As I write this update, Bishop Carol, our spouses and I are part-way through a very exciting journey. Because of the generous support of the Diocese we have been able to join with over 650 other Bishops and 450 other Bishop’s spouses in the 15th Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion. The Conference is one of the four instruments that keeps Anglicans from 160 countries connected with each other. This is the first Conference since 2008 so there has been lots of catching up to do.
It’s certainly been a full program! Yesterday we travelled from Canterbury to London for a garden reception where we heard from activists responding to our climate emergency. We committed to the Communion Forest Initiative (www.communionforest.org) as one way to express our care for God’s creation.
Earlier in the week we gathered for worship in Canterbury Cathedral, heard about the exciting and creative church planting that is happening through the communion (you can find out more at www.plantanglican. org) and were reminded of our call to make our churches safe for all and our communities places where the dignity of each person is recognised and valued.
For all that, the highlight for me has been the opportunity to study the Scriptures with bishops from across the world. Each morning we’ve listened to expositions of the New Testament letter of 1 Peter from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In one of those talks he explained how the letter contains ‘a single calling to the Church, although the application will vary according to context’.
This has been confirmed as we’ve subsequently broken into small groups to further explore the themes of the letter. It’s been illuminating and challenging to hear:
- what alienation feels like in contexts where the church is growing fastest amongst people who are excluded from social power
- what holiness looks like in contexts where corruption and graft is the accepted way of doing business
- how reconciliation takes place in contexts of warfare or conflict between groups such as farmers and graziers.
The overall theme of the conference is ‘God’s Church for God’s World’ and we’ve been challenged to consider the diversity of that world. Far from being a retreat from that world, reading, listening to and learning from Scripture together is an indispensable preparation for engaging it faithfully with the love and truth of Jesus.
Bishop Carol and I look forward to sharing further reflections from our time at Lambeth when our Diocesan Synod gathers in September. Then, as now, I pray we might together live out the calling of 1 Peter 4:8 in our own context – ‘Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.’
Bishop Carol adds:
I am most grateful to our diocese for the privilege of being able to be part of this wonderful conference.
Like Bishop Mark, I have greatly valued the Bible Studies in 1 Peter. Through the teaching of Archbishop Justin Welby and the multi-national discussions in my study group, I have gained fresh insights on how we can better serve God together in this beautiful yet broken world, and how we can, as a global Anglican Communion, show the love of God and bring about a more just and caring world.
I have also valued hearing the stories from our African and Asian bishops, about their struggles and their joys. I suspect that sometimes we forget just how privileged we are in the West!
One study was on Suffering in Christ in 1 Peter. A statement that moved me to the core was from one of the African bishops when he said, ‘There is no greater pain than leading a divided church’. For many bishops in Africa, the tribal divisions in their countries have meant war. For us in Australia there is no war, but there is a somewhat strained and brittle Communion, divided over issues of theology and practice. This brings its own pain.
A call to unity despite our differences has been a strong thread through all plenary and group sessions. We all hope and pray that as we work towards this, we will be able to shine as Christ’s light in this world.