment and I look forward to the continuing work of IASCUFO (the Communion task force charged with Unity, Faith and Order responsibilities, under the leadership of Bishop Graham Tomlin).
Then, also drawing on The Living Church, David Goodhew makes a number of pertinent observations re Anglican church decline and growth which, adroitly, could lead to similar questions being raised here in ACANZP. But one takeaway is, churches which decline can grow!
Back to Lambeth. Archbishop Foley Beach, in his capacity as Chair of GAFCON, has written an extraordinary piece on the Lambeth Conference signalling the Communion is “broken.” I say “extraordinary” because
(i) it is written from the (disad)vantage point of view of not actually attending the conference, yet holds nothing back in its certainty of judgment;
(ii) it manages to make the conference all about one issue, when the conference was about many issues, and even on that one issue, managed to reach a place which can only be reached if everyone is in the same location.
The irony of ++Beach’s article is that the conference demonstrated that change in the Communion will only come via people meeting in the same place and not via boycotts.
But, in contrast to both the tone and the tenet of ++Beach’s proclamation, is this beautifully written reflection by Bishop Andrew Rumsey (CofE), which makes the point, in my words, that despite some not sharing in (eucharistic) communion, there was much communion in other ways through our conferring and praying together. Further, the very process of meeting together - plenaries, small groups, discussions, prayers, conversations over meals and when getting off/on buses/boats etc - has powerful effects, including, on Andrew Rumsey’s own confession, the minds and mindsets of bishops. Boycotts, less so.
In my own mind and mindset - whether it is changing may be a little early to tell :) - I take away from the conference a bunch of conversations, including with those holding to some quite conservative viewpoints, which I continue to reflect on and to digest as I return to my own diocese with its particular range of viewpoints, issues, concerns and questions. But what I am reflecting on is personal conversations “in the room,” not external to the room.
On another aspect of Anglican life, I was delighted to get to know various bishops at the conference, including bishop X. But this week, in a conversation with a person about life in their parish, there was a bemoaning of the direction the local bishop was trying to impose on the parish. Who is that bishop? It’s bishop X. … A salutary reminder that outside of the joys of conference life and the frisson of “issues” worked on in a globalist context, there are challenging questions about the future of the everyday church in the raw localism of “the parish of Y” where Y’s demographics, present congregational make up, historic character, etc run with (or rub against) aspirations - provincial, diocesan, parochial - for continuity and for change.
This paragraph without links - I’ll be honest, there are some Anglican commentators I prefer not to link to: I see some commentary of the kind “that was the last Lambeth Conference/the Anglican Communion is finished - there will be two global Anglicanisms and the bright future is with the one which won’t budge from traditional, orthodox teaching on sexuality.” It goes without saying that no one knows the future except our Father in heaven, so such commentary may prove correct. But there are two questions such commentary begs in the present:
(1) What is meant by Anglicanism? To take just one aspect of Anglicanism which the conference has reinforced for me - directly seeing the ABC in action, sitting in retreat and services in Canterbury Cathedral: to be Anglican is to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Can there be two meaningful versions of Anglicanism in which one version is not in communion with Canterbury? This does not mean - of course not - that a form of Christianity based on the historic teaching of the 16th century reformed Church of England but liturgically not using BCP services (or any other Anglican liturgies of churches still in commmunion with Canterbury) cannot be a growing, converting, flourishing, Bible-based Christian church or global network of churches. But may such a flourishing Christian movement lay claim to being “true Anglicanism”?
(2) Is there an intrinsic reason why two claimants to true Anglicanism could not deign to meet together in one conference? Again, at great risk of harping on about a point made often here at ADU, and already above in this post, the success of the conference lies in the fact that Anglicans with difference bothered to meet together, to be in one room of conversation and at one table of discussion. Other Anglicans (with pretty much the same convictions as many Anglicans at the conference) did not bother to show up. What is so special about them that they deserve to be deemed “true Anglicans” when they won’t talk to other Anglicans? Where in Anglicanism, even in the 16th century, do we find such spectacular exclusivist, separationist precedent? The great Anglican minds of the 16th century - Cranmer, Hooker, Elizabeth 1 - sought to hold the differences of the English Christians in one church - the Church of England. Not the Church of the True and Orthodox English. Sure: for some English Christians, the efforts of Cranmer, Hooker and Elizabeth 1 were inadequate - so fervent Catholics smuggled in their priests and the Puritans stood their “biblical” (if not in the Bible then not permissible) grounds - but they did not claim to be the broad Church of England. They made a pitch for a narrower understanding of English Christianity, based on Rome or Geneva, and the pitch did not yield strong sales.
Perhaps a question permeating this post is the question of accuracy! How might we describe each other with words that correspond to reality. A post mentioned above, which I refuse to link to, grandiloquently speaks of some wide ranging, slippery slope of moral decay which the “revisionist” provinces are cheerfully sliding down. This is inaccurate. The revision of Anglican understanding which is emerging and evolving through the post 1998 decades is a revision with respect to the nature of marriage. It is, actually, a pretty conservative revision because it is focused on permanent, faithful, stable, loving relationships between two people. Whether we agree with such revision or not, whether we think the arguments for such revision are sound theology or not, could we at least agree that no Anglican province is now or in the future about to canonically permit orgies, casual sexual liaisons, polyamory, and the like. Put another way, we all read 1 Peter at the conference and none were proposing that we ignore 4:3-4a.
Does this mean that, from an inside the conference tent perspective, all is actually well with Anglicanism as found in the attending provinces of the Anglican Communion? Not at all. We have work to do which, in my humble opinion, would help us to be better Christians, and therefore better Anglican Christians. For example, in one of our Bible studies, focusing on one theme in 1 Peter, we had a fine lead off from ++Justin, followed by a panel of contributors talking about what that theme means to them. I found these contributions to be overall unimpressive. This particular theological concept seemed to mean whatever the speaker wanted it to mean. I described this in my small group as very “plastic” - maybe “pliable” would be the better word. How could we grow in theological depth and precision as a Communion because we who lead (clergy, preachers, Bible study leaders) have done the hard yards of theological study, intent on not ending up with plastic/pliable notions of critical theological concepts?
A related matter, perhaps, is the question of worship in the life of the Communion. A fellow Kiwi, Christchurch blogger, Bosco Peters in a recent post has voiced concern that the conference managed to talk about Anglican Identity without talking about Anglican worship, in respect of our common history in the Book of Common Prayer (1662) or in respect of the general idea that Anglicans (most, most of our history) believe in praying together what we believe - binding ourselves to “common prayer.” Now, I put my hand up in the first instance as one who didn’t think about this when we discussed that Call paper. But perhaps I (and we bishops, theological advisors to the Communion, etc) need to ask, why didn’t we think about this aspect of Anglican identity? The answer (explanation/excuse/!?) lies - I am proposing for discussion - in two aspects of the situation.
First, that we Anglicans take our worship together so much for granted that we do not notice when it is not part of (e.g.) a Call paper on Anglican Identity.
Secondly, that we have some important ways of speaking about what constitutes Anglicanism which (for reasons I do not know) either do not reference worship or, at best, imply it obliquely. Two such ways were at the heart of the Call paper on Anglican Identity: the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the Five Marks of Mission. How might we change this? (One possibility lies in talk at the conference of review of such things!)
Worship at the conference itself was significant - a prayerful retreat, grand opening service, intentionally less grand, a little bit informal closing service, conference morning eucharists and evening prayer services, and the chaplaincy team leading other services, including early morning prayer and night prayer - yet, we could have done more. Noting that daily eucharist and evening prayer services were “opt in” services, some around me observed that we didn’t actually worship when all together in plenary (e.g. Could we have sung a hymn at the beginning of each morning Bible study session?).
Incidentally, the morning eucharist services, led by a different province each day, provided in place of the sermon a short video presentation exemplifying the life of that province. Of the services I attended, the presentation by Pakistan was outstanding - you may be able to access it on the conference website.
So, a final paragraph for this post - written in the privilege of a short 24 hour stay in Oxford, most of it at Christ Church Oxford, including Evensong in the cathedral which is uniquely also the “house” chapel - pic below.* Isn’t Anglicanism amazing? Being at Canterbury, UK a few weeks ago, and now at a place particualrly connected to Canterbury, NZ and my own diocese, I have been reminded that from the small seed of Pope Gregory sending Augustine to Canterbury, and all the celtic missional endeavours before that, the faith shared by the English speaking peoples has advanced beyond Kent, Northumbria, etc into all the countries colonized by the British empire, and beyond those countries into place never coloured red on the map of the world. We are part of an amazing story of gospel growth. May it continue in the power of the Spirit of the God who has loved us in Jesus Christ.
*This photo of the east end of Christ Church cathedral, Oxford, captures work done in the 19th century, designed by renowned architect, Gilbert Scott … also architect for Christ Church cathedral, Christchurch, NZ.