The last Lambeth Conference, in 2008, was dominated by opposition to the Episcopal Church’s ordination of an openly gay bishop and the church’s moves towards a fuller inclusion of LGBT+ persons. There was talk of the Communion splitting, or the Episcopal Church being kicked out (the ACNA was launched with this hope in mind). Out of that same turmoil was launched the campaign for an Anglican Covenant that would have been a first step away from an Anglican Communion towards a worldwide Anglican Church.
Thought there was a great deal of consternation in the immediate lead up to this twice-delayed gathering over continuing efforts to oppose LGBT+ inclusion, the vibe emanating from this conference is very different. There is a definite sense that, for the most part, we are moving towards an acceptance of difference, and that whatever it is that holds the communion together is stronger than the current issues pulling it apart.
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves (El Camino Real) wrote in a Facebook post;
“I love the Anglican Communion. I love the siblings I have met and come to know over my lifetime. I am transformed by these relationships. This odd, body of people first connected by colonization and Jesus, manages to overcome what divides and plagues us. We persist in inviting God to work redemption among us. Come Holy Spirit, please!”
And as Bishop Susan Brown Snook (San Diego) posted, it’s not like they’ve been avoiding the difficult conversations;
“although Lambeth 1.10 is still mentioned in the Call, it also recognized that after a careful theological process, some churches have discerned a different way forward on same-sex marriage. The Archbishop’s letter (linked below) acknowledges that the majority still follows the teaching of Lambeth 1.10, but we commit to walking forward together in love and respect. And third, the Archbishop refuses to impose any sanctions on any church. Given the firestorm that many anticipated, this was a peaceful and prayerful result. My small-group table was evenly divided on the issue, but we listened carefully and heard each other with respect. I am grateful for all those who worked to perfect this process.”
Perhaps because it has been so long delayed, perhaps because COVID reminded us of the importance of connections, perhaps because the Holy Spirit is truly at work in these gatherings, a recurring them from many bishops is the joy they have found in just being together.
Bishop Mark Van Koevering (Lexington) wrote;
“Like the Bible stories, living out our faith is a complicated, messy journey. There are times of joy and disappointment, challenge and comfort, heartache and celebration. Some of us are always in each of these different contrasting places, that’s why it is so important to be together because only together do we get a glimpse of the whole. This is not to discount the challenges, disappointment or heartache but ‘by his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ This is what it means to Be the Church and it is hard, joyous, complicated incarnational, roll up your sleeves and be present work. It’s in the doing and it’s only by grace.”
And as we draw near to the close, the storm clouds of division seem to be receding and taking the idea of primatial magisterium with them. Archbishop Welby acknowledged this reality when he said; “I neither have, nor do I seek, the authority to discipline or exclude a church of the Anglican Communion. I will not do so. I may comment in public on occasions, but that is all. We are a Communion of Churches, not a single church.”
Those churches guided by the vision of a more inclusive church and those who cling to an older vision do not agree, but so long as we remain committed to one another, there can be greater hope that the circle of inclusion will continue to expand. In an article at Church Times, bishop Cherry Vann (Monmouth, CoE) was quoted;
“Things have shifted. We have been recognised and celebrated and respected for who we are. Celebrations and blessings have been deemed to have been carefully, theologically thought through — which, again, is another big shift, because we have always been tarred with the brush of ignoring scripture.
“But actually, a lot of people have done a lot of theological thought on this, and it has brought us to a different conclusion in the light of our experience. For the first time, an archbishop has said that’s okay: it is a thoroughly diverse work, and it’s all God’s work.”
There had been huge relief in the room at the outcome, Bishop Vann confirmed. “Because I think we recognised that this is not going to split the Anglican Communion — though there may be some who try to do that anyway.”
And as Bishop Vann also pointed out, the example of LGBT+ bishops shows that God works within human diversity and that though there remains concern for those LGBT+ persons living in societies and churches which deny their very right to exist, these connections might help.
“But I think also — not just those of us who are gay, but the allies, the bishops who support us and affirm us — have been able to tell stories as well.” One gay-partnered bishop had said that, as a result of what their table had discussed and how it had been discussed, a Ghanaian bishop had said: ‘I can now go back home and say it’s OK to protect the gay young people in my diocese.’ That feels massive,” Bishop Vann said again. “And that’s partly about us being here listening to what Archbishop Justin has said, and what others have said in one-to-one conversations.”
image LGBT+ bishops at Lambeth from left Area Bishop of York-Scarborough, the Rt Revd Kevin Robertson; the Bishop of Michigan, Dr Bonnie Perry; the Bishop of Missouri, the Rt Revd Deon K. Johnson; the Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Cherry Vann; the Rt Revd Mary Glasspool, an assistant bishop in the diocese of New York; and the Bishop of Maine, the Rt Revd Thomas J Brown/Twitter