Lambeth Conference? How about a Lambeth Congress instead?

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.)XIII-1_1

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.

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MRI, Fifty Years On

Fifty years ago this week, Anglicans from all over the world gathered in Toronto for the second post-war Anglican Congress. The meeting was fruitful in a whole variety of ways, but what it is especially remembered for is “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ,” a manifesto that set forth a new way of being the worldwide body of Christ.

In a Church Times op-ed this week, I argue that the vision set forth in MRI is as valuable and relevant to Anglicans now as it was fifty years ago:

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.

(Read the whole article here.)

By chance, the anniversary coincides with the news that Bishop James Tengatenga’s appointment at Dartmouth University has been rescinded. I have nothing to add to this depressing piece of news that has not been said elsewhere—particularly by Bishop Michael Ingham—except to note that the controversy over the appointment sadly demonstrates the point I was trying to make: it truly is challenging to reach out and encounter those who are genuinely different than us and see what it is we can give and receive from them.

The Church Times article on MRI is the first of two I’ve written about the anniversary. Look for a separate article coming soon in The Living Church.

And if you never have, why not take the time to read the text of MRI?

Episcopal / Anglican Slogans

Last semester in class, we made a list of slogans, phrases, ideas, objects, etc. that we’ve heard in conversation about or relating to the Episcopal Church, Anglicanism, or any part thereof. Here’s a partial list:

  • the three-legged stool (that is, Scripture, Tradition, and Reason)
  • lex orandi, lex credendi—the way we worship shapes/determines/is what we believe
  • a logo that features a shield with obscure heraldry
  • “no outcasts”
  • Via Media, or Middle Way
  • “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” (to what?)
  • Dispersed Authority
  • The Four-Fold Anglican Shape: formed by Scripture, shaped by worship, ordered for Communion and directed by God’s mission (this is the most recent, I’d say)
We can debate some of these later, especially whether their current interpretations and usages match up with the original usage, whether the authors meant for them to have such defining weight (in the case of dispersed authority, definitely not), and whether they are even consistent. What struck me as we did the list is that you could make a similar list of slogans related to Episcopalians/Anglicans and mission:
  • Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ (1963 document from Toronto Anglican Congress)
  • Partners in Mission
  • Decade of Evangelism (the 1990s, as set by bishops at Lambeth 1988)
  • Millennium Development Goals
  • Five Marks of Mission

(Indeed, the word “mission” itself could almost be added to this list, given the reckless abandon with which it has been used in recent years.)

I don’t find many of these particularly helpful. I can never remember the Five Marks of Mission, mainly because they don’t really grab me. I think the Millennium Development Goals promote a shopping-list mentality among churches that prize dollars and cents over relationships. The Decade of Evangelism is very well-remembered in the non-western Anglican Communion (an archdeacon in Nigeria last summer told me, “The Decade of Evangelism saved the Church in Nigeria”) but I rarely hear anyone in the U.S. talk about it.

The thing of it is, despite our wonderful slogans we still seem to have difficulty articulating what the Episcopal Church is and is for (though we seem to have no problem articulating what it is not). And, we lack a clear sense of what mission is, which results in something like the Sauls’ resolution’s very thin idea of mission.

There is much to find depressing in all this but two stand out. First, these slogans replace genuine theological engagement with inconsistent and confusing sound-bites. Second, they betray the assumption that we all know what we’re talking about when we say something so we don’t need to bother figuring out what it means. This is never a good assumption to make.

As far as mission goes, there’s a third disappointment: all of these are focused outward. This is, obviously, quite good. But I’d hope that we remember that in order for us to be a missional church, we need first to be transformed by the love of God in Christ to become missional Christians. Mission is our response to God’s grace—but we need to receive that grace before we can respond.

What are your favourite slogans that I’ve left out?

UPDATE: Welcome to all who are clicking over here from Episcopal Cafe. If you like this post, you might like some others I’ve written about mission lately: the spirituality of mission or how our understanding of mission shapes our budgetary decisions.