19 May 2024

The neglected power of dialogue

Archbishop Philip Freier reflects on the Lambeth Conference. Picture: File

By Archbishop Philip Freier 

18 June 2022

It has been a long time coming, 14 years in fact, but there is a strong sense of expectation as the bishops of the Anglican Communion and their spouses prepare to gather for the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England from 26 July to 8 August. Those who will be present have been invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Archbishop Justin Welby is the 105th bishop to hold that office in succession to Augustine of Canterbury.  He was enthroned on 21 March 2013. Over the past nine years he has worked hard to build the collegiality of the bishops of the Anglican Communion, personally visiting most provinces of the Communion within his first 18 months in office. I was pleased to welcome him to St Paul’s Cathedral on 13 August 2014 and to have him preach at the service of my inauguration as Primate. I’m glad to say that he will return to Australia in early October this year for a formal visit during which he will return to our cathedral.  

The Anglican Communion looks to “bonds of affection” as the basis of our shared life in Communion, and the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in nurturing this is significant. The Archbishop of Canterbury along with the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meetings constitute the four “Instruments of Communion” that nurture the life of the worldwide Communion. I have felt very privileged to have been able to contribute to the three corporate instruments and to have worked closely with Archbishop Justin over my term as Primate of Australia. In a world that readily descends into conflict and unreconcilable positions it makes a strong statement that Anglican leaders from all around the world intend to join together for prayer, shared study and worship simply out of the “bonds of affection” they have for each other by reason of a shared episcopal office and vocation. 

I know that what I have described can be readily derided as a “talkfest”, but I think that the truly dialogical and discursive relationality that I am outlining commends itself as a “disruptive practice” to a world weighed down by conflict, division and the failure of many formal systems. Amazing, isn’t it, that a permanent member of the security council of the United Nations can veto any matter that disturbs its interests? In the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine this formal system is muted by its own design by the victorious great powers after the Second World War. Later in the month of August, the World Council of Churches will meet in Germany for its 11th Assembly. This will be an important opportunity for dialogue on current world issues and is one that I hope the influential Russian Orthodox Church will join. The focus of the assembly in Europe will make the reality that it is once again a continent in military conflict even more pressing. 

Please pray for the bishops of our diocese as we prepare to attend the Lambeth Conference. There have been excellent preparatory events online for spouses and for bishops, so we approach this time together with good spiritual and relation preparation. 


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