The Windsor Report 2004

The Lambeth Conference

  1. It was a natural development from this that the Archbishop of Canterbury should be the person to call the bishops of the Anglican Communion together to take counsel. Although the first Lambeth Conference was called amidst considerable controversy and resistance as to its significance[58], its inception was very much the brainchild of Archbishop C T Longley[59]. The question of controversial teaching by a bishop of the emerging South African Church, William Colenso, the Bishop of Natal, was manoeuvred on to the agenda by pressure from participating bishops; in some ways, this was to be a foretaste of what would follow in international gatherings of Anglicans, when controversial topics arise[60]. Intercommunion was at the heart of its concerns[61]: perhaps unsurprisingly, its resolutions prefigure many of the issues which would recur (over a range of topics, decade by decade) in the succeeding century and a half.[62]

  2. Given the understanding of the episcopal office within Anglicanism (see paragraphs 63-66), the Conference seemed the appropriate body to express a view on issues of doctrinal purity and orthodoxy. Prompted by the Colenso affair, it suggested that “... a committee [of bishops] be instructed to consider the constitution of a voluntary spiritual tribunal, to which questions of doctrine might be carried by appeal ...”[63]

  3. It had been a precondition of its calling that the Conference should not regard itself as a pan-Anglican Synod, with legislative powers, but rather as an advisory body[64]; though in the event it emphasised that “unity in faith and discipline will be best maintained among the several branches of the Anglican Communion by due and canonical subordination of the synods of the several branches to the higher authority of a synod or synods above them”[65]. Whatever its intended significance, as Owen Chadwick has noted, “Meetings start to gather authority if they exist and are seen not to be a cloud of hot air and rhetoric. It was impossible that the leaders of the Anglican Communion should meet every ten years and not start to gather respect; and to gather respect is slowly to gather influence, and influence is on the road to authority”[66]. From its inception, the Lambeth Conference has proved to be a powerful vehicle for the expression of a concept central to Anglican ecclesiology, the collegiality of the bishops.