Almost the only prophecy to come true about the eleventh Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops at Canterbury last month concerned England’s notorious weather. The preliminary instructions sent to the some 450 bishops and archbishops in about 100 countries described English summer weather as being somewhat unpredictable. “It can be wet and cold, so a raincoat and warm clothing should be brought.” Wet and cold it proved to be, and throughout the conference—held on the strikingly modern but rather bleak campus of the University of Kent—delegates hurried to sessions dressed in anything that would keep out the driving rain.

There were other prophecies: that this would be the last Lambeth Conference (it has been held more or less every ten years since 1867, when seventy-six bishops attended the first one at Lambeth Palace in London, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official residence); that the 65-million-member Anglican Communion would break apart on the divisive issue of women priests or simply collapse because it lacked a sufficient common identity; that the bishops from the Third World (nearly one-third of those present) would take the conference by the scruff of the neck and use it to attack the inadequacies of the capitalist West.

The last conference in 1968 was an untidy affair. As with all previous Lambeth conferences, it was held in London, was a nonresidential talking shop, and came shortly after the dismantling of the British Empire, home of the great majority of Anglicans. White bishops who had recently lost their colonial status and black bishops from newly independent states were equally uncertain of their moves on the Anglican chessboard. Ten years had not improved the situation. Could Lambeth 1978 give Anglicanism ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.