Chaplaincy at the 2022 Lambeth Conference

Br Christopher John, Minister General of the Society of St Francis, reflects on his experience at the 2022 Lambeth Conference. 

Why does a bishops’ conference need chaplains? They’re bishops! Surely they don’t need chaplains to help them! Someone, I think quite seriously, asked us this in the midst of the Lambeth Conference 2022. Well there’s a lot that can go wrong with more than 1000 people away from their homes, and a good number having travelled overseas for the first time in their lives. Chaplains also help with the worship, leading some aspects of it and helping things run smoothly.

Although the conference was of bishops and their spouses there was also a large support team of others: local volunteers, stewards from across the Communion, musicians, and safe church workers. Then there were the event organisers, paramedics, security staff, and many others. And of course the actual conference company staff team who had been putting together the conference since 2017.

Members of religious communities have had chaplaincy roles at a number of Lambeth Conferences now. The 2022 Conference was no exception. My team was focussed on pastoral support and consisted of 9 members drawn from a variety of the Anglican religious communities globally, in addition to 2 ecumenical partners from Chemin Neuf. Another team was mainly focussed on liturgy – although our two teams really worked as one. There was also a praying presence provided by the members of the Community of St Anselm, also with their Chemin Neuf partners.

We weren’t the only Religious at the conference. ARCiE staffed a stall in the Conference Resource Centre where they were able to talk about Anglican Religious Life to anyone who passed by. SSF was well represented here with Sister Sue, and Brothers Finnian and Tobias taking turns.

It was hard work, and each day had its challenges but there were also many delightful meetings and surprises. One of the surprises was the number of people who came to an evening session hosted by Bishop Philip North, “‘Lives Consecrated to Christ’ The Role of the Religious Life in the Anglican Communion Today”. The enthusiasm of those who participated was a great encouragement.

One of the practical things to come from this meeting is taking steps to form an Anglican Communion network for religious orders. This network will help communities share information and news with each other and also the wider church. It could especially have a role in helping new communities form in areas where there have not been any communities previously.

It was two weeks of very hard work, and the culmination of a very long planning process. Endless Zoom meetings, countless emails, but behind all those things there was the joy of working with others, of being part of a team, of getting to see part of the wonderful international family of the Anglican Communion (and like all families it has its difficulties!). Life is more routine for me now and I’m catching up on sleep and neglected tasks, but I was very privileged to be given this opportunity of service.

This article was originally published in the Companions Newsletter of the Society of St Francis  in September 2022. Republished with permission.