The Archbishops Call to Prayer

Transcript of Archbishop Rowan’s Call to prayer for Lambeth

"Every ten years the Bishops of the Anglican Communion worldwide meet for the Lambeth Conference. They have been doing it like this for over a century now.

It was an idea which one of the Archbishops of Canterbury in the 19th century had as he recognised that what had begun simply as the Church of England and the Church in other bits of the British Isles and in Ireland; that Church had become something rather different. It had become an international body drawing in people of many, many different languages and cultures and it was growing very rapidly in Asia and above all in Africa because of the efforts of heroic missionaries.

The Archbishop who began the Lambeth Conference, Charles Longley, was somebody who had a vision of the Anglican identity, the Anglican way of being Christian, as something that was no longer just confined to the British Isles or to North America but that was in principle becoming a universal reality and he wanted Bishops speaking for those new communities, those different Anglican communities across the world, to be able to share with one another what their priorities were, their concerns and their hopes, and that has always been at the very heart of the Lambeth Conference.

It has never been a legislative body, though it has made decisions and recommendations. It has never just been a talking shop. It has been a place where Bishops come to pray together, to read the Bible together and quite simply to help one another to be Bishops.

This year's Lambeth Conference has a very special focus on just that. We want to see this year's conference as an occasion when Bishops learn how to be better Bishops; and because of what we believe about the Church overall, we believe that Bishops learn to be better Bishops when they are learning from one another - learning from people working in very different contexts with very different ideas and challenges to deal with.

We've focused this years planning on equipping Bishops for their mission that means that we've had a think quite seriously about the way we do our business this year. That is why we have created a number of different levels at which Bishops will be able to meet; the small Bible study groups where people will we hope feel safe enough to share some of the most intimate things about their faith and their situation, the middle sized groups for discussion of larger issues. We have given these the African name of indaba groups, groups where in traditional African culture, people get together to sort out the problems that affect them all, where everyone has a voice and where there is an attempt to find a common mind or a common story that everyone is able to tell when they go away from it.

This is how we approached it. This is what we heard. This is where we arrived as we prayed and thought and talked together and of course there'll be the occasions when the whole conference meets together to consider what it wants to say as a whole to the world and to listen to the speakers we have invited from the world of politics and international affairs, from other Churches and so on, what those other people have to say to us.

At the heart of the whole Anglican Communion is relationship. We have never been a body that is bound together by firm and precise rules and that is often, as it is at the moment, a matter of some real concern and some confusion in our life as a communion.

We don't want at the Lambeth Conference to be creating a lot of new rules but we do obviously need to strengthen our relationships and we need to put those relationships on another footing, slightly firmer footing, where we have promised to one another that this is how we will conduct our life together. And it is in that light that at this year we are discussing together the proposal for what we are calling a covenant between the Anglican Churches of the world. A covenant. A relationship of promise. We undertake that this is how we will relate to one another; that when these problems occur, that this is how we will handle them together, that this is how advice will be given and shared and that this is how decisions and discernment can be taken forward.

That is a very a big part of what we will be looking at this year but it is not everything because no covenant, no arrangement of that sort is worth the paper it is written on if it doesn't grow out of the relationships that are built as people pray together and share their lives together over two and a half weeks. And to try and underline, we have also decided that this year we are going to begin the Lambeth Conference with a couple of days of retreat, of quiet prayer and reflection.

There will be addresses. There will be a lot of open space and open time where people can just be alone with God, to think deeply about what they want from the conference and perhaps have the opportunity to talk quietly with one of two others about their hopes and fears.

What I would really most like to see in this years Lambeth Conference is the sense that this is essentially a spiritual encounter. A time when people are encountering God as they encounter one another, a time when people will feel that their life of prayer and witness is being deepened and their resources are being stretched.

Not a time when we are being besieged by problems that need to be solved and statements that need to be finalised, but a time when people feel that they are growing in their ministry. And for that to happen once again, we are going to need the prayers and the support of so many people around the world.

Yes this is a conference for Bishops, not for Bishops with their clergy and laity as so often happens but primarily for Bishops. A recognition that Bishops just do have distinctive responsibilities in the Church and that they need to think about what those special responsibilities mean, but all of that will only make sense if those responsibilities are exercised with and for all the Christian people of the Communion. And that is why I have encouraged people across the Communion to prepare for the Lambeth Conference not only by praying for Bishops as they gather but also by sharing some of the material that has been provided for Bible study at the Conference- sharing in reflection on St John's Gospel - so that Bishops and their people and their clergy will in the months ahead be going through the same kinds of processes of thinking and praying around St John's Gospel that will lay the foundations for what we hope to achieve at the Lambeth Conference.

So please pray for the Conference and please share in that process of preparation, that reflection of God's word in the Gospel of John that will open up to us the horizons that we need in order to be better Bishops for the sake of a better Church. Bishops who are more deeply bound together in Christian fellowship so that their Churches may be more deeply bound in Christian fellowship; Churches that are bound deeper in fellowship so that they can witness more effectively, more convincingly, more transformingly in the world around."

© Rowan Williams 2008

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The Archbishop of Canterbury The Most Revd Rowan Williams

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