Paying attention to power in Lambeth ‘Calls’

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Among the Pastoral Principles for Living Well Together developed by the Church of England and commended by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the College of Bishops is “Pay Attention to Power”. Applying this to the Lambeth Calls process raises important and worrying questions.

The Gestation of “Invitations” 

The Lambeth Conference would, if it followed the standard ten-year pattern, have occurred in 2018. For various reasons it was instead originally planned for 2020 but then had to be postponed until 2022 due to Covid.  The agenda for it was shaped by “regional Primates’ Meetings during 2018 and 2019” and overseen by the Lambeth Design Group. Once moved to 2022, the planning shifted to a small working group “appointed to shape the conference journey, comprised by representatives from around the communion”.

In January 2020 at the last in-person Primates’ meeting before Covid hit, it became clear that the plan was developing for “invitations” to be issued by the Conference:

We discussed how the fruits of our discussions at the Lambeth Conference might be widely communicated and we explored how the bishops, gathered together in conference, might ‘invite’ the church and the world to join us as we collaborate in God’s mission of building God’s Church for God’s World.

The following month, February 2020, it was announced that

a special communication or invitation process is being developed for the Lambeth Conference in 2020, so that bishops can engage with conference topics before and during the event. At the conclusion of the Lambeth Conference, the aspiration is for the bishops’ shared engagement to culminate in a series of invitations to the wider Anglican Communion, championing what it might mean to be ‘God’s Church for God’s World’ in the decade ahead.

As I noted when exploring the announcement to issue Calls, the seeds of this idea may perhaps be traced even earlier to a paper (“Towards A Symphony of Instruments: A Historical and Theological Consideration of the Instruments of Communion of the Anglican Communion”) produced by IASCUFO for ACC back in 2013. The original Conference date of 2020, the centenary of the 1920 Conference and its famous Appeal, may also have contributed to a desire to shape the voice of the Conference to be more “invitational” in form.

In November 2020 the Primates’ communiqué spoke of the ongoing plans and the development of a Lambeth journey in preparation for and following the Conference itself but did not refer to the invitations:

The Archbishop of Canterbury shared his renewed vision for the Lambeth Conference. This will take place in 2022, around it will be a gathering online both before and after to build up the sense of the whole body of Christ. We welcome the plan for an 18-month pre-conference phase as a virtual Anglican Congress, drawing in bishops and spouses, young and old, lay and ordained; ahead of the face-to-face conference and the following implementation phase involving everybody in the Communion, working together to be God’s Church in God’s World; while recognising that the Lambeth Conference itself – one of our four Instruments of Communion – will be the face-to-face meeting of bishops.

The November 2021 communiqué and March 2022 communiqué similarly did not refer to the proposed Invitations. Nor were they mentioned in the Archbishop’s video message of late January 2022 although the description of the Phases of the conference in April 2021 had said “the conference community will seek to discern God’s voice for his Church and agree some common commitments to share with the Anglican Communion” and an update of October 2021 had included these words (italics added) explaining the three stages then planned with the invitations seemingly located more in the third post-Conference phase:

This current ‘listening together’ phase has consisted of a series of online ‘Bishops’ Conversations’ – group discussions between bishops across provinces – to prepare for the face-to-face conference. Bishops’ spouses have also been meeting for online discussions.

When the Lambeth Conference meets in Canterbury, it will be the second phase of the journey, with the focus of ‘walking together.’ It will take place between the 27th of July and the 7th of August 2022.

After the conference has met in 2022, there will then be a third ‘witnessing together’ phase. This will involve online follow-up work continuing for at least the next two years. Our prayer is that following on from the event, further discussions will result in a series of ‘Lambeth Conference invitations to act’, to ensure that its conclusions are owned and shared all around the Communion

This will provide a continuity to Bishops’ Conversations and ensure that common commitments discussed at the conference are taken forward around the Anglican Communion. 

That October 2021 update also listed seven “clear themes” it said the Conference would focus on which are similar to but not the same as those now appearing in the Calls.  By that time the first stage (announced in April 2021) was already well underway having begun in July 2021.  This consisted of Bishops’ Conversations (videos explaining this are here, video 2 on “What are Bishops’ Conversations & how did they come about?” makes no mention of them feeding into invitations or calls for the Conference).  These were reported on the website with reports for most months (JulyAugustSeptemberOctober) but there is no obvious linkage to any planned invitations or to the calls which subsequently appeared.

The Birth of the Calls

On 8th June, just seven weeks before the Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced there would be Lambeth Calls by releasing a video and a booklet.  There were limited details given but some of the descriptions are interesting in the light of what the Calls have become in practice less than two months later.

The impression is strongly given that the final form of the Calls will arise from the bishops themselves gathered in the Conference itself.  This is evident in all three forms of communication.

The webpage reads (italics added):

The term ‘Lambeth Calls’ is being used for the bishops’ discussions at the conference, and papers which are shared by the bishops during the event to summarise the outcomes of their conversations. “Lambeth Calls” will be short written statements, that include declarations, affirmations and common ‘calls’ to the church and the world that the bishops want to make.

The Archbishop says in the video posted there:

Lambeth Conferences are there to come together and to discern what God is saying to the church… to be absolutely clear about that, and to emphasise the Lambeth Conference is a beautiful, exciting moment of hearing God’s call to us, the Lambeth Conference in 2022 is going to make decisions, but it’s going to make them in the form of what are called “Calls”… during the conference there’ll be a process of these calls. There aren’t going to be a huge number of them, ten or a dozen at most, and each one will be carefully structured to talk about scripture, about the tradition of the church, and what the bishops assembled feel to be the way that God is calling them…I think it’s a hugely exciting development in the life of the communion. It’s humble. It says, we offer this to you as what we think God is calling us to.

The booklet states (italics added):

The Archbishop of Canterbury has decided that the bishops gathered should adopt a process called ‘Lambeth Calls’ to shape discussions and make decisions…On each theme, the bishops will spend time learning together and sharing their experiences. They will also have a document to consider on each major theme….Within each ‘Call’ there will be matters to discuss and decisions to be made. It may be that not all bishops will want to add their voices to every element of every call. As has always been the case at every Lambeth conference bishops will confer together but they will not necessarily agree on everything. Each ‘Call’ is being drafted by a group made up of bishops, clergy and laity from around the communion led by a Primate or senior bishop. The intention is to make public each of the ‘Calls’ from the conference and to ensure that there is a process by which the outcomes included in each ‘Call’ can be received and implemented… A call is a decision of the conference which comes as an appeal to each church of the Communion to consider carefully, and hopefully to follow it and respond to it in its own situation (p6).

At the conference bishops will be asked to make decisions as part of each ‘Call’ and invited to add their voices to the call of the conference…For the times we live in, the bishops of the Communion are invited to discern the call of God to God’s Church and to God’s world (p7).

The changing content of web pages makes it difficult to reconstruct how things then unfolded but by June 14thmore information was provided. This continues to speak of the role of the Conference itself in answering the question as to the features of a Lambeth Call (italics added):

During the Lambeth Conference, there will be several Lambeth Call discussion sessions, where bishops will be able to share their thinking and experience. Outcomes of the discussions will then be shared as a written ‘Lambeth Call’….Within each ‘Call’ there will be matters to discuss and decisions to be made. It may be that not all bishops will want to add their voices to every element of every call. As has always been the case at every Lambeth Conference bishops will confer together but they will not necessarily agree on everything. Each ‘call’ is being drafted by a group made up of bishops, clergy and laity from around the communion led by a Primate or senior bishop. They will be discussed and shaped further during the Lambeth Conference.

It was not until 18th July, over a month later, and just over a week before the Conference started on 26th July, that still  further information was provided.  This was in the form of a 52-page Lambeth Calls Study Document. This, it was explained, was the work of “the Calls Subgroup” coordinated by Bishop Tim Thornton (a group whose existence had not, as far as I am aware, previously been acknowledged). He continued to talk of the shaping role of the Conference:

The Study Documents provides bishops with an opportunity to start to read, think, reflect and pray on the different Lambeth Calls that have been drafted. Each Lambeth Call is being offered as a draft in advance, to maximise the time bishops will have to discuss them during the Lambeth ConferenceThe work of the Conference will give bishops attending the opportunity to contribute and add their voice to the calls.

Those wishing to find this original document on the conference website will struggle to do so as the “Read the Study Guide sent to bishops here” now simply redirects you to the page you are already on thus subjecting you to an infinite loop.  However, the document is still able to be tracked down where it was originally posted here

The Study Guide gives a small amount of information about the drafting process under the oversight of the Lambeth Calls Sub-Group “made up of Bishop Tim Thornton, Archbishop Melter Tais, Bishop Joseph Galgalo, the Revd Robert Heaney, the Revd Cathrine Ngangira, the Revd Will Adam and the Revd Stephen Spencer” (p4) but no details as to the “over 50 people…involved in the drafting and writing of the Calls” nor who decided on these themes for the calls. Given there are 10 groups this would suggest that only about 5 or 6 people were on each group. It was soon noted that all the Chairs were male and that the number based in the UK was rather disproportionate. In his message about them on July 22nd, the Archbishop of Canterbury was at pains to point out that “They have been drafted by a diverse group of Anglicans – male and female, lay and ordained, from different generations and from every part of the Communion”.

The study guide sketches on p5 how bishops would “approve Lambeth Calls”:

The Lambeth Call session will go through the Call section by section. At each section there will be a chance for each Bishop to indicate their view.

This appears to suggest 3 or 4 votes on each Call as earlier (p3) the guide described the structure as comprising a link with 1 Peter, declaration, affirmation and specific calls or requests.

Controversially, although it spoke of being able “to express their level of support of a call”, it then said “there will be two choices for each bishop to make” and neither of these gave space for substantial disagreement:

  • This Call speaks for me. I add my voice to it and commit myself to take the action I can to implement it.
  • This Call requires further discernment. I commit my voice to the ongoing process

The lack of any mention of amendments and this binary choice could suggest it was “take it or leave it” but the “How to use” section for each call ends with the stated goal that “the conference decides whether to adopt or adapt the Call” (italics added, this statement therefore appears eleven times starting on p8). It also states (italics added)

During the Calls session there will be time for discussion and clarification of the Call. The lead author and drafting groups will be present to answer questions if needed. The aim in each session will be to consider if the Call can be issued publicly or not.

The clear implication was also that if the Call was issued publicly that was the end of forming the Call as phase 3 was described as “the post-event period, focused on ensuring that decisions are shared and implemented by provinces, churches, groups, commissions, and networks around the Anglican Communion”.

Revising the Calls

Unsurprisingly, the release of the Study Guide and text of the Calls only a week before the start of the Conference (with many bishops having to travel a considerable distance and ensure all was in order in their diocese for their time away) caused some controversy. The document also showed a number of signs of having been hurriedly prepared (including concerns that it included a heretical statement concerning the Trinity) and, although no detail was given as to the drafting period, Bishop Kevin Robertson subsequently spoke on Newsnight of the Human Dignity group working as a small drafting group in May and June. This makes clear that despite the idea of what were then called “invitations” going back to early 2020 the actual texts were not created until over two years later and just two months before the Conference started. The secrecy surrounding their content was also evident by the fact that, after controversy erupted over the Human Dignity call seeking to reaffirm Lambeth I.10, the Living in Love and Faith Next Steps Group issued a statement on 21st July assuring people that they “had first sight of the Calls on the day of their publication” (though they give this as 20th July 2022). The same day saw the beginning of growing outrage from those opposed to Lambeth I.10 resulting in a message about the Calls on 22nd July from Canterbury to the bishops attending the Conference. In addition to stressing the diversity of those involved in drafting he said “these Calls have grown out of a process of discussion and encounter with one another. They are informed by the insights and themes of the online video conversations between bishops across the world over the past year”.

Read it all in Psephizo