Bishop Alan M. Gates has issued the following July 29, 2022, message about the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, underway through Aug. 8. Scroll to the bottom of the message for links to more coverage and reflections. Find an additional message, here, from Bishop Gayle E. Harris and Bishop Carol J. Gallagher who are in attendance at the conference.
The Lambeth Conference: A word from Bishop Gates
This week and next the Lambeth Conference is meeting in Canterbury, England, principally on the campus of the University of Kent and at Canterbury Cathedral, the historic mother church of the Anglican Communion. Some 650 bishops and 460 spouses are attending, gathered from among the 41 autonomous member churches of the Anglican Communion which has a presence in some 165 different countries. Since 1867 the Lambeth Conference has typically met once every 10 years. The current conference was scheduled to gather in 2020, but was delayed by the pandemic.
The Diocese of Massachusetts at Lambeth:
I myself am not attending this Lambeth Conference. At the time the original invitation came from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2019, it was announced that plans for this conference included a substantially expanded focus on the participation of bishops’ spouses in a “joint program running in parallel.” However, spouses of bishops in same-sex marriages were explicitly excluded from the invitation and received direct communication underscoring their dis-invited status.
I am altogether committed to the historic bonds and contemporary mission partnerships we share with fellow Anglicans throughout the world. Partner relationships this diocese shares with Anglicans in Jerusalem, Tanzania, and numerous other places around the world are a precious gift. I want to underscore that I have declined the Lambeth invitation not because I am unwilling to gather and share views with others with whom I disagree–I do that all the time!–but because I believe the invitation itself to have been inequitable and unjust. I desire and am committed to maintain relationship with our global Anglican cousins. However, in circumstances where the price of maintaining such relationship is the denial of the full humanity of other siblings in Christ–a disavowal of the church’s inclusion of, and my own relationship with, those other siblings–that price for me and my family is too high.
Bishop Gayle Harris, of course, has a different constellation of considerations. Bishop Harris, who attended the previous Lambeth Conference in 2008, experienced there an opportunity for relationship building which she testifies was transformational for herself and others. There remain relatively few women bishops in the Anglican Communion; there are even fewer women bishops of color. For the diocese which elected the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris as the first female bishop in the entire Anglican world to continue to be represented at Lambeth by a woman of color is a significant way for us to show up in that context. In addition, the Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher, who serves our diocese as a regional canon, is a bishop of this church and one of only two Indigenous persons currently serving in the Episcopal House of Bishops. With support from both the churchwide leadership of The Episcopal Church and our diocese, Bishop Gallagher and her spouse, Mark, are also in attendance at the conference.
A secondary consideration in my decision was the allocation of diocesan financial resources towards this extremely expensive event. I am grateful that our resources are focused to enable Bishop Harris and Bishop Gallagher to manifest the ministry of the Diocese of Massachusetts at Lambeth.
The Lambeth agenda:
Under the theme of “God’s Church for God’s World,” the conference is to include worship, Bible study, and discussion of a series of announced topics such as mission and evangelism; safe church practices; the environment and sustainable development; interfaith relations; Anglican identity; and human dignity. Last week, short written statements entitled “Lambeth Calls” were issued as a focus for those discussions. Each included a set of declarations and affirmations, proposed as representing the “mind of the bishops.”
The last-minute issuing of those draft “calls,” and particularly language in the “Call on Human Dignity,” has created fierce criticism and deep consternation among many Episcopalians in our church and elsewhere. The document resurrected a 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution opposing same-sex marriage, and proposed language that would reaffirm such opposition as “the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole.” Bishops and others were further dismayed to learn from members of the drafting group which prepared the “Call” that this language had not been included in their original draft. Furthermore, voting protocols were to provide options for bishops to agree, or to declare further discernment needed, but offered no option to disagree. As of this writing, a revised version has been issued removing affirmation of the 1998 statement, acknowledging that there is no consensus across the Anglican Communion on the legitimacy of blessings and marriage rites for same-sex couples, and adding a “no” button to the voting instruments.
Lead-up to the conference consistently emphasized it as an opportunity to come together to share viewpoints across difference and to emphasize missional opportunity rather than to renew past efforts to mandate uniformity. As recently as June, Archbishop Welby said that “the aim of this conference … is to encourage Anglicans around the world to be looking outwards to the world, … especially those in areas of climate fragility, and political and other fragility.” The contrast between those aspirations and the tone, process, and content of some of the “Calls” is profoundly dispiriting. One observer has said to me that we were assured of a place at the table, only to find the chairs being pulled out from under us. I am personally grieved that the inequitable invitations which I found a stumbling block to participation now seem emblematic of deeper strategic aims on the part of some conference organizers.
Commitment of The Episcopal Church to full inclusion and wholeness:
In the face of this distress, I want to offer a word of reassurance and commitment to members of our diocese, and especially to LGBTQ persons and their families. Whatever the outcome of the Lambeth Conference, The Episcopal Church will not go back on its progress and commitment to the full inclusion of all persons, including LGBTQ Christians, in every aspect of the life of our church, as well as to advocate for the protection of their legal rights in our wider society.
This reassurance comes from my conviction that among my colleague bishops who are at Lambeth are those who will speak and stand clearly to articulate and manifest who we are and what we stand for. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said this week that “We are all The Episcopal Church, and we will not compromise who we are, our connections, or our love.” This reassurance comes also from the strong affirmation of such commitments included in last month’s General Convention, the governing body of The Episcopal Church.
This reassurance comes, finally, from a proper understanding of the role of the Lambeth Conference and the polity of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is a fellowship of churches throughout the world with common roots, and a history of common approaches to worship and ecclesiology. But there is no central authority in the Anglican Communion. Every one of the 41 member churches is autonomous and self-governing. Gatherings of Anglican leaders–whether the Lambeth Conference, Primates’ Meetings, or the representative Anglican Consultative Council–are for counsel, relationship, and the advancement of common mission, not governance. As a British ecclesiastical lawyer said in his recent post: “The Lambeth Conference has no legislative competence. Its resolutions are expressive of the opinions of those present and voting, but have no binding force in any component Church ….”
Our best hopes and prayers:
Early reports from many bishops suggest that alongside some of these early tensions at Lambeth, there has also been a deep sense of common life and purpose, and a spirit of commitment to the renewed work of the Gospel. I am holding Lambeth in my prayers: Bishop Harris and Bishop Gallagher; other bishops of New England in attendance, and our colleague Jeff Mello, the bishop-elect of Connecticut; all bishops with whom we have partner relationships; Justin, the Archbishop of Canterbury; and all with whom I do and do not hold common convictions. I invite you likewise to pray. May we be One in Christ in deep and meaningful ways.
Faithfully and fondly,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [The Book of Common Prayer, p. 280]
Visit the Lambeth Conference website here.
Find Episcopal News Service coverage here.
Find Anglican Communion News Service coverage here.
Province I reflections, hosted by the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, are here.
Bishop Gallagher is blogging at mamabishop.blogspot.com. She notes: "I named it after an incident here [at Lambeth] in 1998. Bishops from Africa and other places called out to Barbara Harris: 'Mama Bishop, go home and take care of your babies.' So in her honor I have written since about 2006."