IN its first 100 years of life 1. the Lambeth Conference could not have reflected more faithfully its peculiar Anglican origins. No Church in history has been so closely wed to its national environment as the Church of England, and no Church in history has infected so deeply with its own ethos the mission fields in which it has evangelised.
This explains why, 100 years after the first 76 Anglican bishops travelled to Lambeth 'Palace in 1867, about 470 are converging on London in 1968 to renew their links, with "the Mother Church" I and "the old country."
And how typically English it all is! The Conference has no legal or executive authority, and nothing the bishops say at the end of it need necessarily be binding upon the Anglican Church: although the Conference still looks to Lambeth Palace as its spiritual home it will in fact be meeting this year at Church House, Westminster. and in. Westminster School; no bishop attends by right. but is invited personally by the president, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Again, like so many Anglican institutions, the Lambeth Conference came into existence to Meet a particular crisis and then gradually evolved, achieving "historical significance" as it did so. It owes its origins to one of the Anglican Church's most brilliant eccentrics, the troublesome Bishop Colenso of Natal.
He was charged with heresy and the scandal of his ministry caused so much anxiety that in 1865 the Bishop of Ontario suggested to the Canadian Provincial Synod that the Archbishop of Canterbury should provide means for "members of the Anglican Communion in all parts of the world to share in deliberations for her welfare."
As a result the Archbishop. Dr. Eongley. invited 144 bishops to meet "for brotherly counsel and encouragement," Seventy-six turned up. Among those who reckoned the whole thing a waste of time and refused to come were the Archbishop of York and five English diocesans, and the Dean of Westminster refused to make the Abbey available for the closing service.
It would be fair to say that the first two meetings were concerned with a pri• manly introverted agenda, but by 1888. when Dr. Benson was Archbishop of Canterbury, 145 bishops turned their attention to social topics like intemperance. divorce and socialism, and perhaps even more surprisingly to the question of reunion and relations with non-Anglican Churches.
By 1897 the bishops were worrying about the peace of the world. and when they met in 1920 to consider the needs of a world shattered by the first world war they issued their famous "Appeal to all Christian People." which called for closer fel lowship and unity of all Christians, "that the world might believe."
The agenda for the 1968 Lambeth Conference has been criticised for showing too much concern about parochial Church affairs and not enough concern for the world the Church exists to serve. The agenda theme is The Renewal of the Church, and the Conference will be discussing the subject of renewal under three main heads. the Renewal of the Church in Faith, the Renewal of the Church in Ministry. and the Renewal of the Church in Unity.
The answer given to the critics is that the need for reform and renewal within the Church is paramount. and that unless the Church renews its own life it will never be equipped to serve society.
A closer look at the 33 committees in which the bishops will be considering the agenda gives some indication of the numerous concerns. secular as well as purely ecclesiastical, which they regard as important. Section I, meeting under the chairmanship of the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada to consider the Renewal of the Church in Faith, will look at the language of faith. the experience of faith and secular society.
The Debate about God is the topical title of one committee. Another committee will consider the psychology of faith. while others will turn their attention to international morality, the technological society and urbanisation.
The Archbishop of York will be chairman of the Section responsible for The Renewal of the Church in Ministry, comprising committees which inevitably will be looking at the respective roles of the priesthood and the laity in Church and society.
Section III. under the chairmanship of the Metropolitan of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, will have an opportunity of pulling together all the current threads in the ecumenical movement, and one must hope that as a result of this Section's work the Conference will be able to speak prophetically about the future course of Christian unity.
Relations with the Roman Catholic Church will specifically occupy the time of committee number 29, meeting under the chairmanship of Dr, John Moorman, Bishop of Ripon, whose personal knowledge of the Vatican Council will be invaluable. The bishops who will be joining this committee have been served with a preparatory paper written by Fr. Gregory Baum.
Committee number 30 will be looking at relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is safe to assume that under A Review of Current Schemes cornmittee number 28 will be principally concerned with the present plans for Anglican-Methodist reunion in this country, and the effects which such a reunion may have upon future relations with the Church of Rome.
In the past, mainly diocesan bishops have attended the Lambeth Conference, but this year the Archbishop of Canterbury has also invited suffraganbishops, coadjutor bishops and assistant bishops doing full-time work in a diocese.
The previous gradual increase in the numbers attending every 10 years has reflected the steady growth of the Anglican Communion and the increase in new dioceses. The Anglican Cornmunion today consists of 19 provinces or Regional Churche s. two Regional Councils and a number of extra-provincial dioceses.
Every Anglican Church is in communion with the See of Canterbury and with each other, and each is selfgoverning. The Archbishop of Canterbury, as president of the Lambeth Conference, has a primacy of honour. but is only regarded by the other primates and metropolitans as "first among equals." and exercises no legal authority over any province other than his own.
Will there be any sense of urgency'? Much will depend on developments behind locked doors between July 25 when the bishops make their stately entry into Canterbury Cathedral for the opening service and August 25 when they put the final full-stop to their encyclical.
Will the missionary bishops from Africa, too poor to pay their own fares, and the communications conscious prelates from America, with one ear on the wireless for news of bloodshed that may take them home at any time, have any impact on England's establishment?
This will be a conference, like others in the past. where somebody will want to get polygamy off his chest, but far more important will be the contemporary voice of a bishop like Fr. Trevor Huddleston, returning from Masasi to become suffragan of Stepney.
It must be very romantic to be Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, but will it turn out that the unlikely sounding Bishop of Gambia and the Rio Pongas will have a more realistic tale to tell of the Christian life in a world where priorities are now chaotic'?
For the first time, the bishops will have consultants, including three lay people, to help them grapple with the complexities of life as it is understood by those to whom the Church is supposed to minister. And for the first time ever the president has invited observers from the Roman Catholic. Orthodox and Protestant Churches.
Also for the first time the Press will attend the opening session and the closing plenary sessions. and daily briefings will be given by the episcopal secretary. The bishops will be left in no doubt that if they have anything worthwhile to say the world is willing to listen.
In the current mode of disillusion with organised religion they 'would be well advised to say something that really matters in terms which ordinary people understand. or else keep their peace. for a c1ich6-ridden encyclical on issues of secondary importance to the times we live in will be fatal,