Monday, 21 January 2008

Lambeth 2008: lift-off or fizzle?

Was Rowan Williams’s speech launching the 2008 Lambeth Conference written by him or by someone else? That is the question I am asking having just read it online.

When the Archbishop’s Advent Letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion was published back in December, I wrote an assessment of it which was more favourable than comments made by some of my other colleagues in Anglican Mainstream — comments which were roundly rejected by Andrew Goddard writing in his capacity as a member of Fulcrum.

I now find myself, however, asking how the content of the Advent Letter is supposed to match with the launch of Lambeth 2008, for Dr Williams’s latest speech is peppered with the ‘all is well on the good ship CofE’ speak which sadly typifies most episcopal pronouncements in this country. What does one make of this, for example?

“In spite of the painful controversies which have clouded the life of the Communion for the last few years, there remains, as many people have repeatedly said, a very strong loyalty to each other and a desire to stay together. The fact that about 70% of bishops worldwide have already formally registered for the Conference, with a number of others who have signalled that they will attend, shows something of this desire.”

The fact is that perhaps one bishop in five has therefore not even indicated they are coming. The fact also is that these ‘painful controversies’ have not ‘clouded the life of the Communion’ like some inconvenience obscuring an otherwise-healthy picture. They have brought the Communion as we knew it in 1998 to an end. Only the most drastic surgery will save it from complete collapse some time before 2018, when the next Lambeth Conference would be scheduled.

What has happened, I ask, to the indications of seriousness in the Advent Letter? In Dr Williams’s mind, they may still be there. Indeed, since the actual programme of the Conference has not yet been published, we do not know precisely what is planned.

But the tone of bonhomie bodes ill. Even if Dr Williams wants to use the Conference, as he should, to address the crisis, it makes one wonder if the minders and managers of the ‘instruments of Communion’ are controlling the agenda so that nothing effective will be done.

Equipping Bishops for Mission — the title of the Conference — is hardly the need of the moment. With bishops inhibiting or consecrating other bishops faster than some of us can follow, we don’t even know who the Communion’s bishops are, let alone what their mission is, apart from messing it up for one another.

If the launch of Lambeth 2008 is anything to go by, then GAFCON is, if not a rival, certainly a necessary counterbalance.

Revd John P Richardson
21 January 2008

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