27 November 2022

We have not been well served by Lambeth Call on Human Dignity

Bishop Paul Barker at Lambeth 2022. Picture: Jack Lindsay

By Paul Barker 

4 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 Paul Barker reflects on his experience a few days into the conference.  

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, wrote Noel Coward. Yet this surprisingly warm English summer is drawing Coward’s “Easterners” and others out as well. No siestas here as English culture is on its finest display! 

So, strawberries and cream, one of the delights of English culture, were on offer in the Lambeth Palace garden on Wednesday. In the midday sun, more than a thousand people strolled genteelly around the spacious gardens, chatting amiably, browsing the prayer places, and being thankful they didn’t have to mow the lawn. 

Read more: A door has been opened in human dignity call 

Another delight of English culture is queuing. We do it a lot. Almost every meal demands a lengthy, protracted queue. We queued, for a long time, for buses to go up to Lambeth. Of course, the queues bring conversational opportunities, but after many days, they are proving wearying. No doubt Lambeth is a logistical nightmare to organise. But despite the logistical and communication weaknesses, we remain jolly in the best of English queues. 

Perhaps another feature of English culture is being one big, happy family, at least on the surface. So, over lunch on Wednesday at Lambeth Palace, which saw 1240 people seated at tables in a massive marquee for a cooked meal, we didn’t mention the war … well, our differences, that is the big issue. We have not been served well, in my opinion. 

The “Call” relating to human dignity, referring in part to the big issue of same-sex relationships, marriage and blessing, was issued only days before Lambeth began. Quickly, some voiced strong protest about this and a rewritten Call was circulated after Lambeth began. All that did was to raise the heat. The Calls (they cover a range of topics and we address one or two a day) started with voting using an electronic machine. After one day, that was replaced with calling out “NO” if you had some disagreement. By the third day, there was no voting. The Call on Human Dignity was prefaced by a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury, affirming that the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 remains the norm, but acknowledging the fundamental differences of practice across the communion. And the session to address this call, unlike the others, had no plenary and was restricted to one hour. Let’s not mention the war. We are, after all, one happy family. 

Read more: Lambeth calls, a step towards shared witness

Where we are most in murky waters is understanding what the ties and bonds of a communion actually mean. The Lambeth Conference is an instrument of communion but has no legal authority in dioceses, only moral influence. What is our ecclesiological understanding of a communion where dioceses and provinces have autonomy and independence. The same question faces the Australian Anglican church. 

Meanwhile, putting aside the big issue of Tuesday, we spent Wednesday strolling together, queuing together and enjoying strawberries and cream together, out in the midday sun. Mad? It was certainly very pleasant, and some respite from a multitude of sessions on campus. 

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