[Episcopal News Service – Canterbury, England] The planners of this Lambeth conference sought to emphasize points of internal unity across the 42 world provinces of the Anglican Communion through their shared Christian faith, despite deep divisions over human sexuality. On August 4, the more than 650 bishops gathered here at the University of Kent widened their scope to seek unity among all Christian denominations, as well as efforts to bridge the gaps between Christians and people of other faiths.
The day’s two plenary sessions brought together panelists sharing their experiences with ecumenical and interreligious relations, and the bishops’ closed session later in the day resumed. two matching Lambeth callswhich are the documents this conference uses to initiate discussion while recommending actions for bishops as they return to their provinces and dioceses.
“Church disunity is a continuing and damaging wound in the body of Christ,” says the Lambeth Call on Christian Unity, referring to a century of ecumenical work history since a “Call to All Christians” was published by the 1920 Lambeth. Conference. The Call to Christian Unity, however, says progress has slowed in recent years, limiting the ability of Christian churches to share ministries and sacraments more closely, including communion. At stake is also shared Christian witness for reconciliation “at a time when, in many parts of the world, government regulation, persecution and even terrorism make Christians vulnerable in their lives and their witness.”
“Despite our divisions, we recognize in other Christian churches the fruitfulness of the work of the Holy Spirit, the commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel and the loyalty to the institution of the sacraments of Jesus which we cherish in our own lives”, the call to Christian unity says.
The presence of around 40 representatives from other churches, Christian organizations and ecumenical partners could be seen as a sign of hope. These people have joined or plan to join the meeting of Anglican bishops at the University of Kent until August 8, and several guests have been welcomed as panelists for the first plenary of this ninth day of the conference.
Roman Catholic Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, was unable to attend the Lambeth conference in person, but submitted a written statement which was read on his behalf by the Reverend Anthony Currer. He was referring to the theme of the Lambeth conference, “God’s Church for God’s World”, which was chosen by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is organizing the conference.
“This motto can only be true to its meaning if the church can undertake its global mission in a reconciled form,” Koch said in his statement, which examined some of the challenges to improving ecumenical relations. “We need a common vision, because we will drift further apart if we don’t aim for a common goal.”
David Wells, Vice President of Worldwide Pentecostal Fellowshipalso spoke of the challenges and benefits of ecumenism.
“Spiritual ecumenism has helped us come more and more to the table,” Wells said of his church. He acknowledged that when denominations focus only on their own Christian practices, “one can end up with a fixed set of identity, and that can lead to a myopic view of the family of God and from that sometimes arises arrogance. and judgment”. Christian churches can cling to their core beliefs, he said, but also “understand that there is so much more to learn from our other brothers and sisters.”
Two other panelists highlighted ways in which members of the Christian global church can respond together to the issues of the day. Greek Orthodox Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Britain cited the example of human trafficking and modern forms of slavery. “The sins of the past are alive and thriving in a modern world that dares to speak of human rights, justice and truth,” the Archbishop said. “So it is time for us as Christians to join hands and do what is required of God to speak out against injustice and all evil.”
And representing the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, the Rt. Rev. Marinez Bassotto, Bishop of the Amazon, described some of his diocese’s recent work with ecumenical partners to support the rights of indigenous peoples. They have been oppressed by a government that allows continued abuse by greedy corporations of their land and resources, she said.
“The church is a witness that only through unconditional respect is it possible to live according to Christ,” Bassotto said through an interpreter.
Reference to splinter Anglican groups that formed their own provinces due to theological and doctrinal disagreements, particularly their opposition to full LGBTQ+ inclusion in church life, was absent from these official discussions. The Anglican Church of North America, or ACNA, and the Anglican Church of Brazil are not recognized as member provinces of the Anglican Communion, although they still maintain relationships with some of the more conservative provinces and bishops of the communion.
Welby had invited the ACNA to attend this Lambeth conference, but as an observer. ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach responded by refusing to participate, “so long as the Archbishop of Canterbury invites Bishops to Lambeth who live in immorality and continue to tear at the fabric of the Communion.”
The relationship between the ACNA and the Anglican Communion is complicated, Ven. Will Adam told Episcopal News Service when asked about ACNA’s “watcher” label. Adam is the former Deputy General Secretary of the Anglican Communion and is now Archdeacon of Canterbury.
Other Christian churches have been invited to attend as observers or ecumenical participants, but there is no such easy or established category for churches made up largely of splinter groups of former members of the Anglican Communion. . “You can’t put the Anglican Church of North America in the same box as the Greek Orthodox Church,” Adam said.
“What I would be really interested in seeing in the future is if the next generation, especially the Anglican Church in North America – if the next generation still ends up fighting the same battles as the previous ones,” said said Adam. The generation of ACNA leaders “who left nothing” can fuel hopes for a thaw in relations.
Bishop John Bauerschmidt of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, in an interview with ENS, said he was not aware of any ongoing Episcopal or Anglican dialogue with the ACNA, but like Adam, he expressed a hope for the future. Bauerschmidt is a member of a group of Canadian Conservative Episcopal and Anglican bishops known as the Fellowship Partners.
“Sometimes it’s those closest to us where there’s the most friction,” he said, noting that many ACNA clergy are former Episcopal clergy. “There is a new generation in every church that does not share this history and also does not share the history of conflict, so there will be a new day in the relationship between our churches because there is a generational change. That would be my hope and my prayer.
Bauerschmidt, who also served last month on the 80e The General Convention Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations is pleased that this Lambeth conference has given such high visibility to Christian unity. “People sometimes speak of an ‘ecumenical winter’,” he said. “I think the ecumenical winter is starting to melt.”
He cited examples of so-called “responsive ecumenism” through organizations and initiatives such as the World Council of Churches and the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. “It’s kind of a willingness to see the gifts that each brings that helps build both churches,” he said.
As for interreligious relations, “it would be a mistake for Christians to focus only on their own dialogue within the Christian family,” Bauerschmidt said. “We need to be aware of what is happening in other religious traditions.”
The afternoon plenary session on interreligious relations was entitled “Hospitality and Generosity”. The keynote speaker, Bishop of Chelmsford Guli Francis-Dehqani of the Church of England, shared her childhood experience as a Christian refugee. Her family fled Iran when she was 14 in response to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Her father was the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Iran and her brother was killed there, presumably because of his connection to the church.
And yet, Francis-Dehqani said, she felt called by her Christian faith to unravel the paradox of Christian engagement with other religions “when elements within those religions wish us harm.” She came to believe that “the evils that have befallen the church are not a reflection of the entire Islamic faith”, she said, much like the violence of the medieval crusades and the Christian nationalist movements of today. today are not a reflection of the whole Christian faith.
Lambeth’s call on interfaith relations alludes to the sometimes dramatic difference in the contexts in which Anglicans around the world interact with people of other faiths.
“For some in the Anglican Communion there is freedom to call people to baptism and discipleship, and our neighbors from other faith traditions can also become partners in working for the common good, in s ‘attacking areas of common concern such as the pandemic or climate change,” the appeal states. “In some contexts, however, Anglicans face hostility and even persecution.”
Lambeth Interfaith session: reflections from Egypt, Kenya, India, Canada and England on the joys and challenges of relating to world religions. Affirm the rejection of prejudice, love your neighbour, bear witness to Christ and keep the faith by listening courageously. pic.twitter.com/eblee1sScP
— Richard Sewell (@sgcjerusalem) August 4, 2022
At the morning press conference ahead of the plenaries, Francis-Dehqani said she finds hope rather than trouble in the variety of world religions.
“As humans, we’re wired to be more naturally attracted to people who look like us,” she said. “[When] in fact, we are much more enriched when we engage with people who are different from us, and we begin to feel like we are seeing the world through their eyes and understanding their experiences. It’s harder, but I think it’s more rewarding – and a lot more connects us as human beings.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected].