Remembering how (and why) the Lambeth Conference began

The Episcopal Majority has posted a series of four articles on the history of the Lambeth Conference. They’re well worth reading. For those who express dismay at the lack of legislation planned in the upcoming conference next summer, the first entry will be especially illuminating. Legislation was not the focus of Lambeth until recently, and the sense of Lambeth as a binding force was wholly absent at the first meeting.

It was the Bishop of Vermont who first suggested a conference of Anglican bishops; but it was an appeal from the Canadian bishops, who saw the political unity between their country and England beginning to dissolve, that brought about the first gathering. The Archbishop of Canterbury was nervous about it. Who knew what might happen if you brought together so many bishops, or what the consequences might be for the powers of individual bishops and archbishops?

“It should be distinctly understood,” said Archbishop Longley, “that at this meeting no declaration of faith shall be made, and no decision come to which 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.”

Conservatives like to claim that we progressives are “revisionists.” Often, that charge is accurate. But it is quite often true that the so-called traditionalists are defending an invented “tradition.”

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