The Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference – held every ten years – is going to suffer more than the embarrassment of the non-attendance of around a third of the church’s bishops who are protesting the attendance of those who appointed openly gay US Bishop, Gene Robinson, who will make his own presence felt on the conference’s fringes.
Even before the conference starts this Wednesday, Bishop Robinson stole the headlines on Sunday by preaching at an historic Anglican Church just a few km from Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has barred him from attending the Conference but Bishop Robinson has been invited to the UK by liberal parishes.
Now he has confirmed he plans several appearances on the outskirts of the Lambeth Conference which will still be attended by attended by over 500 bishops. He can be guaranteed more headlines than the 500 official attendees combined.
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Robinson remains a highly divisive figure in the worldwide Anglican communion. His consecration as a bishop in 2003, and his recent marriage to his partner of two decades, Mark Andrew, have done more than anything else to divide the church.
Sydney’s Archbishop Peter Jensen and his assistant bishops are boycotting the Lambeth gathering as are the bishops of the church from African countries such as Nigeria and Kenya. The bishops boycotting the meeting represent around half the 77 million Anglican communion.
The conference will run from this Wednesday until 3 August, and will include a number of public and semi public events which Bishop Robinson cannot be barred from attending. The massive coverage he has received in the UK Sunday press will continue to haunt Dr Williams and the Church for the next three weeks.
What Bishop Robinson’s presence confirms, and the refusal of parishes and clergy to ignore the Archbishop’s requests that he not be invited to preach in them, is that the Anglican Church is hopelessly divided, even though there has not been a formal split.
At a time when the Catholic Church can expect substantial positive media coverage from World Youth Day events in Sydney, the growing division within the Anglican Church, here and internationally, will be on almost daily show.
By deliberately deciding to visit the UK during the Lambeth Conference, even though he was not invited to attend, Bishop Robinson is highlighting the divisions, and the fact that while he may be in the minority, it is an increasingly vocal and defiant one.