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Archbishop on the forthcoming Lambeth Conference

Thursday 19th June 2008

Article in Outlook, the Canterbury Diocesan Newsletter

What's actually going to happen at the Lambeth Conference?  Well, I have no crystal ball to tell me exactly what the outcomes will be.  But what I most hope and pray is that we emerge from the quite intensive programme with the two main goals taken forward – having gained more confidence about our Communion and having helped to give bishops more resources for their primary work of serving the Church in mission.

But what we can say a bit about is the way in which the business is going to be done.  The programme, devised by a very gifted and dedicated international team, responds to the widely felt concerns that we ought to get away from too 'parliamentary' and formal a style.  It's going to be important that no-one goes home feeling they haven't ever been listened to.  So it's important to devise structures that guarantee everyone has a chance to be heard.  It's also crucial to build the sort of trust that allows deep and passionate differences to be stated and explored together, with time allowed for getting past the slogans and the surface emotions.

So the new thing about Lambeth this time is that the whole body of the bishops will be divided into middle-sized groups, called 'indaba' groups, from a Zulu word describing community discussion and decision-making.  In these groups of forty or so, expert facilitators will be enabling the kind of discussion in which everyone has a chance to speak; and people will be given the responsibility of reporting on behalf of each group, so that over the two weeks of work there will be a lot of attention given to how what comes out of the groups can be woven together in a final statement.  This work by the 'reporters' will be offered for public discussion at a number of points in the Conference so that anyone who wishes can give some feedback as the Conference works towards its final reflections.

Each 'indaba' group brings together a number of smaller Bible study groups, who will be studying John's Gospel each day.  And the hope is that through these small and medium-sized groups, which will stay together throughout the Conference, real relationships will be formed across various boundaries.  We've also tried to make sure that there is proper provision in groups for the various languages represented among the Bishops and their wives. 

The whole event begins with a couple of days' retreat, based in the Cathedral.  We learn how to listen to each other by listening to God, quietly and patiently and thankfully; and I pray very earnestly that this opening experience will set the tone for the work that follows.

Of course it will be a profoundly challenging time for us all.  Much depends on our willingness to work hard and to be ready to move closer to each other instead of staying in our own familiar territory.  The Church always seeks a common commitment, not just an assortment of individual beliefs.  And that isn't a sort of tyranny; it's a reminder that in biblical terms the truth we come to know is known in and through the Body of Christ, not by any of us in isolation.  That's the truth that will set us free.

I'm delighted and very grateful indeed that the people of this diocese have been so generous and enthusiastic about Lambeth.  As I wrestle with so many of the organisational and other problems, it's a great gift to go to a parish at the weekend and see the posters about Lambeth and hear people being encouraging about help and hospitality.  I feel that the diocese, including in a special way the Cathedral, is really modelling for the Communion a positive and welcoming spirit, and I must say a very heartfelt than you for this.

Please go on praying; may God help us all to meet and work and pray together in a way that gives him glory and offers hope and good news to his world.

With my love always


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