About a month ago, as I reported, Bishop NT Wright referred to a letter which Archbishop Rowan Williams was supposed to have already sent to Anglican bishops, supposedly in an attempt to dissuade from attending the Lambeth Conference those who were not committed to the Windsor Process and the Anglican Covenant. But, it seems, no such letters arrived. What was sent out at about this time was a video message. Ruth Gledhill suggested that this video was in fact what Bishop Wright was referring to. But, as I wrote at the time, the content of the video was nothing like the message which Wright described.
Now, a month later and only just over two months before the Lambeth Conference begins, another message from Archbishop Rowan has arrived in bishops’ letter boxes. Ruth Gledhill gives the full text and again speculates that this is the message that Wright was talking about. And indeed the content seems to fit what Wright had to say. Well, given the current state of the British postal service it is believable that these letters have been in the post for a month. But as the message is explicitly linked to the feast of Pentecost, yesterday, surely Wright was misinformed about it being in the post, even if it was already being drafted a month ago.
Actually it is a really good letter. I am impressed with the seasonal appeals to the Holy Spirit:
The Feast of Pentecost … is a good moment to look forward prayerfully to the Lambeth Conference, asking God to pour out the Spirit on all of us as we make ready for this time together, so that we shall indeed be given grace to speak boldly in his Name. …
We are asking for the fire of the Spirit to come upon us and deepen our sense that we are answerable to and for each other and answerable to God for the faithful proclamation of his grace uniquely offered in Jesus. That deepening may be painful in all kinds of ways. The Spirit does not show us a way to by-pass the Cross. But only in this way shall we truly appear in the world as Christ’s Body as a sign of God’s Kingdom which challenges a world scarred by poverty, violence and injustice. …
And our ambition is nothing less than renewal and revival for us all in the Name of Jesus and the power of his Spirit.
Todd Bentley would give an “Amen!” to that, even though his style is entirely different.
The “indaba” discussion groups Archbishop Rowan describes seem a helpful model for this kind of conference. But as for Wright’s suggestion that Williams was trying to persuade certain bishops not to attend, Williams writes that something (I’m not quite sure what)
makes it all the more essential that those who come to Lambeth will arrive genuinely willing to engage fully in that growth towards closer unity that the Windsor Report and the Covenant Process envisage. We hope that people will not come so wedded to their own agenda and their local priorities that they cannot listen to those from other cultural backgrounds. As you may have gathered, in circumstances where there has been divisive or controversial action, I have been discussing privately with some bishops the need to be wholeheartedly part of a shared vision and process in our time together.
Will this actually stop any bishops coming? I doubt it, unless “discussing privately … the need” is a euphemism for “ordering”.
Will the letter persuade any to come who were not planning to? Well, it might win over some who were wavering, and increase the number attending both the Lambeth Conference and Gafcon. The latter, the alternative conference in late June in Jordan and Israel, arranged by conservatives, is currently expecting 280 bishops, compared with the total of about 800 invited to Lambeth.
But a letter like this will not go far towards healing the deep divisions in the Anglican Communion. A month ago I wrote, actually quoting Wright’s words, that the letter he was referring to
is far too little, far too late.
The letter which has now arrived is still far too little, and it is even later.
Meanwhile Dave Walker suggests to me, with a cartoon to illustrate it, another way in which Archbishop Rowan might be discouraging Lambeth attendance. He will not be flying anywhere this summer. But of course he is the only bishop who can reasonably walk from his cathedral to the Lambeth Conference. The next nearest diocesan bishop, Nazir-Ali of Rochester, could just about walk the 30 miles or so to Canterbury, but is not expected to attend. So, by giving up flying, is Rowan giving an example which he doesn’t expect any other bishops to follow, or is he giving a subtle message to those from outside Europe not to bother to travel to Lambeth?