To: Clergy and Readers licensed or with Permission to Officiate in the Diocese of Lichfield
A letter from the Bishops of Lichfield, Shrewsbury and Stafford
We are writing to you to share our thoughts following our participation in the 15th Lambeth Conference, held in Canterbury from 27thJuly to 7th August. It was a great blessing for us to be able to share in this gathering of over six hundred bishops from across the Anglican Communion, to hear the stories of their ministry and God’s mission in very diverse contexts, and to be able to support one another in friendship, understanding and prayer. This letter comes to you from the three of us who were able to attend the Lambeth Conference. Bishop Clive, although he was not with us in Canterbury, joins us in commending these reflections to you, as do Bishop Alistair, Bishop Jan and Bishop Jonathan, who serve as Assistant Bishops in this diocese.
Every day of the conference was shaped by worship and by study of the scriptures, which provided the best setting for taking counsel together about the challenges and opportunities we all face. The issues we discussed included: Mission and Evangelism; Safe Church; Anglican Identity; Reconciliation; Christian Unity; Inter Faith Relations; Discipleship; Environment and Sustainable Development; Science and Faith. On each of these there was a ‘Lambeth Call’, which included in each case declarations of our fundamental belief, affirmations of our current priorities, and specific invitations for further work in the future. The texts of the Calls can be found on the Lambeth Conference website at Lambeth-Calls-July-2022.pdf (lambethconference.org); this site also includes several videos and other features from the Conference. All of the Calls speak directly to our diocese, and I hope that we can take them up into our life together. In particular: Discipleship and Evangelism are two of our three core priorities; we have done and are doing a great deal of work as a diocese on Safeguarding and on Environment; we are committed to an ever closer journey of Christian Unity and to building positive Inter Faith relations across our communities; and both Anglican Identity and Reconciliation are key to promoting mutual flourishing in our richly diverse diocese.
We also discussed a ‘Lambeth Call on Human Dignity’, an earlier draft of which had generated much publicity, particularly with regard to the parts which spoke about human sexuality. The final form of the Call on Human Dignity recognised that ‘Many Provinces [i.e., member churches of the Anglican Communion] continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible… Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union / marriage, after careful theological reflection and a process of reception'. Our discussions on these issues were accompanied and shaped by both a letter and an address from the Archbishop of Canterbury (Letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Bishops of the Anglican Communion | The Archbishop of Canterbury; and Lambeth Call on Human Dignity: Read Archbishop Justin's remarks | The Archbishop of Canterbury) which made a number of significant points: that churches in different situations are all engaging in this issue with a serious attention to scripture, the tradition of the Church and their contemporary mission situation; that he has no intention of disciplining or excluding from the Anglican Communion those Provinces which arrive at different conclusions after due reflection; and that Anglicans worldwide are called to walk together in love through the deep disagreements which we face.
These points seem to us particularly important as together in the Church of England we have been following the Living in Love and Faith process over the two past years. There has been fruitful engagement with LLF in this diocese, and we are deeply grateful both to all who have been involved in this process in Lichfield through careful listening and speaking, and also to Bishop Jan, Pete Bate and the members of the LLF Advocacy Group who have given so much time, energy and wisdom to organising it for us. The next stage will be for the bishops of the Church of England to reflect together on what we heave learned through LLF and to propose a way forward for our church nationally. The plan is to do that in a series of meetings this autumn; we believe that the Lambeth Conference has laid good foundations for that in affirming the need for the Church of England, like every other Anglican Province, to come to its own mind on the basis of scripture, interpreted in the light of tradition and reason.
In the meantime, we recognise that for many these conversations are personal, affecting themselves, those they love, and their deepest convictions. We regret any distress that has been caused by things said or done at or around the Conference, and still more by the way some issues have been reported or misreported. We want to reaffirm the message of the Lichfield bishops in the ad clerum of May 2018 (Welcoming and Honouring LGBT+ People in the Diocese of Lichfield - Diocese of Lichfield (anglican.org): as debates about questions of human sexuality and gender identity in the Church continue, and perhaps grow in intensity over the coming year, we need to be grounded in the faith uniquely revealed in Holy Scripture, interpreted for our own generation in the light of reason and tradition, and discerned through deep prayer, with attention to people’s experiences and in a spirit of love, mutual care and respect. Our heartfelt prayer is that, in addressing these deeply contested matters, we may all be committed to seeking the mind of Christ and the faithful flourishing of all the members of Christ’s body as we follow him humbly and joyfully in the footsteps of St Chad.
With our best wishes and the assurance of our prayers as ever,