(via email August 28, 2008)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The summer of 2008 witnessed two major conferences within the Anglican Communion, both of which ultimately may very well have a lasting impact on the future of Anglicanism throughout the world, to include the Diocese of Albany. I was blessed to have been among the few to attend both. The first of which was the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON), held June 22 – 29th in Jerusalem, followed two weeks later by the Lambeth Conference from July 16 to August 3rd in Canterbury, England. In many ways the two conferences were similar, but also quite different. I will try as best I can in the limited space provided, to touch upon some of the similarities and differences between GAFCON and Lambeth as well as their potential implications for Albany and the wider Anglican Communion.
Turning first to GAFCON, once the decision was made to go forward, organizers had roughly five to six months to put the conference together, compared to ten years for Lambeth. Despite the short notice, overall, GAFCON was well planned and organized. Approximately 1148 lay and clergy participants, including 291 bishops and their spouses, representing roughly one half of the world’s 77 million Anglicans participated in the conference. The number attending was restricted due to limited space.
The Lambeth Conference, designed specifically for bishops and their spouses, had approximately 670 bishops and 500 spouses in attendance, as well as several ecumenical guests. The total number of bishops and spouses attending was down from previous years, due to the decision of approximately 220 bishops, primarily from the Global South, not to accept their invitation to attend. Their absence was greatly felt and is a reflection of the brokenness and division that currently exists within the Anglican Communion. Commenting in The London Times on why he and many of the Global South bishops chose not to attend Lambeth, The Most Reverend Henry Orombi, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, stated, “For more than ten years we have been speaking and not been heard. So maybe our absence will speak louder than our words.”
The theological makeup of those attending both conferences played a major role in setting the tone and ultimately determining what would be the outcome. The organizers of GAFCON restricted invitations, inviting only theologically conservative orthodox Anglicans. GAFCON was not intended to be a time to debate the issues that are dividing the Church, but rather to be a time to come together as a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans…a fellowship of people united in the communion (koinonia) of the one Spirit and committed to work and pray together in the common mission of Christ”… believing that “Anglicanism has a bright future in obedience to our Lord’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations and to build up the Church on the foundation of biblical truth” (GAFCON Statement on the Global Anglican Future). The decision to hold GAFCON in Jerusalem with organized pilgrimages to various holy sites throughout Israel helped reinforce the biblical heritage upon which the Anglican faith is founded and was one of the spiritual highlights of the conference.
At the conclusion of eight days of prayer, worship, Bible study, workshops, plenary sessions, pilgrimages to holy sights, and Christian fellowship, GAFCON concluded with the issuance of a four page “Statement On The Global Anglican Future,” to include a fourteen point document known as The Jerusalem Declaration, which among other things highlights the group’s understanding of Anglican identity. The GAFCON Statement in its entirety can be found on the Albany diocesan website. While clearly stating their love and support for the Anglican Communion and intent to remain in it, there is also a clear call for repentance and distancing or separation from those parts of the Communion that have drifted from the orthodox faith to a more revisionist faith particularly in regard to theological understandings of the authority of Holy Scripture; Jesus’ unique identity and role as the only begotten Son of God, Lord and Savior of the world; and human sexuality.
While I am very supportive of the vast majority of the GAFCON Statement to include The Jerusalem Declaration and its strong stance upholding the orthodox faith, there are a couple of things which give me some concern, and require a bit more clarity in what is intended, particularly in regard to the future role of the Archbishop of Canterbury; the role of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; the role of the Primates Council; and the status of revisionist bishops in the wider Communion. Whether one agrees with the GAFCON Statement or not, GAFCON is a reality which I believe will have a major impact on redirecting the life of the Anglican Communion. The exact course it will take is still yet to be seen. As proclaimed in their statement, “GAFCON is not just a moment in time, but a movement in the Spirit…”
Turning now to Lambeth, unlike GAFCON which has just recently come into being, The Lambeth Conference has been meeting at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury every ten years for the past 140 years. While historically regarded as one of the instruments of unity within the Anglican Communion, there was clearly not a meeting of the minds amongst the 670 bishops gathered at Lambeth, when it came to the issues which have caused such great hurt and division within the Church. Based on all the debates and conversations that occurred throughout Lambeth, it would appear that a majority of those bishops in attendance are conservative and orthodox in their theological understandings, however there was a strong vocal minority, consisting primarily of western bishops, that is quite liberal or revisionist in their theology, particularly regarding issues of human sexuality.
Recognizing the division and brokenness which currently exists, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated in his August 2008 Pastoral Letter reflecting on Lambeth, “The Conference was not a time for making new laws or for binding decisions…The Conference Design Group believed strongly that the chief need of our Communion at the moment was the rebuilding of relationships – the rebuilding of trust in one another – and of confidence in our Anglican identity. And it was with this in mind that they planned for a very different sort of Conference, determined to allow every bishop’s voice to be heard…”
Unfortunately while ample opportunity was in fact given for bishops to speak during the daily Bible studies, Indaba Groups, self-select sessions, and plenary sessions, the western design of much of the Conference made speaking uncomfortable for many non-westerners and -- as earlier attested to by Archbishop Orombi, the fact that one speaks does not necessarily mean they have been heard. The Anglican Communion has been encouraged for over ten years now to participate in a “listening process” as a means of working through the issues that divide us. While I am a firm believer in the importance of listening, even to those that we disagree with, unfortunately when dealing as we currently are with what I have come to believe are theologically irreconcilable differences in the views passionately held by each side of the debate on issues of the authority of Holy Scripture and human sexuality, I seriously question the chance of reconciliation by those on either end of the theological spectrum, barring a Damascus Road experience by one side or the other. No doubt, each side believes it is the other side that Jesus needs to zap.
This belief was confirmed at Lambeth while listening to some of the debates regarding homosexuality. During one of the sessions, an African bishop made an impassioned call upon the West to restrain from blessing same-sex unions and ordaining individuals engaged in homosexual lifestyles, stating that the Moslem extremists in his country are looking for any reason to attack and kill Anglican Christians. He said the revisionist actions of the West are giving them all the reason they need, resulting in the death and imprisonment of many of his people. Equally passionate, but from the opposite perspective, two Episcopal bishops spoke about justice for their gay and lesbian clergy and people, proclaiming their strong unceasing support for gay rights and that they would not stop the blessing of same sex unions in their diocese.
Unfortunately in many cases, the very ones calling for others to listen are unwilling to listen themselves. For some, the listening process will not be complete or successful until the other side is worn down and finally agrees with their position. Given the current debate on issues of human sexuality, when virtually every argument both for and against homosexual behavior, sex outside of marriage, and abortion have already been made numerous times over, the question ultimately must be asked – When is enough, enough? The longer the debate goes on, the more divided we seem to become and the more distracted we are from proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A major distinction between GAFCON and Lambeth concerning this issue is that for GAFCON, the debate seems to be over, for Lambeth, no end is in sight.
The extent to which the hearts and minds of those bishops sitting on the fence concerning these issues may have been changed or influenced by the personal testimonies during the Indaba Groups or plenary sessions will most likely not be known until something happens within the Communion forcing bishops to respond. General Convention 2009 may very well provide that opportunity. As previously stated, Lambeth 2008 did not allow for any votes or passing of resolutions. That is probably a good thing, given the fact that one fourth of the Anglican bishops representing approximately one half of the Anglican Communion were not present.
In addition to issues of human sexuality, a number of other items were discussed at Lambeth, to include the proposed Anglican Covenant; the ongoing efforts of the Windsor Continuation Group; Ecumenical relations; the Millennium Development Goals; the effects of Global Warming and Climate Change; various ministries, challenges and developments in Anglican Provinces around the world; the devastation of the Aids epidemic; Domestic violence; and Communion Partners to name a few.
Next to the issues of human sexuality, the proposed Anglican Covenant proved to be the most controversial. It was heavily supported and promoted by Archbishop Williams. I too am very supportive of an Anglican Covenant – one that would provide clarity to our Anglican identity and beliefs, and one that would provide guidance on how Anglicans are to live in relationship with one another and work through any differences that might arise within the Communion, giving some sense of accountability to one another. As I discovered, not everyone shares that view. Some bishops, particularly in the west, showed great hesitancy to the idea of a Covenant. Others, while open to the idea, were opposed to anything that would be legalistic or juridical in tone, believing that it would be divisive and could be used against some in the Communion. I couldn’t disagree more. One of the reasons the Anglican Communion is in the mess that it currently finds itself, is because that while everyone apparently wants to be in “Communion” many have come to interpret the “diverse” nature of the Anglican Communion to mean you can believe what ever you want with no sense of accountability for the impact of one’s beliefs or actions on others in the Anglican Communion. I would argue that one of the things the Anglican Communion is most in need of at the moment is some means of providing clarity and accountability. A well drafted Anglican Covenant, in which all provinces and dioceses wishing to be part of the Anglican Communion must sign, could do just that. As the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested, there may be some who decide to opt out. For that reason, it is important that the Anglican Covenant be voted on not only at the Provincial level, but also at the Diocesan level. A diocese’s relationship with the larger Anglican Communion is through their bishop in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, not through the Province.
While supportive of Archbishop Williams’ desire to build relationships and trust within the Anglican Communion, as earlier stated, I have my doubts as to how successful Lambeth was in bringing about any major change in relationships between those on opposite extremes of the current debates. The major building of relationships which did occur at Lambeth was among bishops and spouses from around the world, similar in theological understandings. The building of these relationships and friendships was truly one of the great blessings of Lambeth. The Diocese of Albany’s sister diocesan relationship with Down and Dromore, first began as a result of Bishop Dan and Bishop Harold meeting at Lambeth 1998. Karen and I met several bishops and their spouses who we hope someday to be able to invite to Albany or visit them in their dioceses, paving the way for future diocesan mission trips and opportunities of joint ministries.
In addition to all the friends and relationships that were made and strengthened, one of the other major blessings of Lambeth was the visible realization that as Anglicans we are part of something much larger than ourselves. To be with 670 Anglican bishops and their spouses from around the world was very special, as was my time with 291 Anglican bishops in the Holy Land. The retreat and worship time at Canterbury Cathedral was powerful and moving. I felt a real sense of connection with countless Christian pilgrims from past generations whose feet and knees have hollowed and worn down the solid granite steps of Canterbury Cathedral. To witness and be part of such a long and proud history within the Church is something I will never forget. Tea with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace was also very enjoyable, not to mention being a once in a lifetime experience. On a somewhat humorous note, for as long as I can remember, anytime someone I knew was going to England, I would jokingly tell them to say hello to the Archbishop and the Queen for me. I was finally able to do it for myself – granted the Queen was twenty yards away when I said, “Good afternoon your Majesty!” I was blessed with greeting and visiting with the Archbishop of Canterbury on a couple of occasions and not from 20 yards away, but in person.
There is much more that could be said about Lambeth and GAFCON, unfortunately, neither time nor space permit it. If interested, the official 2008 Lambeth Conference Reflection Paper, entitled, “Lambeth Indaba” can be found on www.albanyepiscopaldiocese.org
. It is a 44 page document which essentially describes our time together at Lambeth, the issues discussed and some of the general thoughts expressed. While I have shared some of my thoughts, frustrations, and concerns, overall I am glad and feel very blessed and honored to have been able to attend both conferences. I am especially thankful to have been able to share Lambeth with Karen. I truly believe the Holy Spirit was at work in both Lambeth and GAFCON, guiding and leading the Church during this very difficult time in our history. The Anglican Communion is in transition. Exactly how it will evolve is still yet to be seen. The Good News is that despite the many frustrations, uncertainties and obstacles, ultimately God’s will, will be done. As the Archbishop of Burundi reminded us, “Before the Anglican Communion was, I AM.” While the Anglican Communion sorts itself out, our mission in the Diocese of Albany remains the same. It was given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, himself, in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. May the Lord bless, keep and empower us, as we answer His call in obedience, as part of His faithful remnant, serving as an instrument of His love and healing grace in this broken and hurting world.
Your Brother in Christ,