Memories of Lambeth: A Worldwide Sharing

Episcopal News Service. August 17, 1978 [78233]

William Ferguson, Editors, The New Hampshire Churchman, Helen Ferguson, Editors, The New Hampshire Churchman

CANTERBURY, England -- The 11th Lambeth Conference is over, and 440 bishops have gone home to their dioceses in more than 100 countries of the world.

For three weeks, they shared a communal life on the campus of the University of Kent at Canterbury. There were many moments of quiet reflection for them as they met in sections and small groups. There were also times of brilliant pageantry, as in full episcopal regalia they formed long processions for services at Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London.

Most of them agreed that the greatest value in this deliberative gathering was the opportunity to talk with and know their brother bishops from every corner of the Anglican Communion.

The Lambeth Conference is called approximately every ten years by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It has increased greatly in size, and has outgrown the original meeting place at the Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Previous conferences have been held in London and have included numerous receptions and social occasions. At this 11th Lambeth Conference, it was the Archbishop's decision to have the bishops gather on a college campus, away from such distractions. They lived in dormitories and ate in college dining halls, and their wives were left to find housing elsewhere.

A separate conference was held for the bishops' wives at Christ Church College in Canterbury from August 5 to August 13.

The bishops were assigned to sections and then to small groups, to consider three subjects. Group I discussed the question, "What is the Church for?" It was chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Group II had as its subject, "The People of God and Ministry", and its chairman was Bishop Douglas Hamidge of Canada. Group III considered "The Role of the Anglican Church Among the Churches." Its chairman was Bishop Patrick Rodger of England.

Although the Lambeth Conference has no authority to legislate, the assembled bishops supplied the greatest possible perspective on every matter. Plenary sessions were open to the press, and reporters waited eagerly for scraps of information to indicate how the body agreed or disagreed. The question of whether the Church of England would approve the ordination of women commanded as much attention in the secular press as what the Episcopal Church in the United States would do in 1976.

Shut away on their campus, the bishops were protected from demonstrations, for better or worse. A group of supporters of women priests gathered in a prayer vigil at Westminster Abbey on the night before the bishops attended a service there, and girls in T-shirts with "Make Women Priests Now" were standing at the gate as the bishops' procession wound by them.

Another group called the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship walked from London to Canterbury and nailed an invitation to debate to the doors of the Cathedral, but they were two miles away from the bishops' retreat.

American bishops who had attended previous Lambeths noted some significant changes. The increasing number of dark-skinned bishops spoke of the emergence of the Church in the Third World. In many instances, an English bishop in a missionary district has been replaced by a bishop native to the country in a newly established Church.

Two of the many consultants included in the conference were women. Cynthia Wedel of Alexandria, Va. was present in that role, as was Dr. Lucy Ooman of India. Dr. Wedel is one of six presidents of the World Council of Churches.

Between sessions of study, prayer and deliberation, the bishops enjoyed some outside activities. A high point of the Conference was the London Day. With their wives, they were taken to the city for a tour of Lambeth Palace which is next to the Thames, on the south bank. After lunch in the garden, they went (by bus and on foot) to Westminster Abbey for a service of Evensong. Then came the extra special treat: a visit to Buckingham Palace where the visitors were greeted by the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. (Queen Elizabeth was in Canada at the time.)

For the opening service at Canterbury Cathedral, the bishops donned their colorful robes. But it wasn't long after the Conference got underway that informality took over. It was chiefly the Americans who broke out bright, casual clothes, but many Africans turned to colorful native costume.

The University of Kent, built on a rolling hill, gives a splendid of Canterbury Cathedral. It is visible from most places on campus, and many university buildings have taken advantage of the view with dramatic placement of large windows. At night, the cathedral is lit with floodlights.

If the bishops needed a reminder of why they were at Lambeth, "Waiting Upon God", they had to do no more than glance at the symbol of Anglicanism, the Cathedral, majestically reposing in the valley.

Speaking in favor of the ordination of women, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, likened the issue to that of discrimination against blacks. "We get tired of being spoken of in negative terms," he said, "non-white, non-European..." And he recalled the story of a man who saw a car being driven in an erratic fashion. "Must be a woman," he remarked. When the driver proved to be a man, he added, "His mother must have taught him to drive."

Waiting in line for their food, the bishops were delayed because there were no more trays. Bishop Howell Witt of North West Australia jumped lightly over the dividing rail and found some. When complimented on his agility, he joked: "When your diocese encompasses 600,000 square miles, you don't let a few little fences get in the way."

He said for him, the greatest value of the Conference was the opportunity to talk with brother bishops. "I see my clergy and lay people," he said, but it is very valuable for me to discuss, for instance, the indigenous ministry, and learn what others think about it."

"If I had been braver," said Bishop Deqani-Tafti of Iran, "I would have stood up at the plenary and said that I believe every bishop should have a frontier experience. When you work in a country that has enormous problems, you become aware of the enormous opportunities for a Christian."

His Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East includes four dioceses: Jerusalem, Cyprus and the Gulf, Egypt, and Iran. The number of people in each diocese is small, but there are peculiar problems as well as the universal one of human beings everywhere.

The Most Rev. Stuart Blanch, Archbishop of York, became a grandfather for the first time while attending the Lambeth Conference.

"It gives a whole new dimension to life, doesn't it?" he smiled. The baby's name is Beth, and her grandfather supposed it might be short for Lambeth, but her full name is Bethany.

"We dedicated a chapel in memory of my dear friend Geoffrey Fisher, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. " The present Archbishop, Donald Coggan, described the ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral which took place during the Lambeth Conference. "Five of his six sons were present," he said, "and his young wife of more than 80 years. It was truly an example of the communion of saints."

At the opening service of the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury Cathedral, music was provided by the cathedral choir and the magnificent organ, and also by a group of young black musicians who call themselves Groover's Steel Band. Their steel drums are of different depths and widths and can imitate almost any instrument. The music was ear piercing and fast and varied. Some listeners loved it, feeling that it exemplfied the contrasts in the world today, and the emergence of the Third World. Others felt that such music as "Mood Indigo," Souza's Washington Post march, and "Feelings," was unsuitable for the Eucharist in the cathedral. One bishop was heard to say, "I really didn't know what to think when the steel band started to play. Then I decided to pray for my people who work in the canning factory and who have to endure a high level of noise every day."

When the bishops arrived at the University of Kent, their taxis had BISHOPS written on them. It turned out to be the name of a taxi firm in Canterbury. Girl Guides were on hand to help them carry their luggage. And at the service at Westminster Abbey, Queen Scouts, the highest award a Girl Guide can earn, were chosen from all parts of England to carry banners in the great procession.

"Be careful of your cross," warned Canon Trevor Beeson as the Rev. Elizabeth Wiesner prepared to preach at a service of Morning Prayer at Westminster Abbey. If the preacher leans forward and has a cross swinging from a chain, it may hit the microphone and the resulting clink is carried throughout the vast church on the sound system.

Several women priests from the United States were present at the Conference as members of the press. The Rev. Patricia Park, Richmond, Va., acted as a reporter for The Witness, the Rev. Martha Blacklock (now an Archdeacon), Newark, N.J., represented the National Catholic Reporter, and the Rev. Elizabeth Wiesner, Washington, D. C., reported for Cathedral Age. Mrs. Weisner was invited to preach at Westminster Abbey during her stay in England.

On one of the rare sunny days, the bishops donned their colorful robes and clambored up on bleachers for the official photograph. Spectators crowded the scene, and cameras were much in use. For the first time in a Lambeth photograph, a woman was included. She is Mrs. Marion Kelleran of Alexandria, Va., chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council. She was the first woman "participant" at the Conference, able to take part in discussions and voting up to the final vote on resolutions.

Lambeth XI was to be residential, with bishops housed on the University of Kent campus, away from their wives. This prompted the London Telegraph to headline a story: "Archbishop Says Bishops Should Be Celibate", with a subhead in smaller type: "For Three Weekstr.

There were 112 bishops from the Episcopal Church at Lambeth Conference, of whom 91 were from the States, by far the largest national group. Dioceses tend to be smaller in the U. S., hence the number of prelates. Only a few American bishops were unable to attend.

One bishop of ACNA, the Anglican Church in North America, Bishop Peter Francis Watterson, appeared at the conference one day, but did not attempt to take part. Another of the bishops from the dissident group, the Rt. Rev. James O. Mote, held a press conference in London, urging Lambeth to expel the Episcopal Church of the United States.