Franciscans and other Religious at the 2022 Lambeth Conference

More than 650 bishops, and around 500 spouses from across the 165 countries of the world-wide Anglican communion met at the University of Kent in Canterbury from 26th July to 8th August 2022 for the fifteenth Lambeth Conference. Sr Sue CSF, Minster General of the Community of St Francis, reflects on her experience.

Among those that gathered at the Conference were a number of SSF Companions and tertiaries. There were also members of the First Order – Christopher John and me, the Ministers General for SSF and CSF respectively, with Tobias and Finnian SSF also present for part of the time. Christopher John had a key role in organising and leading the pastoral team, composed of Anglican Religious, members of various Communities, from around the world, and fluent in a range of languages. The Community of St Anselm (COSA), normally based at Lambeth Palace, led Morning and Night Prayer and were involved in the Conference in other ways. I was present for most of the Conference helping to staff the stall run by Anglican Religious Communities in England (ARC or ARCiE). 

The ARC stall provided information about Religious Life throughout the Anglican Communion, and a contact point for those wanting to explore further. A significant number of bishops sought advice and information about founding a community in their diocese, or about their role with an existing community. Some were particularly needing guidance over the role of a Bishop Visitor. The fringe meeting held one evening towards the end of the conference for bishops interested in exploring these issues further was chaired by Bishop Philip North CMP, who is chair of the Church of England’s Bishops’ Advisory Council on Religious Communities, with over 40 bishops from around the world attending. Finnian SSF and three other Religious spoke briefly about their experience of Religious Life, there was time for questions and small group discussions, and the meeting welcomed news from Christopher John about the formation of an Anglican Religious Life Network, as one of the official Networks of the world-wide Anglican Communion. It is hoped that this Network will be especially helpful in those regions of the world where there is no umbrella or advisory body for Religious Life. The ARLYB (Anglican Religious Life Yearbook) website which gives details of all the Anglican Communities world-wide was positively received internationally as a very useful and accessible resource.

There were a few contacts with people who had never encountered a Religious Community before. We also had important conversations with some of the conference stewards, young adults from around the world, many of whom were on a vocational journey, and in some cases had not previously had an opportunity to consider Religious Life. Interspersed were conversations with bishops, spouses, and members of the various support teams who were oblates, tertiaries, companions, or had another connection with a particular Community. SSF also seized the opportunity while the bishops were gathered, to arrange a much-appreciated 2 meeting for the Bishops Protector of our First, Second and Third Orders in the different provinces world-wide.

The Bishops considered many important issues including mission and evangelism, safeguarding, peace and reconciliation, environment and sustainable development, discipleship, Christian unity and interfaith relationships, Anglican identity, human dignity, and the decade ahead. They engaged in daily bible study in small groups, and regular corporate worship. Contrary to the impression given in some sections of the press, we experienced a friendly, open, collegial and often joyful atmosphere in such a large and diverse group of people, with most extending respectful and prayerful attention to those whose life experience, and approach to various issues, not only questions of sexuality, is very different from their own. The Conference Opening Service, a Eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral was beautiful, very prayerful, and wonderfully diverse, including many different languages and musical traditions, with a brilliant and moving sermon on hospitality and generosity by The Right Rev’d Dr Vicentia Kgabe, Bishop, of Lesotho, one of around 100 female bishops present at the Conference. It was a privilege to be present as a Franciscan at this historic event, representing Religious Life, and meeting with fellow Anglicans from around the world.

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