Some time ago the Church Times published an editorial titled, “Invitation to Lambeth." Here is what it said in part:
There is, however, one thing that Dr Williams needs to do urgently. He must make it plain and public that all properly consecrated bishops will be invited to the next Lambeth Conference.
…. A blanket invitation issued at this stage — before the US General Convention muddies the waters further — would make it clear that the Lambeth Conference will stay true to its history, and be the debating chamber for the Communion.
If Dr Williams fails to act now, we might well descend to the next stage in the exclusion process. It is hard to believe that the Global South Primates will let a ban on ECUSA keep sympathetic US conservatives from Lambeth 2008. We can therefore expect to see either an alternative contender for the Anglican title emerging in the US, or the development of a formula — possibly a statement of faith that has to be signed by those wishing to attend — that will separate the conservative sheep from the liberal goats. Anything of the sort must be nipped in the bud, and for that Dr Williams must move off the back foot. Whatever is to be on the agenda of Lambeth 2008, whether covenants, sexuality, territorial boundaries, or matters of seemingly less importance such as poverty, disease, and justice, the invitations should be to all.
Well, that was then, and now is now. Now, some would argue, “the US General Convention (has muddied) the waters further.” Now, “an alternative contender for the Anglican title (is) emerging in the US.” Now, there is talk of “a formula…that will separate the conservative sheep from the liberal goats.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury is helping us all do some reflecting on these matters, thinking that he hopes will give us some time to think about “constituent members” and “associates", some time for many things. But time is not the Archbishop’s friend.
The Church Times editorial knew this when it said, “If Dr Williams fails to act now, we might well descend to the next stage in the exclusion process.” It knew this when it ends with this remark, “Whatever is to be on the agenda of Lambeth 2008, whether covenants, sexuality, territorial boundaries, or matters of seemingly less importance such as poverty, disease, and justice, the invitations should be to all.”
So it is time again to suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury should invite all the bishops of all the Churches of the Anglican Communion, defining those Churches by the communion they share not with each other, but with the See of Canterbury. The Archbishop can decide which churches those are, and has every right to do so. He can seek advice from the wise as to just which Churches ought to be in communion with the See of Canterbury. But this is about Churches, not the dioceses that make them up. Hopefully the Archbishop will not engaged the hopeless option of inviting individual dioceses within Provinces. That is complex and odd both. And for goodness sake don't palm this off on someone else. The Lambeth Conference is the Archbishop's table fellowship. It is not even at this advanced date, when time is not on his side, more or less than that. No, invite them all. Let those who come, come, and those who do not stay away.
There is a simple invitation, one we can drag up from the invitation to the first Lambeth Conference. It was a letter sent out by Archbishop Longley, “signed by him alone and by no one else.” (see Anglicanism, Stephen Neill, Oxford Press, 1977, p. 361)
“I request your presence at a meeting of the Bishops in visible communion with the United Church of England and Ireland, proposed (God willing) to be holden at Lambeth, under my presidency on the … Such a meeting would not be competent to make declarations or lay down definitions on points of doctrine. But united worship and common counsels would greatly tend to maintain practically the unity of the faith; whilst they would bind us straiter in bonds of peace and brotherly charity.”
Well, the name of the Church of England would have to be changed, and dates put in. But keep it simple.
The Archbishop invites every bishop “in visible communion with the Church of England,” period. No one is required to come. Indeed at the first Lambeth Conference the Archbishop of York and five other English bishops did not attend on principle. It’s OK.
Keep it simple.