The Lambeth Conference has become a ten-yearly meeting of bishops from the world-wide Anglican Communion.
Each national or regional Church of the Communion is governed by its own Synod. The Lambeth meeting was not called Council or Synod but a Conference, in Archbishop Longley's words, "For brotherly counsel and encouragement". The Resolutions passed by a Lambeth Conference do not have legislative authority in any Province, until they have been approved by the provincial synod of the Province concerned. The Lambeth Conference is not an executive which imposes doctrine or discipline but it is a forum where the mind of the Communion can be expressed on matters of controversy.
Canadian bishops were the first to raise the idea of a gathering of Anglican bishops, as a means of facilitating understanding of activity in other provinces. The heads of various provinces wished to meet to create a supreme government for the Anglican Communion, and to maintain a unity when dealing with controversial issues in local circumstances. Resolution 11 of 1978 stated that no individual province should take action on major issues without first consulting the Lambeth Conference or a meeting of the primates.
Over the past 13 Conferences, the bishops have expressed their minds on more than 750 issues, ranging from international politics, social policy and other matters of secular concern to Church order, doctrine, ethics and Christian unity.
First Conference (1867) – Presided over by Archbishop Longley
One of the chief subjects of consideration at the first Conference was the controversy over Bishop Colenso who had been deposed and excommunicated for heresy because of his unorthodox views of the Old Testment.
Second Conference (1878) – Presided over by Archbishop Tait
The second Conference considered the nature of Anglicanism and the unity of the Communion. It did not adopt any formal Resolutions, instead a number of Recommendations were made.
Third Conference (1888) - Presided over by Archbishop Benson
The Third Conference dealt with, amongst other things, the doctrinal basis for discussions of unity between the Churches: the acceptance of Scripture, the Nicene Creed, the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion and the Historic Episcopate. Known as the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral it has played a key role in ecumenical conversations.
Fourth Conference (1897) – Presided over by Archbishop Frederick Temple
The Conference was held one year early, so that the bishops could celebrate the thirteenth centenary of the arrival in England of Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, in 597 and the establishment of the See of Canterbury.
Fifth Conference (1908) – Presided over by Archbishop Davidson
Discussion in this Conference examined the relationship between faith and modern thought, encouragement of vocations and the training of clergy, education, the ministry of healing and the structure of the Anglican Communion.
Sixth Conference (1920) – Presided over by Archbishop Davidson
The Conference was held two years late due to the war. The Conference issued an 'Appeal to All Christian People' which encouraged Church unity by the mutual recognition of ministries. Among the issues discussed were the role of women in the Church, marriage and sexual morality, and social and industrial questions.
Seventh Conference (1930) – Presided over by Archbishop Lang
The Conference encouraged Christian unity in all parts of the world, but also discussed the life and witness of the Christian Community and the organization and structure of the Anglican Communion.
Eighth Conference (1948) – Presided over by Archbishop Fisher
The Conference passed a number of resolutions relating to warfare in the modern world, the establishment of the United Nations, and the control of nuclear weapons. It welcomed full communion between the Anglican and Old Catholic Churches following the Bonn Agreement of 1931 and expressed its gratitude for the inauguration of the Church of South India.
Ninth Conference (1958) – Presided over by Archbishop Fisher
Over 130 Resolutions were recommended at this Conference. These included a renewal of the permanent diaconate, and an emphasis on the Church's work of reconciliation between and within nations.
Tenth Conference (1968) – Presided over by Archbishop Ramsey
The Conference was too large to be accommodated at Lambeth and took place at Church House, Westminster. It approved reciprocal acts of intercommunion where agreements exist between the Anglican Church and other Churches, and also considered the ordination of women.
Eleventh Conference (1978) – Presided over by Archbishop Coggan
This was the first time that the Lambeth Conference was held at the University of Kent's Canterbury campus, the venue for all subsequent Conferences. The first resolution highlighted a need to discourage human greed and self interest, viewed as a matter of universal concern, and there was an increasing concern to promote a social Gospel.
Twelfth Conference (1988) – Presided over by Archbishop Runcie
Resolutions at this Conference included the ordination or consecration of women to the episcopate. A few months afterwards, Barbara Harris was ordained Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.
Thirteenth Conference (1998) – Presided over by Archbishop Carey
The Conference was, for the first time, attended by 11 women bishops, and examined issues such as international debt, inter-faith relations, civil strife, and the Church's mission. It also included a resolution on human sexuality (Resolution 1:10) which was passed by an overwhelming majority and can be regarded as the general mind of the Communion this matter; as noted in the Windsor Report.
Fourteenth Conference (2008) - Presided over by Archbishop Williams
The fourteenth conference took place from 16 July – 3 August 2008 with around 670 bishops in attendance. The governing concept for the fourteenth Conference was indaba, a word from the African, particularly the Zulu, context. It means a gathering for purposeful discussion in which each voice and the perspectives of all are considered in exploring topics of central importance to the life of the community. The two interwoven themes for the conference were equipping bishops for leadership in mission and strengthening the Communion.
Further information can be found at the Lambeth Conference website.