Archbishop of Canterbury shares his hopes and updates on the latest plans for the 15th Lambeth Conference

Posted Oct 15, 2021
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Photo: Lambeth Conference

[The Lambeth Conference Company] The four-year journey of the 15th Lambeth Conference has begun. During 2021, Bishops from almost every part of the Anglican Communion, have been meeting online to consider how we can truly be ‘God’s Church for God’s world’ in the 21st Century.

This current ‘listening together’ phase has consisted of a series of online ‘Bishops’ Conversations’ – group discussions between bishops across provinces – to prepare for the face-to-face conference. Bishops’ spouses have also been meeting for online discussions.

When the Lambeth Conference meets in Canterbury, it will be the second phase of the journey, with the focus of ‘walking together.’ It will take place between the 27th of July and the 7th of August 2022.

After the conference has met in 2022, there will then be a third ‘witnessing together’ phase. This will involve online follow-up work continuing for at least the next two years. Our prayer is that following on from the event, further discussions will result in a series of ‘Lambeth Conference invitations to act’, to ensure that its conclusions are owned and shared all around the Communion.

This will provide a continuity to Bishops’ Conversations and ensure that common commitments discussed at the conference are taken forward around the Anglican Communion.

The Lambeth Conference in Canterbury in 2022

Next year’s event will be the first Lambeth Conference since 2008. The normal ten-year cycle would have seen a conference held in 2018, but it was recognised, after extensive consultation, that to hold a conference then would be premature. The deep divisions that have existed for many years go far wider than simply the issues of sexuality and derive in many ways from the structure of the Anglican Communion and the need for a continued journey towards a postcolonial model of global church. These required more work and preparation. As a result, the conference was rescheduled for 2020. Then, in 2020, the Lambeth Conference was postponed again to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At this time, we continue to plan for an in-person event to be held in Canterbury in 2022, with relevant COVID19 health and safety measures in place. It is our hope and prayer that as many people that can, will join us. Meeting in person will be the most fruitful way to build relationships and discuss important themes in our life as the Anglican Communion.

Given the ongoing changes in travel and quarantine requirements, or the challenges of equitable vaccine distribution around the world, it might still be difficult for some bishops to travel to the UK next year. So the conference planning team are also working to enable some parts of the event to be available online. Every effort is being made to bring people together and hear all voices equally.

 God’s Church for God’s World – Sharing our call to servant leadership

The Lambeth Conference theme for 2022 is “God’s Church for God’s World: Walking, listening and witnessing together”. We long to turn outwards, to engage God’s world with the wonderful and startling transformation that is at the heart of the salvation offered in Christ.

In this world, we are called to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ and to seek to make disciples of every nation. It is a world where the pressures on the Church increase year by year, and the number of modern martyrs in places like Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and many other countries, continues to grow day by day.

This is a world where the number of local conflicts has increased. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, there are more than 170 militias, who rape, pillage, torture and kill across large areas of countryside. Many other countries around the world face great conflict, suffering, fear, and violence.

To bring bishops and their spouses together – many of them from these suffering countries – is to gather those who know the cost of the call to episcopal ministry and carry the burden of servant leadership. We will find great comfort and support as we share together –we are neither forgotten nor alone. We will receive fresh resilience, new vision, refreshment and joy as we encounter the God who meets us in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God’s Church for God’s World – What will we discuss at the Lambeth Conference?

The Lambeth Conference will meet for prayer, Bible study and dialogue on church and world affairs. Looking at the world around us, it will focus on several clear themes:

  • Evangelism, witness and mission.
  • Persecution and resilience of the Church and its support globally.
  • The climate emergency, which is already impacting on the lives of Anglicans around the Communion, particularly those who are poorest and most vulnerable.
  • The impact of new science and technology on everything from warfare to health, education, technology and communications. To this end, the new Anglican Communion Science Commission will be very active during the conference.
  • Reconciliation and peacebuilding in a world where people are less and less capable of disagreeing well.
  • Prayer and the growth of religious community, so that in reading the scripture, in praying together, we re-discover our love for the living and risen Jesus Christ who meets with us when we call to him for help.
  • Pandemic response: Sharing together about the effect of COVID-19 in different contexts worldwide and particularly its impact on the poorest nations and communities.

God’s Church for God’s World – Our life together as the Anglican Communion

The conference will also explore internal matters in the life of the Anglican Communion. We will seek to find a way forward on the issues that have divided us for so long over marriage, sexuality and relationships. It is unlikely that we will have a single common understanding. We are a global communion with more than 2000 languages and such deeply embedded and possibly different views of what is right and wrong, both culturally and in our understanding of the Bible. But this is what marks the Church out as different. We are called to find ways of continuing together, knowing that we belong to one another and obeying the commands of Jesus to love one another, and where we disagree, disagreeing well.

We also need to be clear about what it should mean to be part of the Anglican Communion as part of God’s Church. The Anglican Communion is an extraordinary, wonderful, and powerful collaboration of rich and poor, of powerful and weak. A genuine expression of the vision of the Church that we find in the New Testament.

Yet too often it has slipped into being a tool of power, the absolute opposite of discipleship in the service of Jesus Christ. Some groups are intent on changing the way in which the Anglican Communion works, so that those outside of a province may interfere with its actions and tell people what to do. There is a danger of becoming a communion that finds itself with a load of small groups that claim extraterritorial jurisdiction.

This goes against the understanding of the Church from the New Testament onwards, set out clearly in the great councils of the Church. It reverses the understanding of what it is to be Anglican which was established from the first Lambeth Conference. It tries to narrow us from being a global church with open doors and a welcoming heart of love for the needy to one that – rather than depending on Christ and the Holy Spirit to draw in those who are not yet members – sets its own tests based on its own way of doing things.

Anglicanism is both Catholic and Reformed. Both our Catholicity and the traditions of the Reformation need renewing so that each person answers to God for their own decisions, and churches are autonomous but interdependent in love.

The Lambeth Conference – bringing our voices together

Bringing people together and hearing all voices equally from around the world is what the Lambeth Conference is all about. We give thanks for around 500 Bishops and spouses from several Provinces that have registered for their respective online conversations during 2021. In so doing they are deepening relationships, praying together, building a deeper understanding of the Bible and supporting the flourishing of God’s church.

We encourage and invite all Anglican Bishops of the Anglican Communion to take part in the pre-conference discussions and to register for the in-person event if they haven’t already done so.

The Anglican Communion has the potential, under God, to be a remarkable, historic force for good in the life of our world. Let us pray for all we do and especially that through this conference we will be renewed by the Spirit and sent out with determination, to be the witnesses of Christ to the ends of God’s world.

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For the latest on Lambeth Conference news and bishops’ conversations, visit the Lambeth Conference website.