(LWI) - Anglican bishops from around the globe are gearing up for a major event in the life of their communion which will shape the ministry and mission of its members over the next decade. The fifteenth Lambeth Conference takes place in Canterbury from 26 July to 8 August, bringing together over 600 bishops, alongside spouses, ecumenical observers and other invited guests.
The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Anne Burghardt will be taking part in that meeting, together with Prof. Dirk Lange, LWF's Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations. Among those on hand to welcome them to the ancient city on the south-eastern tip of England will be a friend and ecumenical expert, Rev. Dr Will Adam, who was recently appointed Archdeacon of Canterbury.
Originally held at Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the banks of the river Thames in London, the Lambeth Conference has been meeting more or less once a decade since 1867 for prayer, reflection, fellowship and discussions on the challenges facing the 80-million-member global communion. It is one of the four, so-called Instruments of Unity of the Anglican Communion.
Passion for the world church
Prior to his present appointment, Dr Adam has held several high-profile roles within the Anglican Communion, including serving as its deputy secretary general for the past year. From 2019, he also worked as director of Unity, Faith and Order and before that, he served as ecumenical advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
Dr Adam puts his passion for ecumenism down to what he calls his “Swiss finishing school experience” at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches (WCC). After studying theology and English church history at Manchester University, he trained for the priesthood at Westcott House in Cambridge and was sent for six months to Bossey, just outside Geneva, in 1993.
“Up until then, I had been mainly interested in the English church, but that experience opened my eyes to the beauty, the wonder, the variety of the world church,” he recalls. “I was studying with about 55 people from some 40 different countries and various denominations, so I came back fired up with enthusiasm for all things ecumenical,” he says. He served as a youth delegate at the 1998 WCC Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, before being appointed as ecumenical officer to the diocese of Ely in eastern England.
Shortly before settling into ministry and a doctorate in canon law, Adam had a brief moment of national fame when he appeared in a TV advertisement for a Ford Escort car featuring the slogan ‘What do you do in yours?’ “They were looking for a vicar, so I went along for a screen test and was filmed driving around a housing estate in South Wales,” he says with a smile. “Will Adam has married 14 women since he got his,” declares the narrator, before cutting to a close-up shot of him putting on his clerical collar.
In fact, Adam is happily married to another Anglican vicar, Rev. Lindsay Yates and they have three daughters. The family is busy relocating from rural West Sussex to Canterbury, where he will also hold the post of residentiary canon of the ancient cathedral, founded in 597 as the headquarters of the English church. “Canterbury is a place very close to my heart,” he acknowledged after his appointment in March, “as it has been for pilgrims from around the world for centuries.”
Among his wide ecumenical experiences, Adam is currently serving alongside Assistant General Secretary Lange as co-secretaries of a new body known as ALICUM (Anglican-Lutheran International Commission on Unity and Mission). Together with the co-chairs, Anglican Bishop Given Guala from Tanzania and Lutheran Bishop Cindy Halmarson from Canada, the two co-secretaries recently met in Geneva to discuss ways of facilitating practical cooperation between bishops of their two communions at national and regional level.
“It is four years since the establishment of ALICUM was approved by the LWF Council and by the Anglican legislative bodies,” notes Lange, “but COVID has significantly held up our efforts to move forward with this new form of shared ministry.” Pairs of bishops from the two denominations will be proposed with a mandate to work within a wide diversity of contexts, he explains. “This diversity includes countries where the two churches are either in a majority or a minority situation, but also interfaith contexts and work with indigenous communities,” he adds.
Differences that are not communion dividing
Adam points out that ALICUM is an important example of “an exercise in receptive ecumenism, asking what each side can offer to the other.” Over many decades of ecclesial and theological dialogue, he says, "Anglicans and Lutherans realized, by the time of the 2012 Jerusalem report, that the differences we have are not necessarily communion dividing.” In some parts of the world, the two churches now share relationships of full communion, “while others fall short of this but still have the potential to work more closely, side by side,” Adam reflects.
Taking a broader theological perspective, he notes that the Anglican Communion, along with the Methodists and Reformed churches, has also adhered to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), the 1999 Lutheran-Catholic agreement that he describes as “one of the most important ecumenical documents of the latter part of the 20th century.” As he prepares to take copies of the 20th anniversary edition of the document to the Lambeth Conference, he stresses the importance of “moving ahead to see how these commitments can now bear real fruit.”
Despite the wide diversity of views held by bishops coming together in Canterbury to discuss the future of their worldwide communion, Adam is hopeful that the shared prayers and Bible study, the plenary presentations and especially the small group discussions “will strengthen communion relations” that have been strained over issues of marriage and same-sex relationships.
“There will be honest and robust debate,” Adam concludes, “but I hope that in the various ways in which the mind of the communion is discerned, we will be able to look at the really important issues of our day, including persecutions, injustices, climate change, and see how to better equip Anglicans for effective mission and ministry in a conflicted world.”