Dr. Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, made a plea to bishops to strengthen relationships at an upcoming decennial conference rather than focus on solving problems that have conflicted the body toward the brink of schism.
"What I would really most like to see in this years Lambeth Conference is the sense that this is essentially a spiritual encounter," said the Archbishop of Canterbury in a video statement Wednesday. "A time when people are encountering God as they encounter one another, a time when people will feel that their life of prayer and witness is being deepened and their resources are being stretched. Not a time when we are being besieged by problems that need to be solved and statements that need to be finalized, but a time when people feel that they are growing in their ministry."
The Lambeth Conference is a once-a-decade gathering that will take place at the University of Kent in England on July 16 through Aug. 3. The conference is primarily for bishops from across the 77-million member Anglican body.
In the months ahead of the global gathering, however, five Anglican archbishops from Africa and South America threatened to boycott Lambeth, protesting the participation of bishops from the United States who supported the controversial consecration of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop, in 2003.
They and a group of other Anglican conservatives have scheduled to hold an international gathering of their own, called the GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference), in June. Although some bishops plan to attend both conferences, the June meeting is seen as a rival to Lambeth.
GAFCON participants hope to go back to Christian roots and affirm traditional Anglican faith as they meet in the Holy Land. Many conservative bishops believe the U.S. Episcopal Church – the American arm of the Anglican Communion – has abandoned Scripture and traditional Anglicanism.
Amid tension surrounding the upcoming meetings, Williams pointed back to the origin of the Lambeth Conference and the reason Archbishop Charles Longley began it.
"He wanted ... those different Anglican communities across the world, to be able to share with one another what their priorities were, their concerns and their hopes, and that has always been at the very heart of the Lambeth Conference," said Williams.
He further stressed that the focus of Lambeth is not to make legislative decisions, but is a time of praying together, reading the Bible together, and learning how to be "better bishops."
"We don't want at the Lambeth Conference to be creating a lot of new rules but we do obviously need to strengthen our relationships and we need to put those relationships on another footing, slightly firmer footing, where we have promised to one another that this is how we will conduct our life together," he said as he called for prayers in his video message.
Bishops will still be considering a proposal for a covenant, designed to articulate the common foundations and set out principles that bind the Anglican Communion. It will also articulate how member churches and provinces should manage related disputes.
"Please pray for the conference and please share in that process of preparation, that reflection of God's word in the Gospel of John that will open up to us the horizons that we need in order to be better bishops for the sake of a better Church," Williams stated.