Reading Lambeth


Posted by Jordan Hylden on August 5, 2008, 4:12 PM

It’s over, but it’s far from done. The 2008 Lambeth Conference wrapped up this past Sunday, and all the purple-shirted Anglican bishops went back home to the everyday work of proclaiming the Gospel in dioceses from Singapore to South Dakota. Was it a success? Will Anglicans look back someday on Lambeth as a step on the road to healing their troubled church?

The short answer is, I don’t know. I think so, but I need time to think it over and talk to people who know better than I do. We’ll have a brief piece in the upcoming issue of First Things to try and make sense of what happened and what comes next, but until then I think the better part of wisdom is to keep quiet and let things percolate for a while. Even so, I don’t think it’s going too far to say that I’m cautiously encouraged, hopeful, and even excited to be an Anglican–to be present at the creation, as it were, of something new.

But with emphasis on the “cautiously.” My crystal ball has been wrong before. The Lambeth conference is over, but its effects have only just begun. Rowan Williams believes that the conference saw a genuine movement towards the idea of an Anglican Communion that could honestly begin to call itself a church–a covenantally-united body, truly united in faith and charity and grounded in Christ alone. We have to wait now to see if he’s right.

In the meantime, the inveterately Anglo-ecclesio-philic of our readers may want to look things over for themselves. To that end, herewith the second edition of my best-of-Lambeth reading guide:

1) Rowan Williams: You’ll want to read his final address first, followed by his Q&A session at the closing press conference. I’m excited primarily because of the vision he’s laid out here, and the resolve he seems to have to see through its implementation. Next, this article in the Telegraph features an exclusive interview with Williams. And his second Lambeth address can be found here. All in all: Many have criticized Williams in the past for lack of resolve and leadership, and perhaps not without reason. But I don’t think that can truthfully be said of him anymore. At least, not if he follows through on what he said and did at Lambeth.

2) Papers, papers, and more papers: This year’s Lambeth didn’t produce a list of resolutions as in year’s past, but instead gave birth to a 43-page “reflections” document, found here. Essentially, it attempts to be a snapshot of what the Lambeth bishops actually said in their discussion groups, and in that endeavor it succeeds. For now, I think I’ll defer to the judgment of Bishop Michael Smith (ND): “In my opinion, some parts are well written and thought out. Others, however, read more like minutes of a brainstorming session.” He’s right. On many issues, the document is precisely the opposite of resolution; instead, it often records a confusing array of non-reconcilable viewpoints and positions. But on other issues, it displays a significant degree of convergence. You’ll also want to read the preliminary findings of the Windsor Continuation Group, which were presented to the Lambeth bishops and much-discussed. Key items: Moratoria on Gene-Robinson-type episcopal consecrations, same-sex blessings, and CANA-AMiA-type border crossings. Their concepts were taken up and owned by Williams and the clear majority of the Lambeth bishops.

3) The Global South: First, take a look at the official response of many key Global South primates, including the archbishops of Tanzania and Sudan. It affirms the Covenant process and the way forward envisioned by Williams and the Windsor Continuation Group at Lambeth. This is crucial, to my mind–it shows that there’s a sense in the Global South that Windsor and the Covenant are the way forward, and ought to be pursued with vigor. You’ll also want to see the concurring statement, given at Lambeth, of Archbishop Daniel Deng on behalf of the Sudanese church. Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda, a leading GAFCON primate, published an op-ed in the Times (London) that was highly critical of the current form of the archbishopric of Canterbury as an instrument of communion (see also this follow-up piece by Orombi, and note Williams’ response in the aforementioned Telegraph article). Finally, GAFCON put out a brief statement of its own, basically amounting to: “We’ll think about it.” Their more considered response will come after a meeting later on this month. (Also noteworthy: GAFCON came under heavy criticism last month, including from yours truly, for publishing an ill-considered response to the St Andrew’s Draft Covenant on their website. To their credit, they have since removed the offending document and issued an apology.)

4) Blogging bishops and armchair theologians: We’ll start to get a better sense of what happened at Lambeth after the bishops, who were actually there, have time to process things and talk things over with their dioceses back home. For my money, the best reflection so far by a Lambeth bishop is Mark Lawrence of South Carolina, followed closely by Bishop Jonathan Gledhill of Litchfield, England. Also of great note in the armchair theolgians category: Peter Ould of England has an excellent–let me repeat, excellent–report and reflection on what happened and where we go from here. Dan Martins has a very thoughtful read of the conference as well. Finally, the most helpful pre-Lambeth reflection is very worth reading in light of the conference: Ephraim Radner’s open letter to the Lambeth bishops, published on the Fulcrum website.

5) Last but not least: my hero Stephen Colbert wins the award for best-overall reporting and analysis. Particularly for seeing what only the most incisive of commenters know–that secretly, Rowan Williams is the cousin of Professor Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts. You’ve gotta watch it.

Happy reading, ROFTERS–and be sure to watch for more in the next issue of First Things. Hopefully I’ll have made up my mind about all of this by then.

(Sources: Many hat tips to Kendall Harmon of TitusOneNine, as well as the bloggers of Covenant, StandFirm, and Fulcrum.)

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