COI Gazette – 8th January 2016

Archbishop Clarke cannot see next Lambeth Conference being held in 2018

Archbishop of Armagh

Archbishop of Armagh

In a wide-ranging interview with the Gazette editor shortly before Christmas, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Richard Clarke, spoke about the forthcoming Primates’ Meeting, scheduled for later this month, but said he could not see a Lambeth Conference being held in 2018.

The Lambeth Conference is a ten-yearly meeting of the world’s Anglican bishops, the last one having been held in 2008.

As the basis for his view, Dr Clarke cited the fact that organisational and financial aspects of such a gathering had yet to be put in place.

He also said he thought the Archbishop of Canterbury had “decided that he wanted to see whether there could be a good Lambeth Conference, and what form it might take, before arranging one”.

He said that the next Lambeth Conference could be “a couple of years later than 2018, but it’s hard to call”.


Regarding the Primates’ Meeting, Dr Clarke said it was important that it should not try “to claim more authority than it in fact has”, adding: “It is not a magisterium for Anglicanism.”

He suggested a loosening of the concept of the Anglican Communion as opposed to it having a “hegemonic” structure. He said he was a believer in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral,
broadly understood, as the basis of Anglicanism, along with a special relationship with Canterbury as a “pivot”, without this placing the different Anglican Churches in a “subordinate” role.

Dr Clarke stressed: “We’re in for an untidy time.” However, he said this had to be a “controlled untidiness” as opposed to “outright anarchy”.

Asked what he saw as the main priorities for the Anglican Communion as the Primates’ Meeting aproached, Archbishop Clarke stated: “Getting a structure right that has some meaning in terms of unity and cohesion, but is not hegemonic or monolithic. Working together, because we are a global communion of Churches that covers some of the most deprived and dangerous areas of the world.

“Other areas mentioned as being on the agenda of the Primates’ Meeting, besides the sexuality issue are, for example, the refugee crisis, environmental issues, religious violence and extremism. Also, learning from each other and supporting one another is an important priority.”


Responding to a question about his view of the status of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) vis-à-vis the Anglican Communion, Dr Clarke commented: “I mentioned untidiness – this is an untidy situation.
“ACNA has been invited to the Primates’ Meeting and I think there is a genuine hope, not only from the Archbishop of Canterbury but also from people within both The Episcopal Church and ACNA, that there may be possibilities of healing the breach.

“My own feeling is that we need to be very careful not to get embroiled in the splits that have been going on in the American Church – and it goes wider than simply ACNA and TEC – whatever our sympathies may be. The method now for regulating which are Anglican provinces is via the Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Communion’s StandingCommittee.”


Asked if he had any views on how the issue of human sexuality could best be approached in terms of maintaining Anglican unity, Dr Clarke commented: “I think that the sexuality issue is a presenting issue for much larger and deeper issues: how do we relate Church, society and culture to one another? How do we read the Scriptures? Just how much uniformity do we need as individual provinces on critical issues – and not just sexuality? That has to be part of the discussion.

“On the reading of the Scriptures, I think we have to recognise that we are close to an impasse. For some, the text of the Scriptures requires no interpretation beyond itself, whereas for others the spirit of the Scriptures may be taking us beyond the bare text – for example, slavery, and the subjugation of women. It is very hard to find a common ground.

“I want the Church of Ireland to find an accommodation which has proper reverence both for the inherited tradition of the Church’s understanding of marriage – which is not just an institution of the Church – and for those people who, made in the image and likeness of God
equally with us and loved equally by God, just cannot accord to this in their own lives.”

Dr Clarke said he had “ideas” on how such an accommodation might be approached and that, rather than doing “a solo run” at this point, he intended first to talk to the Commission on Human Sexuality, and to listen to its members.

He concluded: “Above all, I do not want the Church of Ireland to back itself into a win/lose corner.”




It is natural, as one year closes and another starts, to look back over the events of the twelve months past and to wonder what the year to come may bring. It is impossible, of course, in a relatively few words to do so in any comprehensive way, but a few important events may be touched on here.

Looking back, the first is the terrorist attack on Paris. In some parts of the world such attacks are sadly commonplace. Yet, the brutality visited upon innocent civilians in a prominent Western city brought into particular focus the danger that militant Islam poses to the West. Then there is the refugee crisis. The plight of hundreds of thousands of people trying to escape from extreme violence in their homelands makes particularly real, for those in the developed world, the daily misery faced by so many of the inhabitants of the Middle East.

Closer to home, the traditional teachings of the Church again last year came into conflict with those of secular society, North and South, over the issue of same-sex marriage. The divisions within the Church of Ireland on this were mirrored by divisions among the bishops, with two speaking publicly in favour of the change to the law in the Republic – as, indeed, did two retired archbishops. This episcopal divide in itself reflected the wider tensions over the subject.

Looking ahead, the major issues of the year to come are likely to be much the same. Whether the incessant bombing of Syria will increase or decrease the threat of militant Islam is impossible to predict; it seems certain that it will worsen the refugee crisis. How will governments cope with the immense problem of so-called Islamic State? The Christian response surely must be that while self-defence is always justifiable, it must be proportionate to the danger faced and have a real prospect of success.

In terms of challenges to traditional moral norms, the Horner judgement in Northern Ireland and calls to repeal the Eighth Amendment in the Republic of Ireland make it clear that the subject of abortion will feature strongly in 2016. It is a divisive issue. However, the life of the unborn child is to be protected as much as possible, for here is another human being, vulnerable and deserving only of respect and care.

There will be the centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme and of the 1916 Rising. The Church of Ireland will take part in those – and rightly so, as both are defining parts of the history of this island. As far as the Rising is concerned, it is to be hoped that the Church’s involvement will help wider society realise that its commemorations are as much about a reverent remembering of those who died as they are about the marking of an important historical event – and also that they are in no way to be seen as a glorification of past violence, or as a justification for violence in the present or the future.

The debate on the UK’s membership of the European Union is sure to gather pace in 2016 and, while Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to hold the referendum by the end of 2017, it is widely speculated that it may take place during this year. Much will depend on the progress of the current negotiations in Brussels but there are deep concerns about what an ‘Out’ vote would mean for the two jurisdictions in Ireland. The awarding to EU officials of a 2.4% pay increase, backdated to cover the last six months of 2015, with yet a further increase expected in 2017, even after a two-year pay freeze, has not helped at a time of considerable austerity for so many who live in EU member states. In a heading that was distinctly unhelpful to an ‘In’ vote, The Times (23rd December) could declare: “The European Union’s gravy train is back on track and at full throttle”.

Whatever the year ahead may bring, whether for Ireland as a whole or for each of us as individuals, it is important that every person should embark on the ‘open book’ of a new year with hope and with faith that, through all the ‘twists and turns’, God remains with his people, reaching out to every human person with his eternal and incomparable love.


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