This is Part I of a special series of posts in honor of the opening of the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Part II of the series is here. Part III is here.
[Author's Note: The following dramatic fantasy, borrowed and adapted freely from A Christmas Carol by Mr. Charles Dickens, is based on the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited to attend the Lambeth Conference the Rt. Rev. Jerry A. Lamb, who calls himself "the Episcopal/Anglican Bishop of San Joaquin" (note the challenge to his rival), but whose installation was irregular, to say the least. [UPDATE: See especially this later post as well.] The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is coterminous with the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin; a fuller explanation is here and here. This drama collapses some of the historical events into a single time frame for the sake of the Aristotelian unities. A first-person account of the first Lambeth Conference may be consulted here.]
Scene: Lambeth Palace, on the eve of the opening of Lambeth Conference 2008. The Archbishop of Canterbury has fallen asleep at his desk in his study. The clock strikes midnight.
A low rattle of chains, getting gradually nearer and louder. The Archbishop shakes himself awake.
Archbishop: What---what is that sound?
Ghost: It is I, the Ghost of Lambeth Past.
Archbishop: Who? [Tremulously, seeing spectre with chains nearing his desk] Who---who are you?
Ghost: The Ghost of Lambeth Past. I am the Most Reverend Charles Thomas Longley, your predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1862 to 1868. My portrait hangs over there [pointing with bony finger at a wall].
Archbishop: You, I mean---Your Grace---Archbishop Longley? Who convened the first Lambeth Conference in 1867?
Ghost: The same. The peace of our Lord be with you.
Archbishop [automatically, by reflex]: And with thy spirit. [Recovering] But---but why are you here, and now? And why are you in those terrible chains?
Ghost: I am the Ghost of Lambeth Past, and I am doing penance for my pride. I have come to show you how you are about to repeat the terrible mistake we made at the First Lambeth Conference.
Archbishop: Mistake? What mistake? I thought the first Lambeth Conference was a model for all the rest. There was restraint, the bishops agreed in advance---
Ghost [interrupting]: Not to call a Church council, and pass canons binding on us all? Oh, yes, we agreed to that, certainly.
Archbishop: Then what is this "terrible mistake" to which you refer?
Ghost: The affair with Bishop Colenso of South Africa---you must surely know.
Archbishop: Bishop Colenso? But wasn't he deposed by the Church of the Province of South Africa for going against the teachings of the Church? And as a result, not invited to your First Lambeth Conference?
Ghost: You are correct, but his deposition had been ruled invalid by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council---several years before the Conference began. Nevertheless, we did not invite him, because regardless of what the Privy Council said, [with the slightest touch of sarcasm] we knew we had deposed and excommunicated him.
Archbishop: But he continued as Bishop of the Diocese of Natal anyway, didn't he?
Ghost: You are correct again. But now let me take you to that First Lambeth Conference, and you may see for yourself what happened.
Ominous music and sounds; a fog enshrouds the scene. Through it may dimly be seen a hall at Lambeth Palace, with the bishops assembled for deliberation. The Ghost and the Archbishop move closer to the gathering.
Archbishop: Oh, yes, I recognize several of those attending---their portraits are here in the Palace.
Ghost: Be silent now, and listen.
The discussion in the gathering is animated and becomes audible, although the figures themselves are hazy and indistinct.
Bishop Robert Gray of Capetown: But I tell you, we cannot accept Bishop Colenso as a bishop in our Province! Even though I appointed him, it is I who now say he is a heretic, and is leading the natives astray!
Presiding Bishop John Henry Hopkins (Vermont): Hear, hear! We can't have that. Even if they are an inferior race, we are entrusted with the salvation of their souls.
Archbishop Longley of Canterbury: Now, now, Brother Robert, you know that I have ruled that we cannot discuss the case of Bishop Colenso here, since we have not invited him to the Conference. I have appointed a committee to consider the matter, and we will await their report. Moreover, as you well know, the Privy Council ruled that your deposition of him was invalid.
Bishop Gray: What do they know of the matter? Begging Your Grace's pardon, for I concede that Your Grace is among their number, but they are no more than a gaggle of superannuated ministers, MPs, lords, and low churchmen; we're the ones who know our own canons! I tell you, I followed our canons when I deposed him, and I know best what they say, not some overweening, far-distant Privy Council here in the mother country.
Bishop of London: But if he hasn't been validly deposed, isn't he still the Bishop of Natal?
Bishop Gray: I tell you, he is not! I am the Metropolitan of all South Africa, and I say that I deposed him! And I now have the signatures of fifty-five of those who came to this Conference---some of whom had to leave already, but nevertheless who agree with me: they have signed this statement attesting that notwithstanding the fact his deposition may not have been legally valid, it nonetheless was, and I quote, "spiritually valid"! That is all that is important, and so I say: canons be d----d!
Archbishop Longley: Now, now, Brother Robert, there's no need to become excited. It's not good for your health, you know. Bishop Colenso refuses to accept that he was deposed, and the Privy Council agrees with him. We shall just have to find another path to the same end.
Bishop Gray: Your own provincial Convocation, the Convocation of Canterbury, has already met last year and declared that John Colenso is no longer a Bishop of the Church of England. I move, here and now, that this Conference ratify the decision of the Convocation of Canterbury on June 29, 1866 which declared his see, the see of Natal, to be vacant, and resolve that a new Bishop of Natal be selected and consecrated!
Archbishop Longley: Brother Robert, I have already ruled: this Conference ends today, and we shall await the report of the committee I have appointed to consider this matter in the interim. We adopted unanimously, as you know, this Resolution [picks up a paper and reads]:
That, in the judgement of the bishops now assembled, the whole Anglican Communion is deeply injured by the present condition of the Church in Natal; and that a committee be now appointed at this general meeting to report on the best mode by which the Church may be delivered from the continuance of this scandal, and the true faith maintained. That such report be forwarded to His Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, with the request that he will be pleased to transmit the same to all the bishops of the Anglican Communion, and to ask for their judgement thereupon.
[Addresses Bishop Gray again] When we meet again in, say, ten years' time, we shall take up the committee's report, I promise you.
Bishop Gray [leaping to his feet]: And I say to all of you, that unless this Conference takes up my motion this very moment to declare the see of Natal vacant, and to call for the selection of a new Bishop, I hereby submit my resignation as the Bishop of South Africa! And the Church of England will never, ever again get tuppence for Africa from my family---who, as you all know, have made our mission in that Godforsaken place possible. The entire Anglican Church in South Africa will come tumbling round your ears, and it will be all your fault!
Much astonished muttering and murmuring among those assembled. Archbishop Longley, sensing the mood of those gathered, says calmly:
Archbishop Longley: Very well. It has been moved by his Reverence the Bishop of Capetown that we, the bishops of the churches in the Anglican Communion at Lambeth assembled, declare officially that the see of the Diocese of Natal in the Province of South Africa is now vacant, and that a new candidate for that post be selected and consecrated from the Church of England. Is there a second to that motion?
Bishop of Salisbury: I second the motion.
Archbishop Langley: Is there any discussion?
The Bishop of Labuan: Just a clarification, if I may be so bold. If the Right Reverend John Colenso, who you all know is my brother-in-law, and whose teachings, I hasten to add, I do not presume to defend before this august assembly---but if, as I believe we all understand, he does not intend to vacate the position of Bishop of Natal, since the Privy Council has ruled that he still is the Bishop of Natal, may I ask: would it not possibly be in the slightest degree confusing to all and sundry if we were to appoint another Bishop of Natal while there already was a person calling himself---without a scintilla of justification, I readily admit---but nevertheless, still calling himself "the Bishop of Natal"? Should we not just think this resolution through a bit more?
Bishop Gray: I shall amend my motion. I propose that we create a new diocese, covering the same territory as the Diocese of Natal, but with a different name. Since the capital of the colony of Natal is Pietermaritzburg, I move that the bishop we appoint shall have, in place of the title "Bishop of Natal," the title of "Bishop of Maritzburg."
Bishop of Salisbury: I agree to the amendment.
Archbishop Longley: Is there any further discussion? May I see a show of hands in favor of the motion? Against? [After a pause] Then the motion carries, forty-three to three. And that's that, then. Now, could we take up, please, this subject of the creation of a voluntary spiritual tribunal to resolve doctrinal disputes within the Communion . . .
The figures and voices fade away. The Archbishop is left alone with the Ghost, who stares unblinkingly at him.
Archbishop of Canterbury: [After an embarrassed pause] Ah, yes, very interesting, indeed, fascinating, I must say. But might I ask---how does what you have shown me relate to the Lambeth Conference that starts tomorrow?
Ghost: You in 2008 are about to make the same mistake that we made in 1867.
Archbishop: And that is? I'm sorry, it's very late.
Ghost: Yes, it is late---almost too late for you to undo what you have done. By inviting and seating Bishop Lamb at the behest of The Episcopal Church, you are sanctioning the creation of a parallel diocese with overlapping jurisdiction, just as we did in 1867 by creating the Diocese of Maritzburg to overlap with the Diocese of Natal. As you well know, the Anglican Church is still divided in South Africa, and has never recovered from that mistake.
Archbishop: But we're not "creating" Bishop Lamb's diocese---it's the same Episcopal Diocese it's always been. It's the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin that is the new diocese.
Ghost: You are about to do far worse. At least, when we established Bishop Macrorie as Bishop of Maritzburg, we followed our established canons and procedures---although we did, I admit, skirt around the Duke of Buckingham's edict. Take a look:
A new scene dimly appears before them---Whitehall, in the Office of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The Duke of Buckingham, as Colonial Secretary, is seated at a massive desk. The Bishop of Capetown is seated in front of him.
Duke of Buckingham: Now with regard to this matter of a new bishop in the colony of Natal, Robert, I must say you bishops at Lambeth have created a knotty problem for us. We are not free to ignore the ruling by the Privy Council. I have prepared a directive in conformity with the ruling which confirms that Her Majesty's Government recognizes Bishop Colenso as the only "official" bishop in that colony.
Bishop Gray: But, your Grace, then what will be the status of Bishop Macrorie, whom we are due to consecrate next January in Capetown?
Duke of Buckingham: He will be a bishop, since you have made him one according to the ordinal of the Church of England, but in that capacity he may minister only to members of the Church of South Africa who also happen to be in Natal. He will not be the "Bishop of Natal"---there can be only one of those, and according to the Privy Council, we already have our Bishop of Natal.
Bishop Gray: We have seen to that, Your Grace. We have given him a different title.
Duke of Buckingham: Since there is only one authorized Bishop of Natal, Bishop Macrorie cannot take his title from that colony, or from any place within that colony. Is that clear?
Bishop Gray: Oh, yes, your Grace. We have seen to it that his title is not drawn from the name of any place in Natal. He will be known as the "Bishop of Maritzburg", and there is no place called "Maritzburg" in Natal.
Duke of Buckingham: Natal's capital is Pietermaritzburg, is it not?
Bishop Gray: Indeed it is, Your Grace. Which is why we have not given Bishop Macrorie the title "Bishop of Pietermaritzburg". He is instead the "Bishop of Maritzburg".
Duke of Buckingham: I see. [Reflects a moment, and looks knowingly at Bishop Gray.] That will do, then. He is not the official bishop, and he has no place to call his see. [Chuckling] He will be "no bishop of no see." Yes, Her Majesty's Government can accept that.
Bishop Gray: Thank you ever so much for your understanding, your Grace.
The scene fades. The Ghost turns back to the Archbishop.
Ghost: Just as Bishop Macrorie could not be the Bishop of Natal, so Bishop Lamb is not the "Bishop of San Joaquin". The convention that appointed him was not called in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese, and there was not a quorum present in any event. The "Diocese" he purports to represent is a new and different entity in the eyes of the law, because the old one voted to leave with Bishop Schofield.
Archbishop: But Katharine assured me everything had been done by the book---her own Chancellor directed the procedures.
Ghost: Do you also accept her assurance that Bishop Schofield was validly deposed?
Archbishop: She sent me a copy of the deposition certificate! It has her signature on it, attested by two witnesses. That proves it was done correctly!
Ghost: [ominously] I see that you are bound and determined to commit the same error that I did, when I thought I knew better than the Privy Council. I am going to leave you now, and you will shortly be visited by another spirit, the Ghost of Lambeth Future. Perchance that spirit may convince you of the error you are about to make. [Fades away.]
Archbishop: Your Grace! Don't leave . . .
The room darkens, and all becomes black. After a pause, the Archbishop senses rather than sees the presence of a spirit. His flesh tingles, and a slight puff of air startles him.
Archbishop: Who's there? Where am I? What is it?
An indistinct, dark shadow fills the space to the right. The Archbishop feels drawn into the shadow.
Archbishop: Are you the Ghost of Lambeth Future? What is it you want to show me?
The shadow moves further to the right, but there is nothing to be seen---only deeper and deeper blackness.
Archbishop: But I don't see anything. Is this the future of Lambeth?
Slowly, very dimly at first, then with increasing intensity, a large plaque on a stone wall comes into view. The lettering on it is at first too faint to read, but as the light on it intensifies, the following inscription becomes clearly visible:
On this site stood Lambeth Palace, the former residence of the personage known as the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was the nominal head of the religious body known as the Church of England, before that Church was disestablished by Act of Parliament in 2017. The decennial gatherings of the "Lambeth Conference" met here until they were moved to the University of Kent, to accommodate the ever-increasing number of bishops---a factor that played a major role in the subsequent decision to disestablish the Church. (With the large-scale departure of evangelical and Anglo-Catholic bishops following the consecration of a woman as bishop in 2012, the Church split into three separate overlapping and parallel jurisdictions, which proved unsustainable after just five years.) Following disestablishment, Lambeth Palace was purchased from the Government by the Emir of Dubai as part of the program to retire the deficit. It is now part of the complex of the Moslem University of London.
Archbishop: Oh, dear God! He faints. All goes dark.