By Brad Billings
1 August 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 Brad Billings reflects on his experience a few days into the conference.
The sound of the Lambeth conference thus far is the constant hum of voices lifting in conversation. It is heard on the buses to and from the cathedral, whilst forming the procession in the cathedral cloisters, waiting in line at the dining halls, walking the pathways, in the meeting rooms, and everywhere else across the venue. Many, I think the majority, are voices raised in greeting, as introductions are made and names and diocese of origin exchanged between brothers and sisters in Christ from vastly different parts of the world meeting for the first time, or the first time in many years. This is the sound of relationships being established and re-established, forged, and beginning to flourish, across vast differences, united by a shared faith in Christ. It is a joyous sound.
It is also a multi-layered sound. In addition to the official languages of the conference into which contributors’ words are being translated as they speak (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Burmese, Swahili, Juba Arabic), there are many more languages being spoken and heard. In his opening address the Archbishop of Canterbury advised that bishops and spouses from some 165 different nations were present, and there would be many more language groups and ethnicities represented beyond this.
This rich and wonderful diversity will be visibly present in the group photos, one of the spouses and one of the bishops, the taking of which was a major logistical operation occupying several hours on Friday afternoon in warm sunshine. It will also be present in what must have been quite a spectacle as several hundred robed bishops formed a lengthy procession into, and then out of, Canterbury Cathedral (another complex logistical operation), for the official commencement service on Sunday morning (though this was actually day five of the Lambeth conference). The multi-lingual service was presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with readings, hymns and choral arrangements in a number of different languages. A powerful sermon exhorting the congregation to servant leadership and hospitality after the example of Christ was delivered by the Right Reverend Dr Vicentia Kgabe. Vicentia is the Bishop of Lesotho in the Province of Southern Africa, and will be one of the international guest presenters at our Melbourne diocesan ministry conference in June next year.
The truly global nature of the Anglican Communion, and the manner in which God is moving in different places and contexts, many of which I was only vaguely familiar with previously, was made very real for me in the context of the small group to which I was allocated. The vast majority are relatively recently consecrated bishops from Africa, several leading newly created missionary dioceses in Mozambique. As they are Portuguese speakers, it was I who needed to be translated and to be provided with a translation as they shared their stories. In another small group to which I am allocated for the Bible studies, I am among two other English speakers and three whose common language is Juba Arabic.
Much else has occurred over a very full weekend (days four and five). The Archbishop of Canterbury has delivered a forceful opening address on the global challenges facing the Communion. The business sessions (which will be the focus of the coming week) began with a plenary and then a “call” for a Communion wide commitment to mission and evangelism. It received (from my observation) the unanimous support of the several hundred bishops present. There have been plenaries, biblical expositions of 1 Peter, seminars, and numerous optional events, dinners and other gatherings, forming what is a very full schedule that begins in the morning after breakfast and extends beyond the evening meal.
But it is the constant hum of those chance encounters, the incidental conversations, and the new and formative experiences and exchanges arising out of shared dialogue that recalls for me the heavenly multitudes of the Book of Revelation, which is foremost in my mind thus far.