Letter from the Vicar (July 2008/August 2008)
During July this year the fourteenth Lambeth Conference will be taking place in Canterbury. The Lambeth Conference is an assembly of all the bishops of the Anglican Communion. Nowadays it takes place once every ten years by invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The conferences began in 1867.
Though they sound important, the truth is that they have very limited powers. The Archbishop of Canterbury stated, when sending out invitations to Lambeth 2008 in May 2007, that, “...the Lambeth Conference has no ‘constitution’ or formal powers; it is not a formal Synod or Council of the bishops of the Communion…” Nonetheless, since they started 150 years ago, the conference has been fairly influential. This year’s Lambeth Conference has already had its fair share of problems, with a variety of bishops for the first time ever saying that they won’t be coming as a matter of principle. Basically they object to the American Church’s actions regarding homosexual clergy and same-sex unions.
Archbishop Rowan has bent over backwards to try to accommodate the views of the so-called traditionalists, even to the extent of barring Gene Robinson, the openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire, from attending. But this has not satisfied the conservative extremists who say they will not be coming. Many of these have recently been at an alternative gathering in Jerusalem.
All this has left many of us wondering whether this particular conference or indeed the Lambeth Conference in general is a good idea. The conference is described as ‘an instrument of unity’, that is, a means of holding the Anglican Communion together. It has deliberated upon and passed resolutions on a variety of topics over the years. There are many Anglicans today who appear to wish to see the Communion strengthened and deepened and presumably the Lambeth Conference is a necessity if that is to occur.
Others, including myself, take a contrary view. I see the Anglican Communion as a loose confederation of different Churches which happen to have some connection with the see of Canterbury. If anything I would weaken the links between the different Churches rather than strengthening them. For me Anglicanism is essentially local, even parochial and the centralisation that has been going on in recent years is regrettable.
But I wish the bishops joy in their gathering, even if it now seems bizarre that Bishop Robinson is excluded since many of his opponents won’t be there anyway. The real church, however, will not be in Canterbury, it will be operating in all the parishes of this country and other countries where Anglicanism exists.