Lambeth Opening Reflects Rich Heritage

Episcopal News Service. July 27, 1978 [78206]

CANTERBURY, England -- In colorful opening ceremonies reflecting the span of Anglican tradition, the XI Lambeth Conference of Bishops of the Church got underway with a call from the spiritual head to "wait upon God."

Over 400 bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion joined the procession into their "Mother Church," the ancient Canterbury Cathedral, July 23 to celebrate the eucharist and begin three weeks of reflection and self-examination of their role and that of their 25 national churches. The eucharist was celebrated according to the rite of the Church of the Province of Tanzania -- one of the youngest of the Church's provinces -- and the music itself, ranging from traditional organ to modern steel bands, also symbolized the bredth of cultures and tradition of the Church.

In his opening sermon, the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Donald Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the Church, reiterated the theme of the conference, "waiting upon God", and warned against bishops falling into the mold of "superexecutive." He told bishops, their wives and visitors that it was urgent that they should hear what God has to say to them about the world, the Church and about them.

In oblique reference to the growing number of indigenous Churches in the world and the fact that Third World Churches will have greater influence on the conference than ever before, Dr. Coggan said, "we noisy, comfortable westerners have much to learn from our eastern brothers, materially poorer and often spiritually richer. We.. .need to listen to younger Churches and catch from them the first fine, careless rapture of their deep love of Jesus. "

The current Lambeth gathering differs from its 10 predecessors both in site and content. All others have been held at the Archbishop's London residence, Lambeth Palace, while this year's is being held at the University of Kent in this primatial see city. The location also reinforces a more retreat-like and collegial atmosphere which the conference leaders have encouraged.

Although no Lambeth meeting is legislative in nature (the individual member churches alone have that authority) its deliberations have always carried great weight in shaping Anglican theology and mission. This time, the design discourages a flow of bills and pronouncements in favor of examination of the Church in the world, ministry and the role of Anglicanism.

Plenary sessions will be held and will deal with major church issues -- among them the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate -- but Dr. Coggan has stressed repeatedly his hope that these "issues" will not become the sole focus of the gathering.