Pastoral letter reflecting on the Lambeth Conference
9 August 2022
Bishop Graham and Bishop Jane have written a pastoral letter to reflect on the Lambeth Conference, asking us all to ponder how we can be “God’s Church for God’s world”.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
We write having returned to Norfolk following two weeks in Canterbury at the Lambeth Conference. We were joined by Rachel Usher who attended the spouses’ programme. Bishop Alan held things here as he and Pippa celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, for which we give thanks and send our warmest congratulations.
Thank you for your prayers during the Conference. Our overriding sense is that the Holy Spirit has been very much at work at the gathering of over 650 bishops and many of their spouses.
We have both been struck by profound conversations with other bishops, especially as we gathered daily to study 1 Peter. These conversations have been with bishops living in places of war, those who have been or are refugees or internally displaced, those whose communities are affected by hunger and disease, and those for whom climate change is a daily reality. Some spoke about having been arrested and beaten for their faith in Jesus. Many have few financial resources, yet enormous faith-filled joy. The bravery, fortitude and witness of many of our sisters and brothers in Christ was deeply humbling.
Bishop Graham will long remember a conversation with the Bishop of Vanuatu who pleaded with him to use his environmental voice, saying “my islands are sinking under the waves and no one is listening”. Bishop Jane was struck by the shared grief of bishops from three different provinces whose people were blighted by the effects of political corruption and greed, and yet whose faith sustained them through hardship, hunger and oppression.
This inter-cultural learning was rich. We delighted in meeting three bishops and their wives from Papua New Guinea and heard about the impact of projects that the Diocese of Norwich has supported. We have made lasting friendships and walked with those with very difference experiences and outlooks. They are much in our prayers as they return home.
The “roaring lions”, in the words of 1 Peter, of war, poverty, inequality, the climate crisis and the dangers within scientific advances, were our focus. Through plenary, prayer and the discussion of the Lambeth Calls, the bishops of the Communion sought a better future for the people we serve as we seek to be God’s Church for God’s world. The day at Lambeth Palace focused on the environment and saw the launch of the Communion Forest, which Bishop Graham has been involved with leading, and which will see trees being planted and habitats restored across the world. We gave time also to discussion about evangelism, discipleship, creating safe churches for all, interfaith dialogue and ecumenism.
We are both conscious that that the draft Call about human dignity, whilst saying many valuable things about homophobia and gender-based violence, hurt many in the LGBTI+ community and their allies. We are deeply sorry about that. We were both able to support the revised Call which painted an honest and factually accurate picture of the varied views about equal marriage across the Anglican Communion, and we both welcomed the balance and tone of a letter the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to the bishops and his subsequent speech.
The Archbishop’s letter to bishops and his address to the bishops at the Conference should be read together. The Archbishop underlined the reality of the two situations and emphasised that both attend carefully to Scripture and do not reject Christ:
“For the large majority of the Anglican Communion the traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, accepted and without question, not only by Bishops but their entire Church, and the societies in which they live. For them, to question this teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries would make the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For many churches to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.
“For a minority, we can say almost the same. They have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature. For them, to question this different teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries is making the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For these churches not to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.
“So let us not treat each other lightly or carelessly. We are deeply divided. That will not end soon. We are called by Christ himself both to truth and unity.”
The Archbishop received a standing ovation from people holding very different perspectives. We believe that this might well have been a watershed moment when those in favour and those against same-sex relationships accepted they were not going to agree but resolved to stay walking together in faith, hope and love.
Neither of us, despite pressure, have signed any statement issued by activists. This is because we are committed to the listening and discernment involved in the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project. At the same time we are very open, along with Bishop Alan, about our commitment to, and valuing of, all LGBTI+ clergy and laity in the diocese, and we condemn all forms of homophobia. We were glad to speak to LGBTI+ spouses of bishops who were observers at the Conference. For us, God’s love embraces all.
During the Conference there was greater clarity about what it means to be Anglican and how we hold together 42 diverse provinces, serving in very different contexts, as a ‘Communion’ of churches. We are not one global church, but communities in relationship, with provincial autonomy and interdependence, working out our differences, yet celebrating the many things that unite us in the creeds and our liturgies, our historic episcopate, and our commitment to local mission in parishes and chaplaincies.
It was a huge privilege to be part of the Lambeth Conference 2022. Its work will continue in the coming years as bishops carry on meeting online to discuss how we go on walking together in mission. How can we be “God’s Church for God’s world”? How can we be disciples of Jesus? How can we work with God to make more disciples? How can the gospel bring healing to the hurting and welcome to the excluded? Both of us are keen to explore those questions with you, as well as with sister and brother bishops across the Anglican Communion, in the coming months and years.
You were much in our prayers during our time in Canterbury and this comes with every blessing for our life together.
+Graham Norvic: +Jane Lynn