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Listening: Archbishop of Canterbury sets out thinking on Lambeth Conference 2008

3/10/2006

ACNS
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams   (ACNS)

 
[ENS, Source: Anglican Communion News Service]  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has written a pastoral letter to the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches, setting out some thinking on the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and asking them to use Lent as a period of reflection about their own journeys and the challenges facing the worldwide Anglican Communion.

"The season of Lent is about penitence, and penitence always requires us to see ourselves more clearly in the light of God's holiness and justice," Williams wrote. "Each of us must begin again at the foot of the Cross.... Lent is our best opportunity to let God move more deeply and permanently into the areas of our lives that still resist his grace."

Looking ahead to 2008, Williams outlines his expectations of the priorities to be addressed by the Bishops of the Communion at the Lambeth Conference, including a stress on theological formation.

"The main focus ... will, I hope, be on 'equipping the people of God', a theme that has emerged very strongly from the work of the Lambeth Conference Design Group.... Lambeth 2008 will offer a unique opportunity for us to think together as bishops about what we need to equip us for building up the Body of Christ for really effective, truthful and prayerful mission."

He says that, despite the controversy on human sexuality, the Communion could not discuss the situation on any assumption that the teaching of the church had changed since 1998.

"I do not hear much enthusiasm for revisiting in 2008 the last Lambeth Conference's resolution on this matter. In my judgement, we cannot properly or usefully reopen the discussion as if Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 did not continue to represent the general mind of the Communion."

But he draws attention to the provisions made for the Communion to discuss and debate the matter, reminding bishops of the undertaking to collect and collate the work done in the various provinces on the issue and of the need to reflect on implications of the current controversy for the common life of the church.

"The controversies of recent years have spotlighted the difficulties we have as a Communion of making decisions in a corporate way...we shall need time to think about the [Windsor] Report's theological principles and its practical suggestions."

He encourages bishops to play a full part in the preparation process.

"It is a conference that that should reflect the discernment of the wider Communion, and it is essential that your agenda should be addressed in a way that is fruitful for everyone. The proposed focus on theological formation and development is a way of trying to encourage you to explore what are your own most important needs as individual bishops and as churches not to impose a plan from outside."



The full text of the letter follows:

My dear Brothers in Christ

Every year as we approach Easter, we are instructed to spend some time in self-examination. The season of Lent is about penitence, and penitence always requires us to see ourselves more clearly in the light of God's holiness and justice. Each of us must begin again at the foot of the Cross, recognising that the death of Our Lord is first and foremost my business, the result of my betrayals and sins. Only as I face this can I begin to open myself up to the news of Easter - my debt is paid, my prison doors are opened. What I could not do, God in Christ has done. When I know myself , I know my weakness; but, as St Paul says, when I know my weakness, I become strong in God's strength, I receive in my broken self the deathless life of the Risen Lord.

All of us in the Communion will be making this same journey in the weeks ahead - the journey to the places of our weakness, so that we may encounter the strength and life of God. For a relatively short spell, we are asked to look within to find the roots of the world's disaster, not to search for them outside, in the other and the unbeliever. Our hearts are still on the way to full conversion, and so the work of the Cross, finished in itself once and for all, is still working itself through the life of every Christian. Lent is our best opportunity to let God move more deeply and permanently into the areas of our lives that still resist his grace.

And during this period I hope that we shall be continuing to think and pray about the challenges that face us as a worldwide church. The discussions and consultations around the Lambeth Conference planned for 2008 are developing rapidly. I hope that they will give us a chance to know ourselves better, so that we can more fully encounter the grace and gift of Christ crucified.

This letter is an opportunity to say a little about what my own expectations are of the Lambeth Conference, and to reinforce the invitation to Provinces and regions to identify the priorities they wish to see addressed. There are many practical questions still to be settled, and the coming months will bring some of them into clear focus. But here are some of the thoughts in my mind at the moment about the general character of the event.

Despite the levels of bitter controversy over sexuality in the Communion, I do not hear much enthusiasm for revisiting in 2008 the last Lambeth Conference's resolution on this matter. In my judgement, we cannot properly or usefully re-open the discussion as if Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 did not continue to represent the general mind of the Communion. But there are nonetheless two things that I believe will be relevant and helpful to bear in mind. First, in response to Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998, and with the encouragement of ACC 2005, a process has begun of collecting and co-ordinating work done in the Provinces about the issue, reflecting the experience and discernment of Anglicans around the world. It will be important to allow time for this to be presented and reflected upon in 2008. Second, the controversies of recent years have spotlighted the difficulties we have as a Communion of making decisions in a corporate way. The Windsor Report raised this as a major question, and we shall need time to think about the Report's theological principles and its practical suggestions, particularly the idea of a 'Covenant' for our Provinces, expressing our responsibility to and for each other.

However, the main focus of Lambeth 2008 will, I hope, be upon 'equipping the people of God', a theme that has emerged strongly from the work of the Lambeth Conference Design Group. This is very much in step with the work of the Primates' working party on theological education. TEAC - Theological Education in the Anglican Communion - has been working hard on identifying training needs at every level and also at shaping a definition of 'the Anglican Way', the distinctive characteristics of Anglican theology and ministry. Lambeth 2008 will offer a unique opportunity for us to think together as bishops about what we need to equip us for building up the Body of Christ, for really effective, truthful and prayerful mission. How are we 'formed' in that particular kind of discipleship that is episcopal ministry? I am encouraging TEAC to work closely with the planning groups for Lambeth to see how not only the agenda but also the style of our meeting might maximise the opportunities for training and development. And this means that we are less likely to be doing our work in the traditional four large 'interest groups' that have provided the structure for previous conferences. We shall be looking at a bigger number of more focused groups, some of which may bring bishops and spouses together.

There will still of course be plenary sessions and resolutions. But it will be of great importance, I believe, to think, when we pass resolutions, of the processes by which they can be made effective, and for the organisers of the Conference to be ready to propose ways of implementing them, so that the next Lambeth Conference may have a way of assessing whether they have made a difference.

The daily Bible studies will again be fundamental for our time together. I have already begun the commissioning of this work; and its emphasis will be strongly based on the experience of biblical reflection in the developing world.

Let me encourage you all to share as fully as you can in the preparatory work that has started. Sue Parks (who can be contacted at the Anglican Communion Office, St Andrew's House, 16 Tavistock Crescent, Westbourne Park, London W11 1AP, UK) is, as you know, steering the process, and is always glad to hear from you; she is also attempting to visit as many local churches as she can in the time available. Later this year and early next year, the St Augustine's Seminar, in a new format, will be digesting what emerges from the process and working towards a full programme. But it is a conference that should reflect the discernment of the wider Communion, and it is essential that your agenda should be addressed, in a way that is fruitful for everyone. The proposed focus on theological formation and development is a way of trying to encourage you to explore what are your own most important needs, as individual bishops and as churches, not to impose a plan from outside.

But this brings us back to where we started. Self-examination and self-knowledge will be needed by all of us, and I trust that this Lent will be a time of deepening and of spiritual refreshment that will help us find out more of what we need and how we are to open ourselves to what God seeks to give. Lent began for me with the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, learning about the healing and renewal that, by God's grace, we are longing to see triumph in that battle-weary context. We must pray together that Lambeth 2008 will be a time for God to give his gifts abundantly to every bishop and every church represented, so that we are more and more eager to share the Easter Gospel in a world of suffering and sin.

With my warmest greetings and continuing prayers

Rowan CANTUAR