Reflections from Peter Toon, January 8, 2008, to try to understand what is going on and to answer questions!
The Lambeth Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion of Churches assembles every ten years—and has done so since 1867. It is by invitation only, and the person who has always sent out the invitations and then presides, is the Archbishop of Canterbury. Thus the invitations for the Conference of July 2008 at Canterbury have been sent out by the present Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams.
But there is a major possibility—indeed probability— that those attending in July 08 will be much less than the number of those invited.
The answer may be stated in a sentence. The very assembling of the Conference at the appointed time (ten years after the last) comes within (and maybe towards the end of) what is usually called “The Windsor Process:” therefore, the Lambeth Conference of 2008 is inevitably and inextricably bound up with this “Process” and this is problematic for many bishops.
Now let us fill out some of the background and context of this sentence.
First, The Windsor Report. After The Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., in open defiance of the members of the Global Anglican Communion, went ahead with the consecrating of Gene Robinson, a divorced man living with a same-sex partner, there was a major outcry in the Anglican Family. A commission was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the request of the Primates’ Meeting, to look into this event and its meaning. Its Report was called “The Windsor Report,” and the reception of it in the Anglican Communion, and especially in the U.S.A. (in the General Convention, dioceses and the House of Bishops), soon was termed “The Windsor Process.” In brief, the Report called for The Episcopal Church to cease both the blessing of same-sex couples and the ordaining of persons in same-sex relations. After much water has flowed under the bridge, there is in January 2008 no shared view or judgment in the Global Communion that The Episcopal Church has actually done what the Windsor Report called for and has ceased its innovations. And amongst those who are not sure one way or the other is the Archbishop of Canterbury.
And meanwhile “The Windsor Process” as such is still ongoing for one of its major suggestions, the creating of an Anglican Covenant, is on the agenda for Lambeth 2008.
Secondly, The Non-Attenders. If a bishop, or a college of bishops of a province, believes that “The Windsor Process” has already resulted in failure, because The Episcopal Church is seen to have no genuine intention of doing a real U-turn as requested by the Global Communion, then he or it may, as a matter of practical reality, judge that going to the Lambeth Conference in July 08 is a waste of time. Indeed, not merely a waste of time, but a crime against the Gospel and Orthodoxy for joining with those who will not repent of their sinful innovations.
Why this strong judgment? Because Lambeth 2008 is seen not as standing alone as an event but closely tied to the “The Windsor Process;” and thus it will be business as usual, business that has not led over several years into anything positive, but, rather, into more confusion. So there arises the positive alternative for Anglicans to meet together for a Conference in Israel (Jerusalem) to study the mission of the Church in the world, as a means of re-focusing Anglicans on essential things commanded by the Lord Jesus. ( And this is precisely what a part of the membership of The Global South has decided to do, having called a Conference for June 08, a month before the Lambeth Conference.)
Thirdly, The Attenders. There will not be a common mind amongst those bishops who do attend Lambeth 08. At one end will be the group of Americans, who took part in or attended the consecration of Gene Robinson, and at the other will be those of The Global South, who believe that The Episcopal Church has failed to meet the requirements of “The Windsor Report” and ought to be disciplined in some way or another. In between them will be a wide spectrum of opinion reflecting the generally confused state of the Anglican Family in 2008.
Fourthly, Reflections. If the bishops of such large and important Provinces as Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda do not attend—and right now it seems as if they will not do so— and go to Israel instead, then there is no hope at all that the Lambeth Conference will take strong, traditional, orthodox positions on anything of substance. Further, if they do not attend, and put all their energy into making the Israel Conference into a success, then one may draw the conclusion that the Global Anglican Communion does not exist any longer in its 2007 form, for it has lost a third or so of its membership. Also, if they do not attend, then one may draw the conclusion that the See of Canterbury is no longer the symbolic center for them, and that, henceforth, they will create their own form of a worldwide Communion and Fellowship, into which only “the orthodox” will be admitted.
In fact, if they do not attend, it would seem that the Global Anglican Communion as we have known it is finished and its resulting parts will form alliances over the next few years.
For devoted Anglicans in the West these are difficult times to live through.
Appendix—the impact on the U.S.A.
The Anglican Communion Network of the U.S.A., the Global South of Africa and the See of Canterbury
Has the ACN changed its affiliation without the members knowing?
According to the official website of the Anglican Communion Network, the following dioceses and convocations make up its membership:
Dioceses: Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, Rio Grande, San Joaquin, South Carolina, Springfield
Convocations: Forward in Faith, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-Continental, New England, Southeastern, Western
One of the aims of ACN has been to work for the renewal of the Episcopal Religion (or of basic Anglicanism in the USA), whilst staying within the Anglican Communion, which means in real terms being in communion with the See of Canterbury. And the ACN has from time to time made known this desire to listen to, and be in meaningful relation to, the Archbishop.
Now we turn to Africa.
Well known Global South leaders met before Christmas 2007 in Nairobi and decided to arrange a Conference in Israel a month before the Lambeth Conference. They said it was not intended as a rival conference to Lambeth; but many have taken it to be such, and some Provinces have announced that funds earmarked for Lambeth 08 will now go to Jerusalem 08.
In deciding on this Conference in Jerusalem this group of leaders (Primates mostly) apparently did not first (a) consult the rest of the Global South leaders [mostly in Asia] as to the plan; or (b) seek the agreement and cooperation of the Bishop of Jerusalem or the Presiding Bishop of the Middle East Province where the Anglican Conference was to occur; or (c) ask for the input of the See of Canterbury or his advisors.
In effect, the leaders in Nairobi decided to plan and announce this conference solely on their own authority and initiative—as if the rest of the Anglican Communion did not exist or did not matter. And one reason for this way of operating was that this group of Provinces has a major part of the total membership of the Anglican Churches of the world.
And here is where we get to the Anglican Communion Network.
Present at this Nairobi meeting were several American bishops with ties to African Provinces, but only one of them, Bob Duncan, is a bishop in TEC and also the Moderator of the ACN. Apparently he was part of the decision making but it is perhaps possible he was there merely as an observer without voice.
Whatever precisely was his standing, he was in some minor way at least a part of the decision-making in East Africa.
And therefore, it would seem, he effectively decided—perhaps unwittingly-- to put into serious question the policy of the ACN to be specifically and clearly in communion with the See of Canterbury. That is, he placed ACN with Nigeria and the several other Provinces that planned the Israel Conference. For, let us make no mistake in evaluation, the decision (a) to pay no attention either to the Presiding Bishop of the Middle East or to the Jerusalem Bishop; and (b) to have the Conference so near to the Lambeth Conference, is a clear statement of the loosening of ties with the historic See of Canterbury—maybe preparing for total severance.
If it is NOT the case that the Anglican Communion Network is now only committed in practical terms to those Provinces of the Global South which support the Conference for June 08, it would seem that the best way forward for the ACN, if the ACN is still committed to the See of Canterbury, is for ALL the ACN bishops, all without exception, to be at the Lambeth Conference.