|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on August 3, 2022 at 10:15 AM|
While many of us have been on the road this summer, it’s also been a major travel summer for The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
In early July, our denomination’s leaders met in Baltimore for the 80th General Convention (GC). Normally, GC meets for eight days every three years, but this GC was delayed a year and shortened because of the ongoing pandemic.
Each Diocese sends its bishops and elected clergy and lay deputies to GC to discuss and vote on resolutions that shape the values and practices of The Episcopal Church as a whole. All told, over 400 resolutions were proposed at the 2022 GC, covering everything from social issues to liturgical reforms to human resource policies such as family leave for church employees.
Together, they passed a churchwide budget and elected a new president and vice president of the House of Deputies (HOD). Julie Ayala Harris, a layperson from the Diocese of Oklahoma, is the youngest and first Latina ever to be elected as HOD president. The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, who is Shackan First Nation, is the first Indigenous person to serve as HOD vice president. The budget that was passed includes funds for examining The Episcopal Church’s involvement in Indigenous boarding schools, an important part of reckoning with our denomination’s overall history of racial injustice.
One of the most widely discussed topics at the 2022 GC concerned the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Some Episcopalians have advocated that the time has come to update the 1979 BCP in minor but substantive ways, while others would prefer the church continue using the 1979 BCP as is, while also authorizing supplemental worship materials for parishes to use in addition to the 1979 BCP. With the resolutions passed at the 2022 CG, the bishops and deputies seem to be leaning in the direction of the latter option for now, while not ruling out a new version of the BCP at some point in the future.
After General Convention, another big event quickly followed. The Lambeth Conference is currently underway. This gathering is for all the bishops in the Anglican Communion, the network of denominations that have shared roots in the Church of England. That means that, in addition to Episcopal bishops and British bishops, it also includes bishops from countries across North, Central, and South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, and many more Anglican provinces all around the globe. 165 different countries are represented this year among all the attendees!
The Lambeth Conference only happens once per decade, so it is a BIG DEAL. But it is different from General Convention in that it is not intended to be a gathering for the purpose of decision-making. It is meant to be, at its heart, a gathering for the purposes of relationship-building as fellow followers of Jesus in the Anglican tradition.
After a several-year delay due to the pandemic, over 600 bishops have descended upon England at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, for conversation, study, worship, and reflection. If you are the sort of church nerd who follows this stuff (and no judgment if you’re not!) you may be aware that this Lambeth Conference has its share of both joys and challenges.
One of the joys is that the number of women bishops worldwide has increased substantially since the last time all the bishops gathered! At the 2008 Lambeth Conference, only 14 of the bishops attending were women. Now, that number has jumped to nearly 100. Every Diocese I have ever served in has been blessed with the leadership of a woman bishop, and it seems that other parts of the Anglican Communion are learning what wonderful gifts women in leadership can bring! Seeing a photo of all the women bishops brought joy to my heart. Additionally, for the very first time in the 155-year history of Lambeth, a woman was invited to preach at the Conference. The Rt. Rev. Vicentia Refiloe Kgabe, Bishop of the Diocese of Lesotho, gave a stirring sermon on the theme of hospitality and service.
More challenging has been the tenor of ongoing conversations around human sexuality and full inclusion of LGBTQ folks in the sacraments of marriage and ordination. While The Episcopal Church has affirmed rites for same sex marriage and has blessed the ordination of openly gay clergy, many Anglicans around the world are opposed to these stances. This division has caused much pain at prior Lambeth Conferences and this one is no different. For example, this year, openly gay bishops were invited to Lambeth for the first time. However, their spouses were specifically not invited. Then, just a few days before the conference was to begin, the Conference organizers shared some documents that did not reflect the Episcopal Church’s values of full inclusion. This caused an uproar of frustration, and the documents were subsequently amended. Then, once all the attendees had gathered, some bishops refused to receive the Eucharist alongside openly gay bishops. And yet, these diverse and divided bishops have committed to listening to one another and remaining in relationship with one another. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has shared that, despite these painful divisions, he remains hopeful about the future of the Anglican Communion. You can watch his most recent message from Lambeth here: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/publicaffairs/message-from-presiding-bishop-michael-curry-on-lambeth-call-on-human-dignity/?wvideo=8aamf3jilm&wkey=Y2FybWVuQHNhaW50YWxiYW5zZGF2aWRzb24ub3Jn&foreign_data=mailchimp_campaign_id%3Af74068a0eb.
If you’ve read this far, God bless you! Church politics can be tedious and tiresome. But while we have not been in Baltimore or the UK, these two gatherings this summer are important for us, too. Our elected church leaders are working to make The Episcopal Church an ever more faithful and just body as we participate in the Jesus movement. Our bishops are engaged in important discussions with their colleagues about how to love one another and practice discipleship and leadership amid deep differences. We can all learn from their example. And we are called to pray for all our leaders.
In the fall, we will offer a Sunday morning forum for those who would like to learn more about General Convention and the Lambeth Conference. We will share more detailed information about what happened at these historic gatherings and reflect together on what they mean for us here at St. Alban’s.
Yours in Christ,