God’s Church for God’s World — A Short Review of the Lambeth Conference 2022

A guest blog by Revd Dr Joachim Feldes, Lancelot Andrewes Institute, Nuremberg, Germany (Via the Anglican Communion Environmental Network)

665 bishops, most of them with their spouses, followed the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and joined this year’s Lambeth Conference that had the motto ‘God’s Church for God’s World’. The meeting lasted from 26th July to 8th August, 2022 and took place at Canterbury Cathedral, neighbouring University of Kent, and at Lambeth Palace, the archbishop’s residence in London. It was the fifteenth of its kind since the first Lambeth Conference of 1867 and Archbishop Justin had invited all bishops of the 41 provinces and five extra-provincial areas of the Anglican Communion, so all the Anglican and Episcopal churches enjoying full communion with Canterbury. In addition other churches, though lacking full communion, were most welcome as guests and observers. Thus e.g. the Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran and Reformed Churches happily accepted Welby’s invitation and sent prominent representatives, making the conference a fine ecumenical encounter facilitating helpful personal meetings. The invitation was rejected by some Anglican churches in Africa and North America who claimed as necessary precondition for their participation that the Anglican Communion or Archbishop Justin publicly and decisively reject and condemn any forms of homosexuality and also sanction ‘liberal’ provinces for their positions.

Like at the previous conferences of 1998 and 2008 participants were consulting what role the Anglican Communion as a whole and the member churches should play in the coming decade, considering their vocation by Jesus Christ on one side, and facing current moral, political and social challenges on the other. The meeting’s trajectory was taken from the first letter of Peter that provided the texts for the daily bible studies and laying ground for the following discussions. Joy and work filled the days and e.g. Robert Innes, bishop of the Diocese in Europe (Church of England) reported that the intense exchange from early morning to late evening made time pretty exhausting. Though, in an interview at the end of the conference, bishop Robert expressed his gratefulness for all the encounters and conversations, but above all the many opportunities he enjoyed of listening with fellow bishops to God’s Word, whether in bible study, services, talks and sermons, meals and even less tight ‘leisure time’.

The main issues of the conference were mission and evangelism, reconciliation, safe church, environment and sustainable development, Christian unity, inter faith relations, Anglican identity, human dignity, discipleship, science and faith, and each of these issues was dedicated a whole day to. Different to previous conferences that mostly sought to make declarations or decisions, this year’s discussions and consultations were given drafts of so-called ‘Lambeth Calls’. These drafts had been made by groups of clergy and lay people from the whole Anglican Communion, mostly led by a primate, and received a further development during the conference. Each of the calls involved questions to be discussed and conclusions to be drawn, and consisted of three parts:

1. A declaration summing up what the church had been teaching through her live on the respective issue,

2. A statement summing up what bishops today would like to say about the respective issue,

3. The actual ‘calls’, i.e. specific claims raised by the bishops to themselves, sisters and brothers in faith and around the world, concerning the witness needed today, the common active engagement and further challenges to be addressed.

The underlying intention was to publish each of these texts as a call of the conference and to assure a process where the respective issues and needs would be taken care of and realized. Member churches are invited to deal with the calls in their synods and representative institutions until in 2023 the Anglican Consultative Council will take a closer look at the calls. A particular group installed by the Archbishop is responsible to make sure that the calls are dealt with appropriately.

The reason for the Archbishop to make this change of approach, i.e. changing from resolutions to calls, was that the word ‘resolution’ implied a juridical decision, which in its binding meaning transcends the conference’s competence. Different to that, a ‘call’ describes a decision made by the conference approaching every member church as an appeal to weigh it carefully, hoping that the church will realize it according to the own situation.

Assessing the claims raised by a number of African and North American Anglicans against the conference as well as the archbishop, one should take account of the change of approach, be it on questions of human sexuality or other moral issues. Leaving a more juridical mode behind and choosing appeals and calls instead of resolutions corresponds to the very structure of the Anglican Communion and Anglicanism as such. We have no magisterium like other churches have it or presume to have, thus neither the Lambeth Conference nor the Archbishop of Canterbury are in the position to sanction parts of the Anglican Communion. In Welby’s talk on Human dignity, in which he also addressed questions of ethics of sexuality, he made this very clear. Who holds different opinions, cannot and must not avoid, but just have to must join the talk with others, may they share his/her opinion or not. Seeking to use the conference or the Archbishop, only to get around the in-person discussion, is not appropriate to address, let alone conflicts.

A Protestant colleague who was privileged to follow the consultation on Human dignity was deeply impressed by the sensitivity and factuality of the discussion, especially on dealing with homosexuality. She observed an atmosphere of participants’ committed listening, eagerly trying to understand each other. Maybe this did not lead to an agreement, but it revealed the honest struggle for unity. And this very struggle could very well be understood as a manifestation of the spirit that the church needs to exist and to fulfill her vocation to be the leaven of the World and the salt of the Earth, to live up to her call as Christ’s truly catholic and apostolic bride.

Because of my engagement with the Anglican Alliance and Sustainable Preaching which since Pentecost 2022 has been renamed ‘Preaching God’s Word for God’s World’, thus taking up the motto of this year’s Lambeth Conference, I closely followed the events on environment and sustainable development. Many of them took place most prominently at Lambeth Palace with a particular highlight of a tree being planted in the Palace Garden. This ‘Communion tree’ will serve as visible sign and example of the Anglican Communion’s engagement of caring and protecting creation and good live for all. It is one tree of many planted by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network’s initiative The Anglican Communion forest and I was happy to see my dear colleague Rev Dr Rachel Mash (Anglican Church of Southern Africa) who serves as secretary of the ACEN and fellow-coordinator of our preaching platforms. The main focus of ‘Communion forest’ is stirring up people’s consciousness of the vulnerability of forests. It wants to encourage Anglicans in all provinces and everyone beyond to get engaged for the protection of forests, tree-growing and restoration of Eco-systems all over the world.

In my opinion this recent Lambeth Conference has shown exactly the direction and taken most helpful steps to where Church ought to go if she really wants to be and serve as God’s Church for God’s World. In the way it was organised and issues were addressed the conference has set the right signs our time desperately needs to gain the necessary orientation. At the same time bishops have resisted the temptation to make up a koinonia where one side gets happy only if and when the other side submits or surrenders.

True koinonia presupposes humility, veracity, attentiveness, readiness to learn. It only succeeds if and when everyone takes account of his and her own socio-cultural connectedness, strives for honesty towards him-/herself and with respect enters the exchange with the others. Again and again we have to let God cleanse us, and as cleansed beings struggle to understand each other. Only then we will be true and faithful witnesses of God, only then we will be God’s Church for God’s World, as cleansed people seek the truth and in reconciled diversity contribute to the coming of God’s kingdom.

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