Reflections of a Lambeth Steward
By Allie Graham
Having spent the past month across the pond, I can say it's good be home! But in a way it often felt like I was home the entire time. For the past four weeks I've had the honor of serving as a Steward at the Lambeth Conference – the decennial conference of all the bishops in the Anglican Communion – at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England.
As a brief background, the Anglican Communion is made up of 39 provinces, which are basically national churches, of which we – The Episcopal Church, USA – are a part. All of these national churches are descended in some way from the Church of England, and are all united through “bonds of affection.”
Bishops and spouses from all across the communion gathered to discuss and grow in their ministries and faith as well as to discuss issues facing the church and the world. We as stewards were there to provide support, security, facilitate events when necessary, answer questions, move objects, and to generally be there for the conference organizers. The stewards were Anglicans between the ages of 19 and 35 from 18 different countries spread over six continents. Between all of us we spoke 30 different languages not including Hebrew, Latin, and Ancient Greek. There were eight Americans, each from a different diocese who brought very different viewpoints and experiences to the conference.
While the media, who were restricted in where they were allowed, generally portrayed the conference as something that was either negative or futile, as someone who was in allowed in almost all of the venues and sessions, I would have to say that it was a very positive event. While the hope of many Americans and Canadians – the full inclusion of all of God's children into all orders and sacraments of the church – was not gained, there were steps forward. For a communion that many in the media claim is “broken,” all of the stewards heard bishops saying to each other:
“I like you, I'm drawn to you, I see God in you, but I disagree with you strongly, and I don't know what to do with this information.”
This was an accomplishment.
This however might not be where many of us in the west wish we were, but it is a far better place than we were before hand. Much else was discussed as well-- poverty, the environment, improving ministry, the role of a bishop, and young adult issues were only some of the issues covered.
But more importantly, we were Anglicans, celebrating our faith and history together, were worshipping together, eating together, and meeting the queen together. Yes, really. Well, not all of us met Her Majesty, but we all got within a few feet of her during the garden party at Buckingham Palace. Prime Minister Gordon Brown also dropped by our lunch at Lambeth Palace in London to give one of the most dynamic speeches of his time as PM.
I had the opportunity to hang out with both of our bishops and their spouses (+George and Ruth Councell and +Sylvester and Eva Romero) as well as with the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife Jane. After the conference, Archbishop Rowan actually joined the stewards for almost all of a two day retreat! I was actually able to sit across from him at lunch, and we all had some fun conversations.
For whatever the press reported, the Lambeth Conference – though weakened that there were some could not or did not attend, helped to strengthen the bonds of affection within the communion, and at the very least, left the status quo and provided a wonderful time for worship, fellowship, photo-ops, and growing in God's love.