I suppose some will argue that we did not do anything at the Lambeth Conference, but then, that is really the point. Many of us came to do something, whether to restate norms strongly, to break new ground, to create new forms and structures for the Anglican Communion, to force others to their knees in repentance and contrition, to make someone come to our way of seeing things, or to win over those we consider the others. Yet that is what happened at the last Lambeth Conference in 1998, and we walked away with a document that all of us have wanted to use as a club on the head of someone else, or a theological straight-jacket to confine another’s thinking. We left that conference with seething anger or smug self-righteousness. Like Naomi, in the book of Ruth at the time of the loss of all the men in her life, the loss of her present happiness and her future security, we wanted to say, “Call me not Naomi, call me mara,” (which means “bitter”). In 1998, we set up rules with the expectation of obedience, but we did not deepen what we have come to call “the bonds of affection” with the hope of commitment to God and to each other by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
There are times in the lives of us human beings when our drive to do something betrays our impatience, our strong wills, and our inability to listen to and be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
In preparation for this Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us repeatedly that we were not going to be doing any legislation, building any structures, voting anything into or out of existence. Archbishop Rowan invited us to come together to pray, to listen to scripture and to each other and to the movement of the Holy Spirit among us. He himself refrained from giving us a direction. Instead, he began with five meditations on the nature and dimensions of episcopacy and episcopal ministry, and in his Presidential Addresses he laid out a framework, describing how he sees us and the Anglican Communion-our cracks and warts, our behaviors and attitudes, and the wide range of our theological thinking on the issues du jour, namely homosexuality and incursions by one bishop or province into another bishop’s diocese and jurisdiction. Each day we met in bible study for an hour and a quarter, focusing on the great I AM passages in the gospel of St. John: living water, bread, shepherd, the way, the truth and the life, and the resurrection, to name a number of them. In our sharing, we talked about our personal lives and ministries, the different dimensions of our faith, the things we hold dear. We kept returning to the text, especially to the person of Jesus and how he spoke about himself and particularly how he treated others. Again and again, we saw him exercise the same patience and warmth and hospitality to those who were blind or deaf to him and his work, to those who found faith, and to those who tried repeatedly to trip him up and plot against him. He only withdrew when people started picking up rocks with which to stone him.