By Brad Billings
5 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.
It is the Lambeth “calls” that have, rightly, received the majority of attention externally (in our observation) so far. Each is on pre-prepared texts being discussed in small groups among the assembled bishops. As the Lambeth conference continues into day nine there have now been “calls” made on a variety of subjects – mission and evangelism, safe church, Anglican identity, reconciliation, human dignity, the environment, and today on Christian unity and inter-faith relationships.
What may be less well known and appreciated are two other large and important aspects of this Lambeth conference, namely:
- The extent to which Holy Scripture has shaped everything being done here, and
- The presence of the bishops’ spouses, who are joining together with the bishops in the plenary sessions and biblical expositions, and whilst the bishops are discussing the “calls”, are taking part in their own parallel spouses program.
In respect to the latter, one of the areas in which the conference has stumbled has been the sometimes jarring exclusion of the spouses. At one elective seminar, to give one example, that bishops and spouses were invited to attend together, the presenter constantly addressed “the bishops” and invited “the bishops” to discuss matters, but made no reference at all of the several spouses who were present in the room.
Much more positive in our experience has been the experience of the small groups, both in the bishops and the spouses programs. Reading and discussing Scripture has informed and shaped almost everything we have done. The scriptural text for Lambeth 2022 is the first epistle of Peter, and this text has formed the foundation of, not only the Bible studies, but most of our shared dialogue. It has also frequently influenced the content of the keynote addresses and speeches being delivered, especially those being delivered by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
A “normal” day at the conference begins with an exposition of the text of 1 Peter in plenary, with the assembled bishops and spouses together in the main conference venue. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has taken the lead in this, delivering hour long teaching and exposition on the text himself. His explanations, exhortations, and application of the text have been, on each occasion, crisp and clear, and delivered with the authority of a chief pastor who is clearly very much at home in the Bible. The more difficult passages have not been glossed over or evaded, but rightly, read and explained in their context, and allowed to speak for themselves.
Read more: A door has been opened in human dignity call
Following the exposition of the passage assigned from 1 Peter, the bishops and the spouses go in different directions to different parts of the vast venue, to form their Bible study groups. These are typically groups of six to eight, with membership reflecting the very international nature of the conference. All of the diversity of the Anglican Communion, together with the differing ways of engaging with and reading scripture, is present in microcosm in these groups.
The exposition, study and application of Scripture is not left there in the small groups. As the bishops assemble to consider the various ‘calls’, the first half of the discussion is around how and in what way the text of 1 Peter that has been the subject of the Bible studies informs this particular call.
In this way Scripture has been at the very core of this 15th Lambeth conference, for both the bishops and spouses present. And the biblical exhortation for us as believers to come together as the Body of Christ, across our diversity and difference, has been very visible throughout.