It’s not exactly the tail end of the Conference – there are far too many important things to discuss yet – but we are on the downhill stretch. Tuesday was the mountain top, in more ways than one, and it feels like we are coasting now.
We discussed two calls, on Christian Unity and Inter-Faith relations. Both fitted neatly on top of a bible study that dealt with St Peter’s understanding of suffering. For whilst we should never seek to suffer for our faith, the reality is that for many Christians, persecution, self-denial and rejection go with the territory. I spent much of the morning close to tears as my new friends recounted what life is like for them and their families. They weren’t looking for credit or sympathy; simply telling us the truth.
When it comes to inter-church and inter-faith, of course, some of this suffering is self-inflicted and we still live with terrible legacies of cruel, domineering behaviour by faith elites. There are plenty of countries in 2022 where being Christian (or of some other faith) is forbidden and harshly suppressed. Yet the Lambeth call invites us nevertheless to enter into dialogue, conversation and common action with people of other faiths because this is what we believe God asks of us.
The input offered from around the world was both impressive and astonishing. I feel more and more that the language spoken by my Anglican sisters and brothers is my kind of language, but spoken with more authenticity than I can manage, speaking as I do from the comparatively safe haven of Scotland. Mind you, our inter-faith friendships do allow us to enjoy a depth of shared understanding unimaginable elsewhere, and an opportunity to share in the gracious work of God beyond the church; for example, in the pandemic and in facing the urgent challenge of climate change.
Significant things have been happening across the Communion; things we can celebrate and be inspired by, not least the broadening of a sense of mission that partners with other faiths, a journey towards a mutual understanding and acceptance of difference, and a repentance for harm done. I remember as a University Chaplain leading evening prayer for a group of bishops, during which I prayed for people of other faiths. ‘Thank you for your prayers,’ said one bishop as he left, ‘your inter-faith point was hard won.’ By which he meant, I think, that many of the bishops would have found my prayers rather inappropriate. Thirty years on the offering of generous love to people of all faiths seems a Christ-like thing to do, and apparently the Lambeth Conference 2022 agrees.