Dear People of the Diocese of New Jersey,
Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it, not for sordid gain but eagerly.—1 Peter 5:1-2
As I write, bishops of the Anglican Communion from around the world are beginning to gather in Kent, England for the 15th Lambeth Conference. Convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference is one of the four so-called “Instruments of Unity” of the Anglican Communion, which is the 3rd largest Christian denomination in the world after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The first Instrument of Unity is the Archbishop of Canterbury. By definition, to be a member of the Anglican Communion is to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The third Instrument of Unity is The Primates Meeting, which is made up of the Primates of each of the 40 international provinces of the Anglican Communion. The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry is the Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church and represents us at the meeting of the Primates. The Primates Meeting was first formed in 1979 and is convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury as he deems necessary.
The fourth Instrument of Unity is the Anglican Consultative Council, which alone of all the instruments includes lay persons and clergy in addition to bishops. Normally, the Anglican Consultative Council meets once every three years. According to the Anglican Communion website,
The role of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is to facilitate the co-operative work of the churches of the Anglican Communion, exchange information between the provinces and churches, and help to co-ordinate common action. It advises on the organization [sic.] and structures of the Communion, and seeks to develop common policies with respect to the world mission of the Church, including ecumenical matters.
Lambeth Conference is not a legislative or juridical body. Neither it, nor any of the other instruments of unity, has formal or canonical authority over any of the 40 autonomous branches of the Anglican Communion, including The Episcopal Church. General Convention, which just met in Baltimore, is the governing body of The Episcopal Church.
The Instruments of Unity are means of building community, understanding, and relationships across the Communion and around the world. The members of the Anglican Communion are held together by the grace of God and by a desire to be together and to do Christ’s mission together.
I made the decision not to attend the 2022 Lambeth Conference. Given that I have less than a year remaining in my time as Bishop of New Jersey; that the diocese stopped setting aside funds for Lambeth several years ago because a meeting of Lambeth at the time seemed uncertain; and given that this past year our diocesan budget had to use an exceptional amount of trust funds, I did not feel spending $20,000 or more of diocesan funds for Lambeth was a prudent use of diocesan resources. I recognize that some support my decision and others do not. Along with you, I will follow Lambeth Conference through online sources.
I urge us all to pray for the bishops of Anglican Communion who will gather in England this week and continue meeting until August 8. Pray that their meetings are filled with the “fruits of the Spirit”—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control (See Galatians 5:22-26). Pray that relationships will be strengthened, and that the love of God will abound. Here is a link to the 2022 Lambeth Conference so that you can follow along.
Blessings and peace,
The Right Reverend William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey