Magazine article Anglican Journal

Lambeth Conference Needs to Rethink Itself

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Lambeth Conference Needs to Rethink Itself

Article excerpt

PUNDITS HAVE ALREADY marked this as a watershed Lambeth Conference. "It's a new church," said one observer in the press gallery near the end of the conference, referring to the conservative shift evidenced in the vote on homosexuality. The cultural dimension of that shift was also obvious. For the first time, Anglicans from the developing world, primarily Africa, dominated in terms of numbers.

The 224 African bishops were the largest contingent of approximately 374 bishops from the Third or developing world. About 360 bishops came from the U.K., Europe, North American, Australia and New Zealand.

But if it ends there, the watershed conference may turn out to be more of an island in a stream diverting the water around it in two different directions. If the separate streams are to reunite, there needs to be a lot more dialogue before any consideration is given to another Lambeth in 2008.

Lambeth is important but it needs to rethink itself.

First, on a purely practical level, it is getting too big. The church simply doesn't have the money to bring in an even bigger number of bishops next time. Certainly the facilities at the University of Kent in Canterbury can't cope with more.

But to deprive suffragan and assistant bishops the opportunity to share in a meeting of the worldwide college of Anglican bishops is hardly fair or appropriate either. After all, some bishops - probably most bishops - are only eligible to come to one Lambeth. Someone could be a bishop for 19 years and only attend one conference, if elected the year after Lambeth. (Count the number of elections in Canada in the next two years.)

One of the most important reasons for coming to Lambeth is to drop the blinkers of parochialism we all wear. It's a big world out there. And although we can read, watch and hear about the struggles of people in far-off places, we cannot know the depth of their joy, tragedy or faith unless we meet them.

And in that encounter, one hopes both sides learn from each other.

So the primates of the communion need to think about how to have smaller conferences and meetings more frequently.

A delegation of bishops and advisers from North America and Britain might visit Africa or Asia for a couple of weeks. Two years later, perhaps the host bishops could visit Canada.

The primates might also find a way to have representatives from all orders of ministry meet. For while it is no doubt important for bishops to be able to meet collegially, it is also important for lay people, deacons and priests to be able to meet their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. …

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