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Has the Sun Set on the Last Lambeth Conference?

By Susie Leafe

The buses are lined up, 650 bishops and their spouses are wheeling their bags across the campus, and the journey home begins.  Flags have been folded and over the next few days, security fences, marquees and meal stations will be dismantled.

Lambeth 2022 is over.  Or is it?

The organisers had in mind three phases for this conference:

Phase 1 – Listening Together (Bishops’ Conversations) 2021-22 online

Phase 2 – Walking Together (Bishops’ Conference) Aug 22 in person

Phase 3 – Witnessing Together (Implementing the Lambeth Calls) 2022 and beyond

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been clear the real work is just beginning; as those who have listened to one another and walked together at the conference return to their dioceses and witness together by enacting common commitments that have been agreed at the Conference.

And this is where the rubber meets the road. Not even the most sympathetic bishop could claim to know what has been agreed in practice.

Unlike at previous Lambeth Conferences, there are no carefully drafted and amended Resolutions.  Instead, the bishops were presented with ten Lambeth Calls on such weighty matters as Anglican Identity, Science and Faith, Discipleship and Sustainable Development, which according to the Archbishop of Canterbury were all accepted by the Conference.

On what basis he says this is anyone’s guess.

The voting/choosing system collapsed after the first day. Justin Welby denied the bishops the chance to do any more than ‘discuss’ the most controversial paragraph of the Human Identity Call which has been widely interpreted to mean that the Anglican Communion now has two equally valid, yet contradictory, doctrines of marriage.

And in any case, the final text of the Lambeth Calls depends on an, as yet unappointed, Implementation Group, analysing the feedback on ten different discussions, from about 100 groups of bishops, editing them as they see fit and then sending them back out to the bishops for implementation.

This would be a fragile enough process if there was not a clear fault line running through Phase 2 – because the bishops of the Anglican Communion are clearly not ‘Walking Together’ in any meaningful way. 

A third of bishops were not present.

Of those present, about a quarter, in conscience, abstained from the Eucharist.

As Archbishop Justin Badi, the Chair of the GSFA and Primate of South Sudan, said “A communion is where you have one belief, one doctrine and here there is an issue where there are two different doctrines.  How can you walk together?” 

And in an unprecedented step the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) which represent about 75% of practicing Anglicans worldwide, put out their own Communique – which sets out clearly their position:

Our willingness as orthodox Bishops to attend this Conference does not mean that we have agreed to ‘walk together’ with the revisionist Primates and Bishops in the Anglican Communion. To walk together as the redeemed people of God requires that we believe the same fundamentals of our faith and are united in our mission to faithfully proclaim by word and deed the propositional truth of the Gospel revealed in the canon of Holy Scripture. (paragraph 5.5)

The GSFA Communique is worth reading in full – it offers a measured analysis of the problems facing the Anglican Communion and makes practical suggestions as to how orthodox Anglicans might “be mutually accountable to one another as orthodox Provinces in staying true to the Word of God.”

So, it seems that for many the Lambeth Conference is over.  If they cannot ‘Walk Together’ or agree to what it is that they are ‘Witnessing Together’ it is hard to see what is left. 

As Rt Revd Paul Yugusuk, Archbishop of Juba in South Sudan said towards the end of the Conference, “Let me speak from the heart, to be frank, I have lost interest, because of several reasons. One of them is this – as much as we ‘fellowship,’ we are still going on with the Bible studies, my self is not there, because what are we really ‘fellowshipping’ when we are in total disagreement? The two cannot walk together.”  

It is true that any dramatic fireworks at this Lambeth Conference have been carefully hidden away – in the most part bishops have spoken politely to one another and posed for photos together – but like so much of the Church of England – it might just fade away, like a damp squib, due to a lack of interest.  

Susie Leafe is a former member of General Synod of the Church of England and now Director of Anglican Futures. She was present for the entire Lambeth Conference.