Friday, July 4, 2008

The First Lambeth Conference: A Conference & Nothing More

The first Lambeth Conference was held in September of 1867 at the invitation of Archbishop of Canterbury, C. T. Longley. Of the 151 Anglican bishops who had been invited, 76 attended.

Although the possibility of such a gathering of bishops had been entertained for years, questions had been raised by some bishops about the legality of such a conference, and there had been resistance by many to any kind of assembly that might assume a kind of legislative or canonical authority. In response, Archbishop Longley made it clear that he intended to convene a conference and not a synod, saying:

"It should be distinctly understood that at this meeting no declaration of faith shall be made, and no decision come to that shall affect generally the interests of the Church, but that we shall meet together for brotherly counsel and encouragement.... I should refuse to convene any assembly which pretended to enact any canons, or affected to make any decisions binding on the Church."

One hundred fourty-one years and many hundreds of bishops later, while the face of the Anglican Communion has changed significantly, the concerns remain much the same. Should the Lambeth Conference evolve into a more formal structure exercising authority over a global Communion, or should it remain as it was intended to be from the beginning: a conference and nothing more?

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