Bishops from the worldwide Anglican Communion have been experiencing hospitality visits and prayer retreats in advance of the formal element of the Lambeth Conference, which has been gathering on the campus of the University of Kent.
Organisers hope that in spite of fevered press speculation about splits and arguments about sexuality, scripture and authority, the meeting can be a positive experience for the Church and those looking in on it from the outside, in spite of disagreements.
Matthew Davies of Episcopal Life Online writes: The Anglican provinces of England, Scotland and Wales laid on some British hospitality from 10-15 July for some of the bishops and spouses making their way to Canterbury for the decennial Lambeth Conference.
The pre-Lambeth Conference Hospitality Initiative enabled bishops and diocesan clergy throughout Britain "to have some informal conversations, to get to know each other, and it set a very positive tone," said Assisting Bishop William Gregg of North Carolina.
Gregg, who was visiting the Diocese of Swansea in the Church of Wales, said that the bishops who participated in the initiative have arrived at the 16 July - 3 August Lambeth Conference in southeast England "in a more constructive mode and with a better sense of articulating who we are and making the point that we're about partnering for mission and ministry."
For Bishop Philip Baji of Tanga in Tanzania, time spent in the Diocese of Hereford, which shares a companion relationship with his diocese, enriched his understanding of the Church of England.
He expressed his appreciation to members of the Lambeth Conference Design Group and the planning team who envisioned and developed the initiative. "It was really very good," he said. "As a bishop you are busy, busy and you need time to chill out and this provided that," he said.
In the Scottish Episcopal Church, Archbishop Mauricio de Andrade of Brazil met with several clergy and bishops from Scotland’s seven dioceses. He described the encounter as an excellent opportunity to share in the experiences and challenges of the church.
Each of Wales' six dioceses welcomed international guests from among the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces and several of them enjoyed the Llangollen Music International Eisteddfod, which draws some 120,000 visitors every July and turns the town into a vibrant international stage.
A diversity of Anglican visitors in Wales included bishops Devaraj Bangera of Karnataka South, Church of South India (United); Sebastiao Armando Gameleira Soares of Recife, Brazil; Douglas Stevens of Riverina, New South Wales, Australia; Dean Elliott Wolfe of Kansas, United States; and John Simalenga of South West Tanganyika, Tanzania. They were accompanied by Bishop John Davies of St. Asaph in Wales.
Simalenga said the experience helped to introduce him to "the richness" of Welsh culture.
But he noted a challenge for his host diocese. "The churches are full of old people," he said. "In my country, they are full of young people. I think there is a challenge for the [Welsh] church to fill them with young people."
Archbishop of York John Sentamu and Bishop Tim Stevens of the Diocese of Leicester, England, headed a delegation of bishops who heard the hopes and aspirations of a group of more than 40 young people drawn from across the Communion.
The consultation event, organized by the Diocese of Leicester's Department of Youth Ministry with help from The Children's Society, a leading U.K. charity, gave the invited young people a chance to air their views and influence the bishops on issues of faith, life and power. Topics discussed included family and relationships, education and employment, poverty and wealth, and the environment and economy, and why the church won't take young people seriously.
Meanwhile, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori [from the Episcopal Church in the USA] and the bishops of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) visited the Church of England's Diocese of Salisbury and participated in the life and ministry of the cathedral in its 750th anniversary year.
The Rev Ian T. Douglas, a member of the Lambeth Conference Design Group, said the initiative overall was "all about connections and development of relationships."
The new book Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow, is published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia.