The Lambeth Conference 2022
God’s Church for God’s World
Acts 15:6- 15 and verses 28 and 29 Matthew 28: 16 – 20
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to remember everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
But dissension arose. There was fierce disagreement over the issue of the conditions on which Gentiles could enter the Church. Even the leaders disagreed among themselves. Some were convinced conversion demanded circumcision and a pledge to follow the Jewish Law. Others felt this was too hard an imposition on Gentile converts. The matter was referred back to the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem and a Council was called. In our reading we heard the story of the Council of Jerusalem.
The Council brought together those fearful of betraying what they understood as the demands of the Gospel and those who had come to understand old demands in a new light because they recognised God at work in the lives of men and women who did not conform strictly to the demands of the Jewish Law. Both these groups were committed to the same Lord Jesus; both sought to be faithful. They gathered in Council, each believing the other wrong ! There was much dissension. There was much debate. But what struck me some years ago when I read the passage again was that the Council was a place of much listening,
First the Council listens to Peter’s testimony. Then the whole company keeps silence, pondering what Peter had said, listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Council listens to Paul and to Barnabas. Then James, presiding over the Council, begins: ‘Listen to me’. The Council is a place of speaking out but it is also a place of intense listening of trying to understand where the other is coming from; the sort of listening that requires a creative imagination to stand in someonelses shoes and experience things as they experience them . And, the sort of listening that listens in silence for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
The outcome of listening to one another’s views and experiences and listening in silence for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was: ‘it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’ Gathering in Council was the way the Church from the earliest years sought to overcome disagreement and maintain the unity of the fellowship of the Church, a fellowship far wider than the local congregation, a fellowship embracing all who believed in the good news of Jesus and were baptised.
Perhaps you can see why we read the story of the Council of Jerusalem today. These days, 2000 years later, so close to us in this Diocese, 600 or more, Anglican Bishops from more than 165 countries are gathered in Canterbury for the 15th Lambeth Conference. We were fortunate to have Bishop Daniels from South Africa with us last week on his way to Canterbury. Father Rodney, as area Dean, is there in the Cathedral with them this morning, the bishop’s spouses are there and ecumenical participants as special guests of the Archbishop of Canterbury. We are so blessed to have Bishop David with us today.
In 1988 Archbishop Robert Runcie told the bishops to prepare in their dioceses with their people for the Lambeth Conference, and to bring their dioceses with them. It became a slogan ‘bring your dioceses with you’. Archbishop Justin this time has urged the bishops to report back about the Conference to the people of their Dioceses. The Conference is the Conference of the whole Anglican Communion. It is our Conference
Lambeth Conferences since the first one in 1867 are just like that Council of Jerusalem – a place to listen to others, a place to discern together the mind of Christ on matters that threaten to divide the community of the Church whether of faith, the ordering of our life, or moral issues. In 1930 it was polygamy; in 1988 whether women might be consecrated as bishops. Today it is issues in the area of human sexuality that are divisive and have sadly led Bishops from Rwanda, Uganda and others to stay away from the Conference, a painful wound in our Anglican Communion
The theme of the Conference is ‘God’s Church for God’s world’. That little word ‘for’ is such an inspiration relating the Church to its mission in the world. It encourages the bishops not to be solely inward looking but to look outward to consider what mission and evangelism require today. And, for that, the bishops need to listen to each other’s experience, in different cultural contexts, different economic situations, places of extreme contrast between rich and poor, war-torn places, places of great injustice, places suffering the worst effects of climate change.
Previous Lambeth Conferences have passed Resolutions: more than 90 at the last Conference, what fatigue there was! This year there will be no Resolutions, but about 10 Calls, Calls urging Anglicans around world to go on thinking about pressing issues in the key areas: mission and evangelism; unity; relations with those of other faiths; issues of climate change; issues in the areas of technology and science; and issues of human identity, including sexuality. The Calls will point to biblical sources to aid reflection and guide what might be action to take in the areas of the Calls.
But the most important thing about the Conference, emphasised by Archbishop Justin, is listening, listening to each other’s experience and listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance in silent meditative prayer. A two- day retreat began the Conference, each day begins with the Eucharist, prayer and Bible study and each day ends in prayer. The Conference will be enfolded in prayer.
What’s this got to do with us? Everything. It’s so easy to think church means us in Hawkhurst and to look no wider. The Lambeth Conference is a window for us into our world-wide Anglican family our Anglican Communion. The bishops will help us to understand what it means to be God’s Church for God’s world, yes in Hawkhurst but throughout the world, the interconnected world, a world of huge inequalities, injustices, violence, and climate change.
In 1978 I was passing Westminster Abbey -and saw a ‘flock’ of Anglican bishops gathering outside. I crept in to the back of the Abbey. In filed bishops from around the world led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan. I was moved to tears this is the world-wide Communion to which I belong, symbolised by these bishops. There in the solemn procession was one bishop who seemed to be dancing his way in procession, smiling and waving to people in the congregation he recognised, drawing us in. Yes, it was dear Bishop Desmond Tutu.
This week let’s pray for the bishops gathered from around the world in Canterbury, let’s pray that the bishops may listen to one another and, if there are sharp disagreements, let’s pray that they may disagree well and agree to go on discerning together the mind of Christ for the Church.
May the bishops leave Canterbury as those who left the Council of Jerusalem saying – ‘it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us…. This is the Church God calls us to be – “God’s Church for God’s World.” ’