Religion Wiki
Part of a series on the
Anglican Communion
Canterbury Cathedral - Portal Nave Cross-spire.jpeg

Archbishop of Canterbury
Rowan Williams
Primates' Meeting
Lambeth Conferences
Anglican Consultative Council
Bishops, Dioceses, and
Episcopal polity


Christianity  • Christian Church
Anglicanism  • History
Jesus Christ  • St Paul
Catholicity and Catholicism
Apostolic Succession
Ministry •Ecumenical councils
Augustine of Canterbury  • Bede
Medieval Architecture
Henry VIII  • Reformation
Thomas Cranmer
Dissolution of the Monasteries
Church of England
Edward VI  • Elizabeth I
Matthew Parker
Richard Hooker  • James I
King James Version • Charles I
William Laud  • Nonjuring schism
Ordination of women
Homosexuality •Windsor Report


Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
Theology  • Doctrine
Thirty-Nine Articles
Caroline Divines
Oxford Movement
Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral
Sacraments  • Mary  • Saints

Liturgy and Worship

Book of Common Prayer
Morning and Evening Prayer
Eucharist  • Liturgical Year
Biblical Canon
Books of Homilies
High Church  • Low Church
Broad Church

Anglican Topics

Ecumenism  • Monasticism
Prayer  • Music  • Art

Flag of Anglican Communion.svg.png

The Lambeth Conferences are decennial assemblies of bishops of the Anglican Communion convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first such conference took place in 1867.

As the Anglican Communion is an international association of national churches and not a governing body, Lambeth Conferences serve a collaborative and consultative function, expressing 'the mind of the communion' on issues of the day. Resolutions which a Lambeth Conference may pass are without legal effect, but they are nonetheless influential.

These conferences form one of the Communion's four "Instruments of Communion".


The idea of these meetings was first suggested in a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury by Bishop John Henry Hopkins of Vermont in 1851, but the immediate impulse came from the colonial Church in Canada. In 1865 the synod of that province, in an urgent letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr Longley), represented the unsettlement of members of the Canadian Church caused by recent legal decisions of the Privy Council, and their alarm lest the revived action of Convocation "should leave us governed by canons different from those in force in England and Ireland, and thus cause us to drift into the status of an independent branch of the Roman Catholic Church."

They therefore requested him to call a "national synod of the bishops of the Anglican Church at home and abroad", to meet under his leadership. After consulting both houses of the Convocation of Canterbury, Archbishop Longley assented, and convened all the bishops of the Anglican Communion (then 144 in number) to meet at Lambeth in 1867.

Many Anglican bishops (amongst them the Archbishop of York and most of his suffragans) felt so doubtful as to the wisdom of such an assembly that they refused to attend it, and Dean Stanley declined to allow Westminster Abbey to be used for the closing service, giving as his reasons the partial character of the assembly, uncertainty as to the effect of its measures and "the presence of prelates not belonging to our Church."

Archbishop Longley said in his opening address, however, that they had no desire to assume "the functions of a general synod of all the churches in full communion with the Church of England," but merely to "discuss matters of practical interest, and pronounce what we deem expedient in resolutions which may serve as safe guides to future action." The resolutions of the Lambeth Conferences have never been regarded as synodical decrees, but their weight has increased with each conference.

Seventy-six bishops accepted the primate's invitation to the first conference, which met at Lambeth on September 24, 1867, and sat for four days, the sessions being in private. The archbishop opened the conference with an address: deliberation followed; committees were appointed to report on special questions; resolutions were adopted, and an encyclical letter was addressed to the faithful of the Anglican Communion. Each of the subsequent conferences has been first received in Canterbury Cathedral and addressed by the archbishop from the chair of St. Augustine.

It has then met at Lambeth Palace, and after sitting for five days for deliberation upon the fixed subjects and appointment of committees, has adjourned, to meet again at the end of a fortnight and sit for five days more, to receive reports, adopt resolutions and to put forth the encyclical letter.

From 1978 onwards the Conference has been held on the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent allowing the bishops to live and worship together on the same site for the first time.


First Conference (September 24-28, 1867)

Punch cartoon on the subject of the first Lambeth Conference

  • Presided over by: Archbishop Longley
  • 76 bishops present

Most of the conference was spent discussing the controversial Colenso case. Of the 13 resolutions adopted by the conference, 2 have direct reference to this case. The rest have to do with the creation of new sees and missionary jurisdictions, commendatory letters, and a voluntary spiritual tribunal in cases of doctrine and the due subordination of synods. The reports of the committees were not ready, and were carried forward to the conference of 1878.

Second Conference (July 2-27, 1878)

  • Presided over by: Archbishop Tait
  • 100 bishops present

The reports of the five special committees (based in part upon those of the committee of 1867) were embodied in the encyclical letter, which described the best mode of maintaining union, voluntary boards of arbitration, missionary bishops and missionaries, and continental chaplains and included the report of a committee on difficulties submitted to the conference.

Third Conference (July 3-27, 1888)

Lambeth Palace, photographed looking east across the River Thames.

  • Presided over by: Archbishop Benson
  • 145 bishops present

The chief subject of consideration was the position of communities which do not possess the historical episcopate. In addition to the encyclical letter, nineteen resolutions were put forth, and the reports of twelve special committees are appended upon which they are based, the subjects being intemperance, purity, divorce, polygamy, observance of Sunday, socialism, care of emigrants, mutual relations of dioceses of the Anglican Communion, home reunion, Scandinavian Church, Old Catholics, etc., Eastern Churches, standards of doctrine and worship. Perhaps the most important of these is the famous "Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral," which laid down a fourfold basis for home reunion: the Holy Scriptures, the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself and the historic episcopate.

Fourth Conference (July 5-31, 1897)

  • Presided over by: Archbishop Temple (having been convened by Archbishop Benson)
  • 194 bishops present

One of the chief subjects for consideration was the creation of a tribunal of reference, but the resolutions on this subject were withdrawn due to opposition of the bishops of the Episcopal Church in the USA, and a more general resolution in favour of a "consultative body" was substituted. The encyclical letter is accompanied by sixty-three resolutions (which include careful provision for provincial organisation and the extension of the title archbishop "to all metropolitans, a thankful recognition of the revival of brotherhoods and sisterhoods, and of the office of deaconess," and a desire to promote friendly relations with the Eastern Churches and the various Old Catholic bodies), and the reports of the eleven committees are subjoined.

Fifth Conference (July 6-August 5, 1908)

  • Presided over by: Archbishop Randall Davidson
  • 241 bishops present

The chief subjects of discussion were: the relations of faith and modern thought, the supply and training of the clergy, education, foreign missions, revision and "enrichment" of the Book of Common Prayer, the relation of the Church to "ministries of healing" (Christian Science, etc.), the questions of marriage and divorce, organisation of the Anglican Church, and reunion with other Churches. The results of the deliberations were embodied in seventy-eight resolutions, which were appended to the encyclical issued, in the name of the conference, by the Archbishop of Canterbury on August 8.

Sixth Conference (1920)

  • Rejected Christian Science, spiritualism, and theosophy
  • Supported political lobbying against "such incentives to vice as indecent literature, suggestive plays and films, the open or secret sale of contraceptives, and the continued existence of brothels."
  • Affirmed the place of women as lay members of synods.

The Conference's uncompromising and unqualified rejection of all forms of artificial contraception, even within marriage, was contained in Resolution 68, which said, in part:

We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers - physical, moral and religious - thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control. [1]

Seventh Conference (1930)

  • Approved the use of birth control in limited circumstances.
  • Rejected war as a means of settling international disputes.
  • Declared induced abortion "abhorrent."
  • Opposed racial segregation in churches.

Eighth Conference (1948)

  • Advised that the ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi "would be against the tradition and order...of the Anglican Communion" and dismissed the need for further examination of women's ordination.
  • Welcomed full communion between the Anglican and Old Catholic Churches.
  • Affirmed that "discrimination between men on the grounds of race alone is inconsistent with the principles of Christ's religion".

Ninth Conference (1958)

  • Called for respect for the "consciences" of married couples who use birth control.
  • Recommended considering the renewal of the permanent diaconate.

Tenth Conference (1968)

  • Presided over by Michael Ramsey
  • Recommended the ordination of women to the diaconate and the recognition of previously-appointed "deaconesses" as deacons.
  • Found the arguments for and against women in the priesthood "inconclusive".
  • Suggested that assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles no longer be required of clergy.
  • Endorsed open communion.

Eleventh Conference (1978)

  • Presided over by Donald Coggan

This conference "recognised the autonomy of each of its member right of each Church to make its own decision" about women priests. It also denounced the use of capital punishment and called for a Common Lectionary.

This was the first conference to be held on the campus of the University of Kent at Canterbury where every subsequent conference has been held.

Twelfth Conference (1988)

The conference dealt with the question of the inter-relation of Anglican international bodies and issues like marriage and family, human rights, poverty and debt, environment, militarism, justice and peace. This conference decided that "each province respect the decision of other provinces in the ordination or consecration of women to the episcopate."

Thirteenth Conference (July 18 - August 9, 1998)

The most hotly debated issue at this conference was homosexuality in the Anglican Communion. It was finally decided, by a vote of 526-70, to pass a resolution (1.10) calling for a "listening process" but stating (in a section passed by a much smaller majority on a separate vote) that "homosexual practice" (not necessarily orientation) is "incompatible with Scripture".[2] A subsequent public apology was issued to lesbian and gay Anglicans in a Pastoral Statement from 182 bishops worldwide, including 8 primates (those of Brazil, Canada, Central Africa, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, and Wales).[3] Division and controversy centred on this motion and its application continued to the extent that, ten years later, in 2007, Giles Goddard of Inclusive Church suggested in published correspondence with Andrew Goddard across the liberal-evangelical divide: "It’s possible to construct a perfectly coherent argument that the last 10 years have been preoccupied with undoing the damage Lambeth 1.10 caused to the Communion."[4]

Discussions about a mission to fight poverty, create jobs and transform lives by empowering the poor in developing countries using innovative savings and microcredit programs, business training and spiritual development led to the formation of Five Talents [5]

Fourteenth Conference (2008)

  • Presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams
  • Over 650 bishops present

The fourteenth conference took place between 16 July – 4 August 2008 at the University of Kent's Canterbury campus. In March 2006 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, issued a pastoral letter[6] to the 38 primates of the Anglican Communion and moderators of the United Churches setting out his thinking for the next Lambeth Conference.

Williams indicated that the emphasis will be on training, "for really effective, truthful and prayerful mission". He ruled out (for the time being) reopening of the controversial resolution 1.10 on human sexuality from the previous Lambeth Conference, but emphasised the so-called "listening process" whereby diverse views and experiences of human sexuality are being collected and collated in accordance with that resolution and said it "will be important to allow time for this to be presented and reflected upon in 2008."

He indicated that the traditional plenary sessions and resolutions would be reduced and that "We shall be looking at a bigger number of more focused groups, some of which may bring bishops and spouses together."

Attendance at the Lambeth Conference is by invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Invitations were sent to more than 880 bishops around the world for the Fourteenth Conference. Notably missing from the list of those invited are Gene Robinson and Martyn Minns. Robinson, the first Anglican bishop to exercise the office while in an acknowledged same-sex relationship, is seen by many[who?] to be at the heart of the current controversy in the Anglican Communion. Minns, the former rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, VA, is the head of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a splinter group of American Anglicans; the Church of Nigeria considers him a missionary bishop to the United States, despite protest from Canterbury and the U.S. Episcopal Church.

Icon of the Melanesian Martyrs at Canterbury Cathedral

Icon of the Melanesian Martyrs at Canterbury Cathedral

On 2008-08-03, the seven martyred members of the Anglican Melanesian Brotherhood were honoured during the concluding Mass of the 2008 Lambeth Conference, at Canterbury Cathedral. Their names were added to the book of contemporary martyrs and placed, along with an icon on the altar of the Chapel of the Saints of Our Times. When the Eucharist was over, bishops and others came to pray in front of the small altar in the chapel.[7] Now their icon stands at the Cathedral as a reminder of their witness to peace and of the multi-ethnic character of Global Anglicanism.[8]


In 2008, four Anglican primates announced that they intended to boycott the Lambeth conference because of their opposition to the actions of Episcopal Church in the USA (the American branch of the Anglican church) in favour of homosexual clergy and same-sex unions.[9][10] These primates represent the Anglican provinces of Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. In addition, Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia and Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester, among others announced their intentions not to attend.

The Global Anglican Future Conference, a meeting of conservative bishops held in Jerusalem in June 2008 (one month prior to Lambeth), was thought by some to be an "alternative Lambeth" for those who are opposed to the consecration of Robinson.[11] GAFCON involved Martyn Minns, Akinola and other dissenters who consider themselves to be in a state of impaired communion with Lambeth, ECUSA and Canterbury.[12] The June 2008 church blessing of Peter Cowell, an Anglican priest at Westminster Abbey, and David Lord, an Anglican priest serving at a parish in Waikato, New Zealand, renewed the debate one month prior to the conference. The Rev. Dr. Martin Dudley maintains that the ceremony was a "blessing" rather than a matrimonial ceremony.


  1. "Resolution 68 – Problems of Marriage and Sexual Morality". Lambeth Conference Archives. 1920. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  2. "Lambeth Conference 1998: Resolution 1.10 Human Sexuality". Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  3. "A Pastoral Statement to Lesbian and Gay Anglicans". Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  4. "Giles to Andrew". Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  5. "Archbishop Supports the Work of the Microfinance Charity Five Talents and the Role of the Church in Grassroots Development". Retrieved 2009-12-27. 
  6. "Archbishop Sets Out Thinking on Lambeth Conference 2008". Lambeth Palace. 
  7. "Lambeth bishops attend closing Eucharist; Martyred Melanesian brothers honored in Canterbury Cathedral". Episcopal Church. 2008-08-03. Retrieved 2009-12-03. 
  8. "The Gathering". Canterbury Diocese. 2009-09-04. Retrieved 2009-12-03. 
  9. "GAFCON Response to Evangelical English Bishops". Anglican Church of Nigeria. 
  10. Matthew Davies (2008-02-15). "Five primates announce Lambeth Conference boycott". Episcopal Church. 
  11. Mark Hadley. "FutureAnglicans unite". 
  • Archbishop RT Davidson, The Lambeth Conferences of 1867, 1878 and 1888 (London, 1896)
  • Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion, Encyclical Letter, etc. (London, 1897 and 1908).

External links

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.