On International Day of Peace – Remembering the appeal of the 1920 Lambeth Conference

  • September 20, 2019

On the 21st September it’s International Day of Peace – a day that’s observed around the world. Established in 1981 by a unanimous United Nations resolution, Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.

The Lambeth Conference in 2020 will be a hundred years on from the influential Lambeth Conference of 1920. Held in the aftermath of the First World War, the 1920 conference became known as a defining and significant moment in calling for peace and church unity. It was a gathering that outlined a number of resolutions on Christianity and international relations and also issued ‘An Appeal To All Christian People’.

Notable statements from the 1920 resolutions included an endorsement of the ‘essential Christian basis of the League of Nations’ and that the church should ‘urge the principles of the League of Nations upon the peoples of the world.’ (Resolution 3). There was an assertion of the importance of ‘the admission of Germany in to the League of Nations’ (Resolution 4.), and a call to ‘all supporters of the League of Nations to set their face against injustice to the indigenous or native races’ (Resolution 6).

The resolutions of 1920 reflected the sense at the time that churches must find ways of acting together to prevent future hostilities both in the church and world. The full resolutions from the Lambeth Conference 1920 can be read here.

The consultative body of the 1920 Lambeth Conference

Across its history, the Lambeth Conference has always had an influential role in appealing for reconciliation and church unity. This has been driven in part by the fact that the Anglican Communion is not without its debates and differences. The very first Lambeth Conference in 1867 was called following a dispute of church leaders in South Africa, which prompted Canadian bishops to petition the Archbishop of Canterbury – Charles Longley – to call a gathering of senior leaders.

The result was a pastoral letter signed at the end of the first Conference declaring the need for unity and cooperation. It began, “We, the bishops of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church…” wish to state that ‘Our earnest desire that the Saviour’s prayer, “That we all may be one,” may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily fulfilled.’ Then, at the 1888 conference the bishops approved the ‘Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral’, which remains a definitive Anglican statement of the essential fourfold basis for a united Church.

The commitment for working for peace and reconciliation in the world is an ongoing priority across the Anglican Communion. Today the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN) shares justice and peace issues from local contexts and brings stories of hope to the wider Communion. Through this networking and sharing information, APJN supports Anglicans in responding to the Five Marks of Mission with a particular focus on the Fourth Mark: ‘To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation’.

As preparations continue for the Lambeth Conference of 2020, the theme of ‘Gods Church for God’s World –walking, listening and witnessing together’ will be important. Bishops and spouses attending the Lambeth Conference represent a diversity of cultures, Christian tradition and theological perspectives. There are many important matters and common concerns about which to dialogue. 2020 brings a once-in-a-decade opportunity for the Anglican Communion to explore and celebrate its calling to be a global church and mission movement.