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A short history of the Lambeth Conference

The Lambeth Conference dates back more than 150 years. In the 1860s a bitter dispute in South Africa prompted Canadian bishops to petition the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley, to call a gathering of senior leaders. The first Lambeth Conference met for four days from 25 September 1867 (pictured above), with 76 bishops present. Fourteen Lambeth Conferences have met since, about every 10 years, with breaks during the two World Wars.

Despite having no legal powers, Lambeth Conferences gradually gained respect and influence. Christian unity was addressed from the outset. The pastoral letter signed at the end of the first Conference declared Anglicanism was part of something bigger. It began, “We, the bishops of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church…” The ‘Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral’, approved at the conference of 1888, remains the Anglican statement of the fourfold essential basis for a reunited Church.

Conferences have supported persecuted Christians and drawn attention to the plight of refugees. Their wide range of topics have included faith and order issues, marriage, the family, sexuality, the ministry of women, racism, war and peace, Christian ethics, challenges to Christian belief, the Christian way of life, liturgical revision and structures for consultation in the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Alliance, which co-ordinates development, relief and advocacy projects was created as a direct result of Lambeth 2008.

Explore a detailed history of the Lambeth Conference resolutions.