6 February 2023

We leave Lambeth with eyes opened anew to God’s world

Bishop Paul Barker at Lambeth 2022. Picture: Jack Lindsay

By Paul Barker 

8 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.   

Unlike the formal opening service at Canterbury Cathedral, with all bishops processing in convocation robes, Lambeth’s closing service was a harmony of bright, jazzy instruments. There was no long procession in, but everyone swayed out singing “We are marching in the light of God”. There was a range of bongo drums, violin and trumpet and, with great singers, and appearances from the pipe organ, it was a harmonious and joyful service. 

Read more: We can learn from others’ ‘roaring lions’ as we share Christ together

The other instrument on display throughout the conference was the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Anglican Communion has four instruments of unity: the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates Meetings, the Lambeth Conference and the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. 

The personal contribution of the Archbishop during this conference has been immense. He presided at the opening service, led five expositions on 1 Peter through the main conference, gave three keynote addresses about being God’s Church in and for God’s world, preached at the closing service, and participated in several sessions. In addition, he and his wife Caroline hosted large groups each night to the Old Canterbury Palace for supper. I’m tired, he must be exhausted. 

The Archbishop’s expositions and keynote addresses have rightly urged us to look outward as a church, to our world, in mission and ministry, as aliens and exiles, full of resurrection hope. The themes of 1 Peter have been like a chorus through the conference, urging us to holiness, unity and mission. 

In particular, the archbishop has clearly had an aim to keep the diverse and disparate Anglican communion together. That is no easy task when more than 300 bishops did not attend, several more refrained from taking communion and the Call to Human Dignity was being hotly contested. His direct intervention in that call, while I gather is now being exegeted carefully by many, nonetheless saw a standing ovation, recognising that despite differences, we want to remain in fellowship. 

Read more: Scripture at the very core of Lambeth Conference

Finally, in many parts of the Anglican Communion, instruments of war and suffering abound. Some bishops are anxious about whether or not their military leadership will let them back in to the country, so one bishop is returning ahead of the others as a test case. Others have dioceses under water in floods in South Sudan. Kenya faces a significant election this week. And so on. 

Maybe we don’t realise how good it is in Australia, where comfort breeds complacency. As trumpets, violin, drums and organ blended in harmony in the cathedral today, we stood together as followers of Christ, committed to be God’s Church in and for God’s world. What that looks like for my beloved Burundian and Burmese friends is so vastly different from us. They need us, to support, pray and love them. But how much more we need them, to open our eyes to the majority of God’s world. What a privilege to have spent time in such a global context this past fortnight. 

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