Six primates of the Anglican Communion and a handful of other bishops recently met in New York City for several days and, at the end of their gathering, expressed their “fervent and urgent hope that another Anglican Congress might be held in the next two years.” (The full statement is here.)
To which I say: hooray! I have been banging on for the last several years about the significance of the 1963 Anglican Congress and how we ignore it at our peril. That meeting, which drew together lay, clerical, and episcopal representatives from across the Anglican Communion produced a document known as Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, which, I have argued, is an important—but neglected—resource for Anglicans of our time. (These are arguments I’ve made at length in the Anglican Theological Review, the Church Times, and The Living Church.)
Actually, I have more than just “hooray” to say.
First, it’s worth noting that what these bishops are suggesting has been suggested before. In the run-up to the 2008 Lambeth Conference (of bishops), there was an effort to hold a parallel Anglican Congress in Cape Town. But, when it became apparent there wasn’t enough money to fund two major conferences, the Congress was abandoned and Lambeth went forward. (A telling sign, not incidentally, of whose voices are most valued in the Communion.)
Second, this suggestion comes at the same time as some (very spurious) speculation about the next Lambeth Conference. To call for an Anglican Congress in this context helpfully shifts the focus away from episcopal naval-gazing (which Anglicans are so good at) and broadens the conversation to include many more voices.
Third, as the conversation about the next Lambeth indicates, there’s some rather great dissatisfaction with the four “Instruments of Communion” in the Anglican Communion. The Primates have not gathered in over three years. The next Lambeth is open to question. The Anglican Consultative Council meets to apparently little notice. And it is now seriously suggested that one need not be in communion with the archbishop of Canterbury to be Anglican. The call for a Congress essentially recognizes this dissatisfaction and proposes a new way forward. Rather than concentrating our energy, time, and money on holding these meetings to apparently little end, perhaps there’s an alternative.
Fourth, the bishops say a Congress should be held in the next two years. That’s an awfully ambitious timeline. But it does seem that there is a vacant window in 2018 (the putative date of a next Lambeth Conference) that could be usefully taken advantage of.
So let’s put some flesh on the proposal. Instead of a Lambeth Conference, let’s have a Lambeth Congress, and instead of having it in London or Canterbury, let’s have it in Accra, Cape Town, or Dar es Salaam.
Last year, on the 50th anniversary of the Toronto Congress, I wrote this reflection:
In its fractures in the early 21st century, the Anglican Communion stands as a mirror-image of the divisions that stalk a world ever more divided by class, race, region, background, and so much else. “Frontiers” abound, in parishes, dioceses, and the worldwide Church. The body of Christ seems not a reality, but an ideal hardly to be grasped.
Fifty years on from MRI, it is worth returning to the manifesto and the period that produced it. In its emphasis on the patient work of building genuine relationships across lines of difference, the importance of genuinely coming to know one another in the context in which each lives, and above all in its recognition that God is always calling us to something greater than ourselves, MRI has much to teach us.
It is risky to reach out to those who are different from us, and daring to ask what we might learn from someone from a different background. But it is precisely these things that are at the heart of what it means to be God’s people in the world – a fact that is no less true today than it was in August 1963.
UPDATE: I just saw this comment posted on the Episcopal News Service version of this story. It says much about Toronto’s important—but forgotten—legacy.