A Word About the Lambeth Conference
Beloved in Christ,
Melissa and I are currently in the UK and will be heading to Canterbury, England, tomorrow to attend the Lambeth Conference of bishops, where around 650 bishops and 400 spouses, from more than 165 different countries, will gather from July 26 to August 8. This is the fifteenth such gathering since 1867.
In the Episcopal Church, we are part of a vastly diverse global family, and just as it is critically important for us to incarnate our shared identity by gathering regularly as a diocesan household, a gathering of Anglican Christians on this scale is an important way of remembering and celebrating the true breadth and catholicity of our tradition. I’m firmly committed to cultivating relationships across the communion as best as I am able.
Indeed, for several years, that’s the kind of gathering we were promised by the conference organizers. We have been told the focus of this Lambeth would be walking, praying, studying scripture together, and generally building friendship across difference, rather than debating and voting about the issues that may divide us. Then, last week, all bishops attending received a 60-page document containing ten “Lambeth Calls,” which are theological and policy statements covering a wide spectrum of critical issues facing the church, and told we would be given voting devices and asked to either “affirm” or “commit to ongoing conversation” on each call. You can see the document here.
A small section of one of the calls asks us to reaffirm a resolution from the 1998 conference that same-sex marriage is incompatible with Anglican/Episcopal teaching and practice. This has attracted a lot of attention around the church in the past several days.
These last-minute changes to the conference have been bewildering and frustrating to many bishops, including me. I’m writing to you to assure you that no matter what headlines or conversation you or the people in your care might see on social media and other places in the coming weeks, the Lambeth Conference has no binding authority over the policies and practices of the Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Minnesota. Our highest governing authority, the General Convention, has been clear for some time now about the full inclusion of our LGBTQ siblings in the sacramental life and leadership of this church, including the sacrament of marriage, and I remain fully committed to that myself. I grieve the pain these developments will no doubt cause our LGBTQ siblings, who are deeply beloved of God, and I commit to continuing to do all I can to witness to and advocate for full recognition of that beloved in the councils of the church.
What is most disappointing to me in all this is that the Lambeth Calls actually lay out and address a number of things that are critical for us right now as a church: developing new ways of sharing the gospel with our neighbors; grappling with the devastating realities of climate change on God’s creation; addressing the rising tide of anti-democratic and authoritarian movements around the world; making our churches safer places; and repenting the sins of our colonialist past and making reparations going forward. These are critical issues about which I have much to learn from bishops and others around the world, and I regret the likelihood that reviving a conflict over a twenty-four-year-old resolution about sexuality will gain most of the attention and energy of the bishops gathered, as well as anyone observing.
Regardless of the challenges and frustrations that go along with being part of this diverse family, I am and will remain committed to engaging with the wider communion. As followers of Jesus, no one gets to or has to be alone or to go it entirely on their own. We belong to one another as baptized members of a global and historical church, and faithful discipleship means we can never simply disregard those among us who see things very differently than we do. I will always endeavor to love and serve those, both in the diocese and beyond, who may disagree with me in any given situation. But in my experience, forcing an up or down vote on issues about which there is deep disagreement is not the best way to foster the kinds of relationships we are called to form. I’m saddened by the possibility that this Lambeth Conference may miss an historic opportunity to deepen our connection, rather than highlight our divisions.
If you have any questions about things you may hear from Lambeth, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I will try to keep you posted with any significant developments that happen. Please pray for me, Melissa, and all bishops and spouses gathering. As ever, all of you will be in the front of my mind and heart as I engage in this important work I’ve promised to do.
Grace and Peace,
The Right Reverend Craig Loya
Episcopal Church in Minnesota