Primates 'face extinction crisis'

This is the headline of a new BBC article, headed by a picture looking rather like Rowan Williams keeping his mouth shut, which starts:

A global review of the world’s primates says 48% of species face extinction, an outlook described as “depressing” by conservationists.

“Conservationists”, not “conservatives”? This is the first clue that this article is actually about monkeys and apes, not the archbishops of the Anglican Communion. But at least according to some press pundits the outlook for Primates of the episcopal kind, in the wake of the recently finished Lambeth Conference, is just as depressing.

So what did the allegedly 666 bishops at the conference achieve? And what now are the prospects for the Anglican Communion?

The main output from the conference was a long and rambling document called Lambeth Indaba Reflections. I have not attempted to read all of this. The most controversial part is in Section K, paragraph 145:

The moratoria

145.  The moratoria cover three separate but related issues: ordinations of persons living in a same gender union to the episcopate; the blessing of same-sex unions; cross-border incursions by bishops. There is widespread support for moratoria across the Communion, building on those that are already being honoured. The moratoria can be taken as a sign of the bishops’ affection, trust and goodwill towards the Archbishop of Canterbury and one another. The moratoria will be difficult to uphold, although there is a desire to do so from all quarters. There are questions to be clarified in relation to how long the moratoria are intended to serve. Perhaps the moratoria could be seen as a “season of gracious restraint”. In relation to moratorium 2 (the blessing of same-sex unions) there is a desire to clarify precisely what is proscribed. Many differentiate between authorised public rites, rather than pastoral support. If the Windsor process is to be honoured, all three moratoria must be applied consistently.

John Richardson, who quoted the words “Episcopal ordinations of partnered homosexual people” apparently from an earlier version of this document (or perhaps from the Church Times blog), has misunderstood the first moratorium as referring to ordinations by bishops. The current version has clarified that the moratorium is restricted to ordination or consecration as bishops, of practising homosexuals. This justifies John’s response to my comment that he may have understood the words he quoted:

If it now means ‘ordinations of’ bishops, then the Lambeth 2008 has been an unnoticed disaster for the traditionalists there, as they have now accepted what Lambeth 1998 1.10 said ought not to happen.

Indeed, section H of the Reflections, on Human Sexuality, while referring to Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, mentions only that ordination of homosexual bishops goes against this resolution. The document has nothing to say about ordination of practising homosexuals as priests, which in practice now seems to be considered acceptable.

Actually these three moratoria are nothing new. They go back to the 2004 Windsor Report, paragraph 134:

the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges;

paragraph 144:

public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions … Because of the serious repercussions in the Communion, we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites …;

and paragraph 155:

We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own … to effect a moratorium on any further interventions.

So will these moratoria now provide a basis for healing the rifts within the Communion? They might just do if they were observed. But for four years the second and third of them have been widely ignored. It seems highly unlikely that the North American churches will now start observing the second one. Indeed Susan Russell of the gay lobby group Integrity has already invoked the Boston Tea Party and said:

It is not going to change anything on the ground in California. We bless same-sex relationships and will continue to do so.

And there is no way that the conservatives are going to abide by the third moratorium if the first two are simply ignored. The best that can be hoped for here is a breathing space, nothing more than a “season of gracious restraint” which will in fact not be accepted graciously by many.

So where does this take the Anglican Communion? Ruth Gledhill quotes George Conger, writing on Sunday:

While a blow up is not expected on the final day of the July 16 to Aug 3 gathering of bishops in Canterbury, the prospects for a united Anglican Communion appear less likely now than at the start of the conference.

Is this journalistic pessimism, or, from the point of view of those looking for stories to report, optimism? Well, there are those who claim to be optimistic, like Tim Chesterton who writes:

I’m cautiously optimistic. I suspect that the extremists on both sides will not heed the call for moratoria and will not sign on to any covenant. But I think the majority will, and if that means that we have a smaller communion, based on humility, prayer, a willingness to admit that each of us ‘sees through a glass darkly’ and a determination to seek the will of God together without automatically dismissing those with whom we disagree – well, so be it.

Well, if even an optimist expects “the extremists on both sides” to leave, what does that mean? If “the extremists” on one side are the North American churches and on the other side are those who boycotted the Lambeth Conference, then, according to statistics from Anglican Mainstream, we are talking about 17.5 million (or 25 million) Anglicans in Nigeria, 9.6 million in Uganda, 2.4 million (or 800,000) in the USA, and 740,000 (or 640,000) in Canada. As the total number of Anglicans is variously reported to be between 50 and 75 million, if these “extremists” are in fact a minority they are only just so. Of course not everyone in each of these provinces is an “extremist”, but there are many other provinces with large numbers of “extremists”, in some cases on both sides, as here in England.

So perhaps the BBC’s estimate of 48% is a good one, that 48% not of Primates but of the Anglican provinces and dioceses they serve “face extinction”. The amazing thing is that a conservationist, I mean a conservative, like Tim Chesterton does not find this outlook “depressing” but is still “cautiously optimistic”.

Nobody expects the Anglican Inquisition …

… that is, except for Ruth Gledhill. In a blog post which starts with

The Anglican Communion is on the rack and the torture continues

she writes that the Anglican bishops meeting at the Lambeth Conference are planning

to set up a new Faith and Order Commission.

This sounds extraordinarily like the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. … The CDF was of course formerly the Holy Office, or the Inquisition.

But the question remains open of who will be investigated, and who will do the investigating.

One of the battles being fought, apparently, is over which way the [US Episcopal Church] Primate Katharine Jefferts Schori will jump.

In other words, will she be accepted as an inquisitor or become a victim? Will this Faith and Order Commission be tasked with enforcing the decisions of past Lambeth Conferences, including the one against homosexual practice? This would please the GAFCON conservatives but will surely lead to the North American churches and liberals in other countries leaving the Anglican Communion. Or will the plan be put together in such a way as to bring the North American churches on board? I can’t see how that could be done, at least if the moderate conservatives are also on board, without making the Commission powerless and meaningless. The plan seems so unlikely to be helpful that I suspect it is no more than someone’s half-baked proposal, leaked to the press and built up into something more than it really is.

So I don’t expect the Anglican Inquisition. Anyway, even if it does turn up, I’m sure it will be no more cruel than Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition whose most horrific torture was forcing its victim to sit in the “comfy chair”.

Lambeth: the Secret Plan

Dave Walker has clearly been working hard as cartoonist in residence at the Lambeth conference. In this cartoon (part of his Lambeth series) he seems to have uncovered and portrayed Archbishop Rowan’s secret strategy for getting the bishops to talk to one another.

UPDATE: Ruth Gledhill confirms the story with real pictures of bishops queuing, not for dinner but for a bus.

But there have been no new cartoons since this one which was Monday’s. I hope that Dave hasn’t been so distracted by his legal issues that he has been unable to do any new drawing. He has at least managed to post direct from his mobile phone a picture of bishops marching in London this morning, with Rowan in the front row and the slogan “Keep the Promise – Halve Poverty by 2015”.

Lambeth creed drops "and the Son"

In a comment on another blog a few days ago I referred to the infamous filioque addition to the Nicene Creed, or, more correctly, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. The original 4th century version of this Creed, adopted at the Council of Nicea and revised at the Council of Constantinople, affirms that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father”. In Western churches by the sixth century this had been changed to “proceeds from the Father and the Son”, by the addition of the Latin word filioque “and (from) the Son”. This is the form normally used in Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgies. But the addition has never been accepted by the Eastern Orthodox churches and has become a major point of contention between eastern and western churches.

Pat Ashworth, reporting in the Church Times Blog from the Lambeth Conference, writes the following in describing the opening service in Canterbury Cathedral:

Then the Nicene Creed: it caused us to stumble, said as it was in its ancient form, without the phrase, “and the Son”.

So why was the filioque clause omitted from the Creed as recited in Canterbury? I suppose that it was because of a resolution from a previous Lambeth Conference, which unlike the present one actually discussed substantive matters and made decisions. This is from section 5 of Resolution 6 of the 1988 Lambeth Conference, the resolution about Anglican-Orthodox Relations (Wikipedia‘s link to the Anglican Communion website is broken, I have given the current link):

Asks that further thought be given to the Filioque clause, recognising it to be a major point of disagreement, … recommending to the provinces of the Anglican Communion that in future liturgical revisions the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed be printed without the Filioque clause.

So I suppose whoever designed the liturgy for the Lambeth Conference is at least following the conference’s own resolutions. It would also appear that in the twenty years since 1988 not many provinces have actually implemented this resolution, for many bishops stumbled over the revised wording. Indeed in the Common Worship liturgy of the Church of England, “Copyright © The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, 2000-2006”, the form of the Nicene Creed without the filioque is specified only as

may be used on suitable ecumenical occasions.

And as such occasions are rare it is not surprising that even most Church of England bishops stumbled at this point.

The comment I made a few days ago makes an argument from Revelation 22:1 that the Holy Spirit does indeed “proceed” (whatever this means – the Greek word simply means “go out”) from the Father and the Son, thus giving a theological justification for the filioque clause. So I would have to suggest that the filioque clause is theologically justified. However, the Anglican Communion’s position, as reflected in the 1988 Lambeth resolution, is not rejection of the theology of the filioque. The position seems to be that the proper text of the Nicene Creed is what was agreed at the Ecumenical Councils including both eastern and western churches, rather than in subsequent decisions of the western church alone. On this basis I can accept the creed without the addition – although I too would be likely to stumble over it.

Lambeth: no news may be good news

The long awaited Lambeth Conference has started. But for the moment it doesn’t seem to be very interesting, in terms of any real content. The blogging bishops, and even the usually irrepressible Dave Walker who has got himself a pass through the security fence, are keeping quiet about anything non-trivial. The real press have been reduced to talking about themselves and sneaking through the fence.

The most interesting news I have seen, with the possible exception of the contradictory Roman Catholic reactions, is that the bishops are saying what they think about the Church of England’s antiquated parish system by breaking its rules. They are meeting for their conference without the permission of the incumbent of the parish they are meeting in – as reported by that incumbent, who is also a blogger. But he doesn’t report that a bishop who is not at the Conference will this Sunday attend an open air service in his parish. Nor has the bishop in question yet reported it on his blog; this news was hinted at by Ruth Gledhill and confirmed here. Has the incumbent officially invited this bishop? Does he even know he is coming? Of course the bishop doesn’t need an invitation if he is just going to attend, but will he do more? The bishop I am referring to: none other than Gene Robinson!

What can we hope for from this conference? The press have gathered in the hope of picking over the bones of a deceased Anglican communion. But I doubt if they will find a corpse. I suspect that the whole thing is now being carefully enough stage managed that an appearance of unity will be kept up, even if everyone knows how superficial it is. In that case there will be no news to satisfy the reporters, so I hope the weather warms up so they can enjoy their swimming pool. Of course if the stage management breaks down and real fireworks start to go off among the mitres, that will be news. But I expect that even if the rain stays away Lambeth will be a damp squib, three expensive weeks which will do nothing to solve the terminal sickness of the Anglican Communion if not actually making things worse.

I am sure a lot of Anglicans are taking a “wait and see” approach to the GAFCON process until after Lambeth, and after their summer holidays. But by September they will be starting to realise that they have to make choices one way or another. Time will tell.

Primates and Packer live from All Souls

John Richardson, the Ugley Vicar, is live blogging from All Souls Langham Place, in London, where a day conference is in session with some of the leaders who were recently at the GAFCON conference, also with J.I. Packer. John has already posted summaries of talks by Archbishop Hebry Orombi of Uganda and Archbishop Greg Venables of the Southern Cone, followed by a summary of an interview with Rev Dr Packer. This summary ends as follows:

Interviewer: What would be your wisdom about carrying on the GAFCON process in England?

JP: At the heart of the Statement is the Jerusalem Declaration. I would like to see PCCs and, where possible, Diocesan Synod, or even central bodies, committing themselves to this as their own guiding star. I would like to see the Primates who were leaders at GAFCON meeting in a public way in January 2009, casting the Jerusalem Statement into the form of a covenantal commitment, publicly subscribing to it on the part of their provinces, and also seeing diocesans subscribe to it. I would like to see it presented to new bishops appointed in the Church of England to subscribe to it, and I would like to see it established as a basis for orthodoxy and missionary action.

The goal of the Covenant Process begun in the Windsor Report would thus be achieved in essence. Anglican provinces who didn’t come along with this would be in the outer circle of limited communion for not identifying with Anglican orthodoxy.

This would be a first step in getting Anglicanism back into proper shape.

Interviewer: Thank you for letting us look into your ‘crystal ball’.

(A standing ovation was given to Dr Packer, who also stood to acknowledge it.)

It is an interesting idea to get PCCs and Synods to endorse the Jerusalem Declaration. Most of it is uncontroversial among conservative Anglicans. But the likely sticking point is this clause:

13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.

Before the statement can be generally accepted there needs to be some clarification, as I discussed earlier today, about how this clause is not Donatism and not in conflict with Article XXVI.

UPDATE: John Richardson has added a summary of a panel discussion, which touches on many interesting issues. Peter Jensen confirmed that ordination of women was considered a secondary issue on which opinions could differ. Greg Venables noted that he is going to Lambeth, but said:

I have very little hope for Lambeth. It is not going to be a place where we can sit people down and see what we are going to do.

The discussion summary ends as follows:

Q: Could the panel comment about how people in the CofE may most helpfully respond to GAFCON and the Jerusalem Declaration?

Peter Jensen: This affects everyone in the UK. Os Guinness compared it to a nuclear explosion where the fallout will happen around the world. Your presence here suggests you are deeply concerned about that fallout. GAFCON is a spiritual movement. Many of you will want to be part of it and to apply it to your local situation. There will be no vote here, but if you are convinced of this you signal so by writing in to the GAFCON website, indicating you support for the GAFCON movement.

FURTHER UPDATE: John RIchardson is blogging almost as fast as I can keep up with him! He has now blogged on the session with Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney. In this Jensen takes further the point he started on at the end of the panel discussion. He explains why he considers it important for orthodox Anglicans to make a stand on this issue, not just to keep their heads down in their parishes. He answers Rowan Williams’ criticism that GAFCON is self-appointed:

GAFCON is a very Anglican answer — a new set of instruments of unity! They were not ‘self-appointed’, they were God-appointed, from looking at the Word of God and seeing what they needed to do. …

The last two weeks have been two of the most extraordinary in my life. What we are dealing with here is not a split, but a movement possibly as significant as the Evangelical Revival, or even the Anglo-Catholic movement if you prefer, and it may bring Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics together [applause].

The day conference apparently ended with these words from Jensen:

Henry Orombi, Greg Venables, Jim Packer have all spoken about the situation. It is not for me to tell you what you must do here, apart from saying you must stand for the gospel and the Bible. We are looking to you. We need you to be strong and brave and true. We will help you. And together we will resist the forces of evil and secularism which seek to extinguish the gospel and are using the Church to do that. Stand firm.

Rowan Williams and NT Wright respond to GAFCON

On Saturday I linked to Ruth Gledhill’s report of the final communiqué from GAFCON, with its veiled plans for schism in the Anglican Communion. She has now reported some interesting episcopal reactions, from Archbishop Rowan Williams and from “+THOMAS DUNELM:”, who for those unfamiliar with Anglican-speak is none other than the infamous NT Wright, Bishop of Durham.

The response from Williams (UPDATE: taken from here) surprises me. A large part of it focuses on the practical difficulties of schism rather than on the principles, almost suggesting that Williams is saying that the GAFCON leaders should make sure they do the schism properly. But he also claims that

The ‘tenets of orthodoxy’ spelled out in the [GAFCON] document will be acceptable to and shared by the vast majority of Anglicans in every province, even if there may be differences of emphasis and perspective on some issues.

Well, if that is true, why not present the document to the Lambeth Conference? If every province accepts it by a large majority as Rowan imagines, the schism is over. But is does Rowan really think that every province will endorse the following, even with “differences of emphasis and perspective”?:

8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.

If so, he is clearly even more out of touch than I had thought. And even more seriously, would there really be near universal acceptance of the following?:

5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.

In the end all that Rowan can do is to quote completely out of context

the words of the Apostle in I Cor.11.33: ‘wait for one another’.

But how long are people to wait? There needs to be a willingness to wait on both sides. The North American churches were not prepared to wait before ordaining a gay bishop etc. Why should others wait?

Then, after some negative comments by Bishop Chane, presumably of Washington DC, Ruth moves on to quote “+THOMAS DUNELM:”, NT Wright. Wright’s comments (UPDATE: taken from here) are long, and generally very positive about the GAFCON process. This part is interesting:

I fully agree with the GAFCON statement – and with Archbishop Rowan – that the Communion instruments have not been able to deal with the problems, and that we need to find better ways of going about it.

He also puts paid to any suggestion that he has a colonialist attitude:

What’s more, it is enormously exciting to live at a time when new leadership is arising from places completely outside the north Atlantic axis. Africa was one of the great cradles of early Christianity, producing such towering minds as Tertullian and Augustine. Most of us have long ago moved away from any idea that Christianity, or even Anglicanism, somehow ‘belongs’ to England or northern Europe. … I would have hoped, actually, that all this would now go without saying: that we have long moved beyond the sterile stand-off between ‘colonialism’ and ‘post-colonialism’. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s what matters.

Interestingly, he says that he was not invited to GAFCON. But then that may be because he attacked it in the Church Times perhaps before the invitation list was drawn up. In fact now he seems less critical than he was before, but in the end he rejects the whole GAFCON process:

In particular, though, there is something very odd about the proposal to form a ‘Council’ and then to ask such a body to ‘authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations’ – and then, as an addition, ‘to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith’. Many Anglicans around the world intend to do that in any case, and will not understand why they need to be ‘recognised’ or ‘authenticated’ by a new, self-selected and non-representative body to which they were not invited and which will not itself, it seems be accountable to anyone else.

He fears that the document

offers a blank cheque to anyone who wants to defy a bishop for whatever reasons, even if the bishop in question is scrupulously orthodox, and then to claim the right to alternative jurisdictional oversight. This cannot be the way forward; nor do I think most of those at GAFCON intended such a thing. …

… if GAFCON is to join up with the great majority of faithful, joyful Anglicans around the world, rather than to invite them to leave their present allegiance and sign up to a movement which is as yet – to put it mildly – strange in form and uncertain in destination, it is not so much that GAFCON needs to invite others to sign up and join in. Bishops, clergy and congregations should think very carefully before taking such a step, which will have enormous and confusing consequences. Rather, GAFCON itself needs to bring its rich experience and gospel-driven exuberance to the larger party where the rest of us are working day and night for the same gospel, the same biblical wisdom, the same Lord.

Indeed it would be wonderful if GAFCON could bring its experience and exuberance to the larger party. But the problem is that some of those at the party seem not to be working for the same gospel, some might wonder if even for the same Lord. If the people working together cannot even agree on their goals, there is little point in them working together as they will simply undo one another’s work. Williams and Wright claim that this is not what will happen, but Williams has failed to reassure the GAFCON primates of this. Again, Williams is saying too little, too late. Unfortunately the result is a momentum towards schism which he seems powerless to stop.

Bishop Broadbent to stay away from Lambeth

A few months ago I was writing a lot about the Lambeth Conference, and about the “alternative” GAFCON conference. Well, GAFCON is already here (but I have not yet kept up to date with reports from it), and Lambeth is coming up very soon.

One of the things which I did write was about Bishop Pete Broadbent of Willesden (still the only genuine Church of England bishop to comment on this blog):

I would be surprised if Broadbent stays away from Lambeth, although he might also attend GAFCON.

But now the Telegraph reports (thanks to the Church TImes blog for the link, also for linking to this blog on another matter) that Broadbent will be absent from Lambeth, along with Bishops Nazir-Ali and Benn whose absence has long been announced. This is confirmed in this Fulcrum forum thread, in a post written “Sunday 22 June 2008 – 03:41pm”, in which Graham Kings writes that Broadbent

is not going to make a public statement about his reasons for not going to Lambeth, which are complex.

This is of course clear confirmation that Broadbent is not going. On the same thread this morning, “Monday 23 June 2008 – 09:23am”, Broadbent himself gives a public statement, not “about his reasons for not going to Lambeth” but about his reasons for not making a public statement about his reasons. I don’t think that is being inconsistent, but I’m not sure. He writes:

1. Because there isn’t a party line. There is a conference. There are invitations. You can accept an invitation or decline it. It’s not a matter for third parties.

2. Because you may feel that explaining your reasons publicly would not be helpful to the conference host, whom you may not wish to undermine.

3. Becasue non-attendance is of course saving money, rather than expending it, and allows the Anglican Communion to spend more on cheese.

No wonder “Liddon” calls Broadbent “a politician”! But I have my own interesting points to make here:

  1. Broadbent apparently does not want to undermine Archbishop Rowan Williams, who he considers “a good man”.
  2. He is avoiding both conferences, saving money for both sets of organisers!
  3. Nevertheless he has his reasons for not attending, and explaining them publicly would not be helpful to Williams – which implies that the reasons are not purely personal.

One might wonder if Broadbent is trying to keep a foot in both camps, not upsetting his evangelical friends by attending Lambeth, but also not upsetting Williams and his associates by attending GAFCON or going public with any criticism. I don’t want to suggest that Broadbent’s position is anything less than honourable, but I do see it as a political decision, a compromise. Sadly the Anglican Communion has got into its current bad state because of a series of compromises. I don’t think it is helpful to anyone to continue to compromise.

Sitting on fences is uncomfortable, and remaining on this one will surely become even more so. Some time quite soon Bishop Broadbent will have to jump down on one side or the other.

Could this one be the Wright letter?

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?

A Lambeth riddle

Ruth Gledhill has had the interesting experience of interviewing both Bishop Gene Robinson and Bishop Greg Venables in the last few days. Her interview with Bishop Gene is available on YouTube; sadly the one with Bishop Greg is as yet not, or not linked to. But she does break the unexpected news that Venables, as well as Robinson, will attend the Lambeth Conference. As Venables has been invited, although perhaps not expected, he will be an official delegate. But Robinson will not be. Also, his “bridegroom” Mark will be in Canterbury only for the first few days of the conference, so it will not be as much of a “honeymoon” for them as I once suggested.

Ruth then gets poetic with her thoughts on the two bishops at Lambeth, including these lines:

He uninvited and he not disinvited will both be tried and found wanting.
They’ll hang either side of the leader who tried to unite them and failed at the asking.

Rowan Williams as Christ between the two thieves, indeed? According to Rev George Pitcher in the Daily Telegraph, linked to by John Richardson,

Dr Williams considers the See of Canterbury as not just his calling, but his cross to bear. He’ll not be driven from it short of illness or an act of God.

It may be the cross from which his body has to be taken down at the end of the Lambeth Conference, and with no guarantee of resurrection. But to which of the two thieves will he say “Today you will be with me in paradise”? There is no Anglican paradise with room for both of them.

UPDATE (6.40 pm): Ruth Gledhill has now posted her interview with Bishop Greg Venables, in written form.