All of the 1400-plus folk who attended the Lambeth Conference, in one capacity or another, have started the return journey or are already back at their desks. This was a gathering that brought all the corners of the earth together. It was a pilgrimage like no other that I have ever been part of.
As I prepared to travel back to Croydon, one of the last people I spoke to came from the Solomon Islands, and he was preparing for a 36-hour journey home. The world certainly came to Canterbury for the Lambeth Conference, as delegates and spouses, as stewards, interpreters, observers, ecumenical guests, musicians, volunteers, theologians and activists, administrators and other support staff. Not to mention the University staff who assisted and served and the security staff and police who were there to keep everyone safe.
Each day of the conference, delegates were drawn together in plenary and small groups, to offer praise and worship, to discuss and dispute, but most of all to witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, from our varied multicultural and geopolitical contextual perspectives. And each day, at some point in the day, this glorious polyphony of people and voices stopped as we listened to the Archbishop of Canterbury, as he shared his reflections and his wisdom, offering gracious hospitality and loving and humble service. And as we bishops were being watered and fed by speakers and by each other, so too were the spouses with their own programme, being coordinated by Caroline Welby, the Archbishop’s wife, and her team. When we were not in joint sessions, they were also being nourished by the word and refreshed by the interaction with each other and by the theologians and activists leading their programmes.
All people, all languages
At Lambeth, we truly witnessed both the Pentecost moment and Revelation 7:9 – all people, all languages coming together in praise and worship of Jesus Christ. Someone tweeted they had never seen so many different shades of purple shirts. All the shades of God’s wonderfully diverse people were there, and it was good.
I suppose I expected to meet people from the Anglican church in the countries and islands where the British Commonwealth had spread, but I had no idea that there was an Anglican church in countries such as Ecuador and Japan. Indeed, it was a pleasure to spend time with Bishop Tazu, the first woman bishop in Japan, and to be part of the history-making group of 97 women bishops that were at Lambeth, including the first woman bishop of Lesotho, bishop Vincentia, who preached at the opening service. Another first!
From the opening to the closing service, and at every service in between, people were invited to pray in their own mother tongues in the “mother” of all Anglican churches. The talented multicultural and multilingual worship band ensured that everyone felt included in every act of worship, as we were taught and then assisted in singing in many different languages. And as we wound up the conference that same worship band played Latin jazz and got a good number of bishops to let their hair (if they had it) down and dance the evening away.
As a newly consecrated bishop here in England, I felt both privileged and humbled to be there, and I marvelled once again at the precious fragile entity we call the worldwide Anglican communion. It is a beautiful tapestry woven together by bonds of affinity, and the five marks of mission. At the beginning of the conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury said we need to go away with a deeper hunger and thirst for Jesus. I think we also went away more ready to listen to and understand each other, and more willing to journey together as a body of disciples, confronting the challenges and working intentionally to make a Kingdom difference in the places we serve.