By Genieve Blackwell
2 August 2022
Lambeth might be like a party for Bishop Paul, with all his friends in one place. For me the experience has been closer to parent teacher interviews: meeting one new person after another. It is good now to have settled into the Bible study groups as an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s contexts and how that affects what we hear and take to heart.
These are the same groups for discussing the “Lambeth Calls” – the name given to describe shared declarations, affirmations and calls being shared by bishops taking part in the conference. Each call comes as a draft prepared by a drafting group. The process for the calls only makes sense if the Lambeth Conference is seen as one phase along the way. It is a listening phase, with insights from the discussions to be integrated into the calls, taken to the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council as part of the next phase: witnessing together. The real importance of the calls will be seen in the extent they are implemented around the Communion. Here at Lambeth what we are saying yes to (or no to) is whether each call is heading in the right direction.
Starting with what we can more easily agree on, the first call Mission and Evangelism has been followed by Safe Church. Australia has played a key role in this call with former General Synod Safe Ministry Commission chair Garth Blake chairing the drafting group. Along with countries like Canada, we are serving the wider church from out of our own very public failure as seen in the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.
The essential vision of the call is for churches around the communion to be places of enhanced safety. The perspectives given all acknowledged our failures yet showed we are in very different places responding. Bishop Cleophas Lunge from Central Africa spoke of a culture of silence. A priest from Jerusalem and the Middle East spoke of helping the victims of modern day slavery. From South East Asia we heard how increasingly countries are introducing mandatory reporting, yet dioceses or provinces do not yet have Safe Ministry Commissions in place.
I resonated with the learnings of other Western countries. These included the importance of a wider understanding of vulnerability, how learning how to be safe church always a work in progress, that tragically some abuse and neglect still occurs, and that responding well is important because not to do so causes more harm. We have a generation of listening to survivors and victims telling their experience and we need to experience this feeling of disempowerment before there can be healing.
I was encouraged that the call named the disproportionate impact on both children and women suffering abuse in our churches. I was challenged to ask myself how might we in Australia be able to share our learnings with our neighbours and maybe even provide support? A pertinent question as we came to our next call – Anglican Identity – reminding us of the gift of the Anglican Communion as in relationship we are able to co-operate together even in the midst of difference.