This is Part II of a special series in honor of the opening of the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Part I of the series is here. Part III is here.
Dr. Ephraim Radner has written an impassioned plea for the assembled bishops at Lambeth to take some decisive steps, including a declaration that those who support the actions of TEC in consecrating V. Gene Robinson as a bishop, and the actions of both TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada in allowing and approving blessings for same-sex unions, must now withdraw from all further participation in the councils and institutions of the Anglican Communion. He urges:
You are Esthers before the king, come for such a time as this (Est. 4:13-14). And as Augustine notes, it is up to God to change the king’s heart, not you: yours is to witness faithfully. You must find a way to bring these matters before your colleagues; you must press them with vigor, charity, and focus; you must be untiring and hopeful that God will bless your testimony. If not you, who shall it be?
This call for action harkens back to a long time ago, when the first Lambeth Conference was assembling in London at Lambeth Palace in September 1867. Among the bishops present was Irish-born John Barrett Kerfoot (1816-1881), the first Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh from 1866 until his death. Bishop Kerfoot came to London in the company of his son, the Rev. Abel Kerfoot (who could not, however, attend the deliberations of the Conference). Each kept a diary, and each wrote letters home to their family; Bishop Kerfoot wrote as well about the Conference to the Rt. Rev. William R. Whittingham, diocesan of Maryland, a close friend who was unable to attend. Extracts from Bishop Kerfoot's letters and diary were included in a biography published after his death, and may be read online. I have chosen some passages from them to illustrate the mood 141 years ago as the first Lambeth Conference opened, passages which I think demonstrate great insight into the political realities of the situation (as well as into the extensive socializing that goes on at a Lambeth Conference), and that show how little has changed from then to now.
First and foremost, the trip to Lambeth was joined both beforehand and afterwards with sightseeing excursions, both in England and on the Continent. Here is what they did before the Conference:
And here is what they did after the Conference (which lasted just five days) was over:
Thus they were in Europe nearly three months for a Conference of just five days, in the tradition of the Continental "Grand Tour."
The next vignette, describing the social and ceremonial preliminaries to the opening of the Conference, comes from a letter written by Bishop Kerfoot's son to his sister back in Pittsburgh. He describes how he meets the Bishop of Capetown, Dr. Robert Gray, and explains the latter's concerns to have the Lambeth Conference address the problems stemming from his attempted deposition of the Rt. Rev. John Colenso, Bishop of Natal in the Province of South Africa (for background to this dispute, see my posts here and here):
The next day (the Saturday before the Conference began, on Tuesday) the Kerfoots had a surprise visitor, who wanted to do some politicking in advance of the first meeting:
The next observation by the young Rev. Kerfoot is surprising, both in its astuteness as well as in its relevance to how the Archbishop of Canterbury proposes to manage the Lambeth Conference that begins this week:
"The English bishops . . . are afraid to wink without some permission from the State. They are afraid of some opposition to this meeting, or of its attracting too much public attention, or somehow something might possibly in some way have a chance to happen; and so they . . . don't want to do anything." Could that be an apt description of the English hierarchy's attitude toward the 2008 Conference, with its "Indaba" groups, and ban on the adoption of any resolutions? The Rev. Kerfoot was so struck by the hesitant attitude of the English bishops that he repeated his observation when describing the actual opening of the Conference:
Midway through the Conference, Bishop Kerfoot wrote his wife, but shared little of the detail of the heated deliberations that were going on:
Toward the end of the Conference, the Rev. Abel Kerfoot recorded in his diary a gathering of many of the Bishops at the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury himself intervened to postpone fundraising for a new Bishop of Natal to replace Bishop Colenso, probably on the ground that it was too soon to take precipitous action:
I cannot leave out this extract from the Rev. Kerfoot's diary about a post-Conference welcome for his father and other American bishops at Oxford, where they received honorary degrees with all the pomp and pageantry of that institution, accompanied by catcalls from the students and a welcoming speech in Latin, "easily understood by all" (o tempora! o mores!), and followed by a choral service in King's Chapel which sounds every bit as glorious as such services are today:
The final bit of these extracts comes from a lengthy letter which Bishop Kerfoot wrote aboard his ship on the return voyage to America. It was addressed to his colleague, the Rt. Rev. W. R. Whittingham, Bishop of Maryland, who had been unable to attend the Conference. Bishop Kerfoot begins with a general summation of the work and the collaborative mood of the assembled bishops:
Then he adds an observation which is striking in its resemblance to that of his son, quoted above and made before the start of the Conference, and which then ventures further into a perceptive description of the relationships between the English, the American and the colonial Bishops:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was precisely the concern of the colonial bishops about being set adrift from the ties which had heretofore bound them to the Church of England that led to the convocation of the first Lambeth Conference. Notice, too, how the American bishops at the time were holding back in deference to their British and colonial colleagues---quite a change in role from the one they are playing today, where they literally dominate the Conference. Nevertheless, the seeds of American independence and self-reliance were already there, as Bishop Kerfoot intimates in the next paragraph:
Not all Church of England members welcomed the part played by the Americans, however. One of the founders of the Oxford Movement, Dr. Edward Bouverie Pusey, had sounded a warning that reached Bishop Kerfoot's ears:
Dr. Pusey was in the unfortunate position, in my opinion, of sounding his warnings just about one hundred years too soon. (The American House of Bishops censured, but failed to discipline, Bishop James A. Pike in 1966.) And the response of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the English House of Bishops to the heterodoxy of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada today is just as weak---and just as limited by their fear of creating a very public disturbance---as was their response to the challenges of Bishop Colenso more than 140 years ago, at the first Lambeth Conference. In short, the Erastianism of the Church of England is endemic, and will block its ability to rescue the Anglican Communion from the depredations of those in America and Canada who are hell-bent on its radical transformation---or, to be less charitable, on its destruction in the form in which it has come down to us.