The Lambeth Conference was held from 16th July to 3rd August 2008. Around 620 Bishops attended with a parallel Conference for Spouses. The Conference commenced with a full acknowledgement of the current division in the Communion and prayer for those who chose not to attend. The first three days were given over to a Retreat for Bishops. We met in Canterbury Cathedral and the Archbishop of Canterbury gave five addresses on five Pauline themes. It was a great way to start with lots of insight and time for prayer and reflection.

The Conference used a process called “Indaba” to explore the major themes of the Conference. Each Bishop met in small groups for Bible Study and groups of 40 for Indaba. The process had its tensions, but it did allow for a high level of participation and interaction. While no agreements were made, it was clearly understood that Lambeth Resolution 1-10 on human sexuality still stands. There was strong support for a Covenant to be the basis for clarifying what it means to be a part of the Anglican Communion and to give greater clarity as to who really has authority and act to resolve issues that arise in particular provinces/dioceses.

Lambeth 2008 considered a large range of areas:

Anglican Identity; Evangelism; Ecumenism; The Environment; Other Faiths and Christian Witness; Violence and Gender Abuse; The Bible and Biblical Authority; Human Sexuality; The Covenant and the Windsor Process.

It was a demanding schedule and a challenge to engage with people with a range of theological and cultural perspectives. Karen and I had many wonderful opportunities to meet outstanding leaders from all sorts of situations. The Covenant and its related resolution process offers a realistic basis for resolving some of our major issues of contention as a Communion. Unfortunately it will take some time for it to be approved and come into force.


The Lambeth Conference was asked to give consideration to the Covenant drafted by the Covenant Design Group. The Covenant was originally proposed by the Primates of the Global South and then adopted by the Windsor Report. The modified version is called “The St Andrew’s Declaration” and can be found on the Anglican Communion website. It is important to read the Covenant as well as the Appendix. The Covenant outlines the basis of the Anglican Communion and the Appendix the operation of the Covenant when an issue arises.

The background to the Covenant is the need to have an agreed basis of what it means to be a part of the Anglican Communion. At present a lot of this has been assumed, but isn’t spelt out anywhere. The Episcopal Church (TEC) has had a very different history to large parts of the rest of the Anglican Communion. It broke from England in 1770 and has evolved in a different way. At present, there is a lack of clarity about the so-called four instruments of communion – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, the Primates Meetings and the Anglican Consultative Council. It is easy to be critical of this situation, but it is important to bear in mind we are a communion not a church. We are made up of largely independent Dioceses/Provinces linked together by a common heritage. Melbourne Diocese was an innovator in this regard as Perry established Synodical government in our Diocese, a first in the Communion.

My sense, at Lambeth, was that 70% of bishops (present) were in favour of the Covenant. Given that 20% of those present were TEC bishops, this would represent strong support. Archbishop John Chew (Singapore) was a key player in its design.

The Covenant will be taken to the ACC meeting in Jamaica in May 2009. Another key marker will be a Primates Meeting in late 2008. In June 2009 the TEC will hold their General Convention. If the TEC re-affirms their commitment to press on in relation to issues of human sexuality and break the current moratoria, then it would mean (in terms of the Covenant) that their membership of the Anglican Communion will come under further question.

he issues remain complex and the way forward remains confused. Do pray for wisdom for all concerned. At the same time, let’s keep it in perspective. The Anglican Church in Australia has no bishop contemplating going down the TEC path and we have great opportunities for gospel ministry.

Stephen Hale is Bishop of the Eastern Region of Melbourne.