Homosexuality dominated today’s official launch of the Lambeth Conference, the 10-yearly gathering of the world’s Anglican bishops taking place in Kent this summer, with the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking frankly of the “climate of controversy” in which they were meeting.Dr Rowan Williams acknowledged that despite the “painful controversies” clouding the life of the communion for the past few years, about 70% of bishops worldwide had formally registered for the conference while a number of others had signalled their intention to attend. It showed, he said, “a strong loyalty to each other and a desire to stay together”.
His remarks came amid threats of a boycott from conservative Anglican leaders following the consecration of the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, in the US in 2003.Churches in Nigeria and Uganda have indicated they will not attend Lambeth and there is doubt over the presence of some bishops from the Church of England, including the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali.
Last year, it was announced that Robinson had not been invited to the conference, but that Williams intended to “explore the possibility” of inviting him as a guest.
When asked if he had decided whether Robinson would attend, Williams replied: “Gene Robinson has not been invited to the Lambeth Conference and it is proving extremely difficult to see under what heading he might be invited to be around, and that is where we are.
“To those bishops who do not wish to attend, I recognise their absolute right to choose in good faith and in conscience whether or not they can be there. The invitation is on the table; naturally I shall be delighted to see more rather than fewer bishops there, that is their choice, but the door is open.”
Robinson is not, however, barred from visiting the conference and it is thought that his presence, and planned activities by gay rights campaigners at the event, deterred traditionalists from accepting the archbishop’s invitation.
Williams also announced that the conference programme would not shy away from the issue of sex and sexuality, saying there would be two ways to discuss the issue.
“We will look at sexuality and the ministry of bishops. We will be reporting back from the listening process that came out of the previous Lambeth Conference. It’s also going to be part of conversation informally day by day.”
The three main areas to be explored at the conference will be the internal life of the communion centred on talks about the Anglican Covenant, interfaith relations and international development and environment issues.
The launch was also attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s wife, Jane Williams, and Margaret Sentamu, wife of the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who are presiding over the spouses’ conference.
Mrs Williams, who is an academic theologian, said some people may think of their event as “jam and Jerusalem, more tea vicar, or mitre-making and flower arranging”.
She said: “There will certainly be food and singing in our programme but there will also be a chance to meet some of the most interesting, committed and dynamic people in the Anglican communion.”
Hat/tip: Anglican Mainstream