The Lambeth Conference, the international Anglican Communion's (AC) once-a-decade convention of international bishops guiding the 3rd largest Christian denomination, ended its 18 days of meetings, Bible studies, & prayer with a hope-filled message by Archbishop Rowan Williams (58) noting that it appears the meeting will promote creation of a loose agreement among the many international Anglican groups to remain united in worship & governance while respecting as much as possible the divergencies among the churches, ranging from the most traditional conservatives to the most changeable liberals.
The most traditional cling to the 450 year old original Anglican convenants, rejecting even ordination of women, as well as any approval of homosexuality, including the ordination of any active homosexuals, the consecration of any homosexuals as bishops, & church blessings or rites for same sex unions. The most liberal join the majority in affirming ordination of women, but go far beyond that step in actually pushing not only for the ordination of sexually practicing but monogamous homosexuals as priests, but also the consecration of the same as bishops, & formal same sex blessings or unions.
Archbishop Williams, the higest cleric in the AC, was joined by more than 650 bishops & archbishops for more than 2 weeks in an effort to prevent a formal breakup of the 80 million member denomination that is clustered in more than 44 regional & national churches in more than 160 countries worldwide. Only Roman Catholicism & Eastern Orthodoxy exceed membership worldwide. Anglicanism is not ruled by a heirarchy like the pope of Roman Catholicism, & is able to make changes in its administration, unlike the governance of Eastern Orthodoxy, which clings to the foundational confessions of the Christian church before it split formally into Roman Catholic & Eastern Orthodox in A.D. 1054. The Lambeth Conference is the opportunity for the leading bishops & archbishops to come to concensus on the major issues of faith & practice facing the Anglican churches worldwide.
The Anglican Communion is closer to a formal split now than at any time in its 450 year history because of 2 main changes in the last decade. First, worldwide Anglican membership has shifted its locus from the mostly developed, mostly white, mostly European & American churches of previous centuries to the mostly developming, mostly ethnic, mostly African, South American, & Asian churches, which are much more conservative than the others. Second, the Canadian (Anglican Church of Canada -- ACC) & American Anglican bodies in the last 10 years have begun ordaining sexually practicing but monogamous homosexuals, some churches have performed same sex union blessings as formal church ceremonies, & the American Anglicans, the Episcopal Church (ECUSA), in 2003 consecrated Gene Robinson, a homosexual Episcopal priest who divorced his wife to be with his long-time homosexual partner, to be the bishop of New Hampshire. Since that consecration, many congregations in the US & Canada have disassociated themselves from the ECUSA & the ACC, seeking international Anglican communion oversight from governing bodies in other countries.
The Lambeth Conference concluded Sunday, August 3, with worship (including a homily by Archbishop Williams), a press conference with Williams, & the release of a report on the conference. Williams & the report announced general agreement among the attendees to work toward a new pact among all parties to the disagreements that would avoid a formal split while respecting both the traditional & liberal commitments. Williams & the report both affirmed that there was widespread agreement for continuing a "moratoria" on ordination or consecration of sexually activie homosexuals & formal church same sex blessings while the covenant is negotiated over the next few years; & agreement that the churches disaffected from the ECUSA & ACC would stay under their respective national governances until the covenant is completed & adopted.
Archbishop Williams said he hoped leaders could agree on a draft version of the covenant within a year, but that re-drafting & approval would probably not be accomplished until 2013. That might give impetus for another Lambeth meeting in only 5 years instead of the traditional 10 years.
The 18 day conference was not held for the purpose of affirming, changing, or creating new regulations, but as an opportunity for the church's highest leaders to spend time to listen to each other, pray together, immerse themselves in study of scripture together, & discuss the divisions among them. This was accomplished by breaking the attendees into small group gatherings dubbed "indabas," after a Zulu term for tribal meetings on a village level that are called to settle disputes by discussion rather than force or autocratic power. No issues were set to a vote during the conference.
Bishop N. T. (Tom) Wright, one of the leading British Anglican bishops, Bishop of Durham, & a leader in the negotiations to prevent a formal split, has written a number of essays on the conference & the issues that are available on the N. T. Wright home page. Bishop Wright is a leading New Testament scholar & popular author whose conservative theology & pastoral commitment makes him one of the best known Anglicans in the wider evangelical Protestant world.
The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26