26 April 2024

Lambeth a joy, but heat of disagreement expected

Crowds at Lambeth 2022. Picture: Jack Lindsay

By Paul Barker

29 July 2022

As Anglican bishops from around the world gather at Lambeth Conference, each of Melbourne’s Assistant Bishops will be providing reflections on the event. Here Bishop Paul Barker reflects on his experience a few days into the conference. 

A friend said that for me, Lambeth is all my friends in the same place. Not quite true, but I delighted catching up over dinner with Bishop Evariste of Burundi, whom I met a few years ago, whose poor, rural diocese is quite new and who labours without many resources and very little in theological education.  

He’s a wonderful person and a joy to be with. The joy continued with the next day’s dinner with a gentle and courageous friend of several years, Humphrey Peters, bishop of Peshawar in Pakistan where extremist attacks against Christians and churches continue. In between, there was lunch with some of my Myanmar episcopal friends where I have taught so many times and whose country is being terrorised by a ghastly military junta. There’s joy renewing friendships with Sabahan bishops, John and Melter, Danald from Sarawak, and meeting Bishop Jun from North Luzon, Philippines, with whom we are considering a formal link diocese. So far, Lambeth is like a great party, so many friends from my past ministry in Asia. 

Read more: Bishops given option to clearly express opposition within days of Lambeth start

I came to Lambeth not quite knowing what to expect, but determined to make the most of the occasion. And that means people, encouraging and being encouraged by godly, humble people, serving in tougher places than the Jumbunna Episcopate. It means people who have been friends already and people whom I am meeting for the first time. At the same time, it is tiring and daunting for introverts like me. There are people everywhere, queues of people at every meal. 

Lambeth is starting slowly and gently. Tuesday was arrivals, and that was all, apart from trying to make sense of campus maps, dining options and uncertainty over times and venues. Wednesday eased into a midday welcome session in a massive marquee, and an afternoon in the small groups that bishops were on zoom in last year. Meeting face to face was good, though it felt not much was happening. 

Read more: ‘Only good’ can come from relationship building at Lambeth: Bishop

Thursday – today as I write – the retreat began. It takes a long time to bus 650 bishops in to Canterbury cathedral. We stay at the University of Kent, roughly half an hour’s walk from the city centre. The retreat addresses are from 1 Peter, with three different presenters, two female, one from India, another from Kenya and the first is in the Church of England but delivered in French. The retreat continues Friday through to lunchtime, and personally has been worthwhile to reflect and pray. 

The gentle start to Lambeth has ominous clouds, not for rain, but for the inevitable crunch point on the Lambeth “Call” regarding human dignity. I fear that a poor process will not aid us, as the Call was published for participants only a few days ago, and the topic of sexuality generated an outcry and a rewritten call only written this week. This contested space and poor process are already focusing minds and conversations. I doubt and fear a helpful outcome. 

I arrived in England on its hottest day in history. The impending heat of disagreement next week may match that. 

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