Lambeth calling … London calling

Many of the bishops heading for the Lambeth Conference, which begins next week, are still in transit, looking forward to a few days together, and already we are experiencing the fallout. The Conference has been delayed from 2018 – firstly because it wasn’t the right time to bring the bishops together, it would not have been productive; then because of the global pandemic. In former times we would have been entertaining bishops in the dioceses across the country this weekend, establishing and re-establishing relationships and friendships. But the ‘pre-Lambeth hospitality programme’ was abandoned and, apart from a few exceptions where individual arrangements have been made, the bishops are heading straight to the campus outside of Canterbury that will be their base for the next couple of weeks. That was a real shame because the Communion, if it is about anything, must be about relationships. But that sad decision was made.

Another decision was made, however, and that was to issue a document in the last couple of days called ‘Lambeth Calls’, a kind of agenda for the Communion, for the bishops to consider. It has caught everyone, it seems, by surprise and the surprise has not been good. One specific call is already causing damage, hurt and pain and that is the call to reaffirm Lambeth 1.10. This was the declaration made at the 1998 Lambeth Conference which affirmed a traditional view of sexuality and relationships, of marriage and the views of the church about homosexuality in particular. We have been struggling to live with Lambeth 1.10 since then but out of those struggles has emerged much more understanding of different positions, different beliefs, different readings of scripture, we have been brought into a place of greater trust and mutual respect. At the same time, society, especially western society and not least of our own has moved on dramatically. As Dorothy in ‘Wizard of Oz’ would say ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’; we are not in 1998 anymore.

In the UK Civil Partnerships became possible in 2005; marriage to a person of the same gender in 2014. Both are now commonplace in our society. Clergy in the Church of England are allowed to enter a CP with their same-sex partner, at the moment they are not allowed to be married. Lay people can remain in good standing and in positions of leaderships and in authorised and licensed ministries if they enter into either of these. In general society it has all been celebrated, even on ‘Strictly’ same-sex couples dance and entertain the nation and families sit there encouraging John and Johannes and whoever it is. Wake up Lambeth Conference, wake up Church of England, wake up bishops, this is London calling and beyond London calling; this is not 1998 and this is not the world or the church you imagine it to be, nor should it be.

What really angers me is not the homophobia apparent in all of this, I am used to that, sadly. What gets me is the scandalous way the ‘church’, whoever, whatever that is, displays such a lack of openness, transparency and honesty with the rest of us who are the church. It is ok calling out the lies and the lack of integrity in Downing Street when just across the river in the offices that deal with the Lambeth Conference the same goes on.

We have just emerged from General Synod, not a word of this was mentioned, not even in the gossip in the bar and over coffee. We are still awaiting the Synod debate on the LLF process, ‘Living in Love and Faith’, the open conversations we have all been invited to have which will help us move on even further in our understanding of each other around the subjects of sexuality and committed relationships. That process is now holed below the waterline. ‘Lambeth Calls’ has sunk LLF and we need to recognise that.

What also annoys me is this is precisely why the office of Archbishop of Canterbury needed to be separated from the leadership of the Anglican Communion. Many of us were calling for a real root and branch examination of these conflicted roles as the debates about the shape of the Canterbury CNC were being had. But no; the status quo had to remain, except the Communion had to be given a stronger voice in the nomination of ++Justin’s successor. The Church of England has been stopped and will be stopped in moving forward in mission. Those who call the church to ban Pride, to ban celebrating our reality as human beings loved and created by our inclusive God are obviously supported by the Lambeth Conference even before it gathers. If I was a bishop of the Episcopal or Canadian Church I would get straight back on the plane and return home.

In the debate at General Synod which Canon Tim Goode, an Honorary Canon of Southwark Cathedral, led on the place of disabled people in the life of the church, he used the final sentence of the Introduction to the Common Worship Baptism Service, which he then used as a refrain throughout his speech:

‘In God we have a new dignity and God calls us to fullness of life.’

It is the Jesus I know and love, the Jesus who called me into the church and called me to be a priest, the Jesus who has enabled me to fulfil this ministry in the church for the last 39 years, who says to his disciples – and that includes us

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10.10)

Not Lambeth 1.10 but John 10.10 is the calling of the church and the witness of Jesus. This fullness of life is what each of us is called to and yet the church can so often seem to deny. I call on Lambeth to pull back and chose a better, life affirming way, whilst there is time.

Loving God, you create us beautiful; may we be allowed to flourish and be the people you want us to be. Amen.

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