A defining moment in our vision and practice for intercultural formation and discipleship – Robert Heaney shares hopes for the Lambeth Conference

  • September 26, 2019

Robert S. Heaney is an Anglican scholar-priest ordained in the Church of Ireland. He has experience serving the church and academy internationally including long and short-term ministry in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America.

Robert Heaney is also one of the members of the Lambeth Conference Design Group – a team advising and shaping the programme for the 2020 Lambeth Conference. Robert shares thoughts on the Anglican Communion and hopes for the 15th Lambeth Conference.

Your work in the Anglican Communion sees you travel to a wide variety of contexts and cultures. What has this taught you about the diversity of the communion? 

The diversity and inter-culturalism of the Communion, for me, is the heart of Anglicanism. In an upcoming book (The Promise of Anglicanism [SCM Press, 2019]) William Sachs and I argue that what might be called ‘Anglicanism proper’ emerges in inter-cultural encounter. Not only are there myriad expressions of Anglicanism but Anglicanism has a plurality of birth narratives. This diversity is the very promise of Anglicanism. If Anglicanism is to continue to be good news to the world, we need to recognise and uplift the numerous birth narratives of our tradition.

What are you most excited for about the Lambeth conference? Why do you think it’s important that bishops and spouses from around the world join together for dialogue, reflection and prayer?

There is deep joy in coming together around scripture and worship. I am excited to see how bishops and spouses of the Communion wrestle with the complexities of I Peter and discern the voice of the Spirit for their lives and the lives of their dioceses and provinces. My hope is that this conference will be a defining moment in our vision and practice for inter-cultural formation and discipleship.

What is it about the theme of ‘God’s Church for God’s World’ that inspires you – what do you feel is most relevant for today?

Amidst a troubled world and divided church this theme boldly declares that we believe God is sovereign. Both the world and the Church is God’s gift. One hundred years after the epoch defining conference of 1920 I am excited by what our testimony and our appeal to the watching world will be. As bishops prepare, no doubt I Peter 1:13 is the invitation for LC2020: “prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.”

In your book about post-colonial theology – you talk about finding God and each other ‘amidst the hate’. How do you hope the Lambeth Conference will foster unity and understanding amongst the people attending?

As we know, the nineteenth century genesis of the Lambeth Conference was not without controversy. Quite the opposite! Anglicanism has always been a site of contestation. What I am looking forward to is a deeper appreciation that contestation is not dysfunction but is gift. We are called to be witnesses of the gospel of the risen Christ and that includes a deep call to deep discernment across cultural and theological differences. I think an instrument like the Lambeth Conference, maybe in 2020 maybe in the future, needs to think seriously on how such contestation and difference can shape its witness and not be seen as a hindrance to Christian witness.

What influence could the Lambeth Conference have on the shape of modern World Anglicanism in the next decade?

It can set the agenda. For example, it can do that by embodying processes of faithful discernment that can become an example and resource for the wider Communion. It can witness to the heart of a worldwide fellowship shaped by deep contextualisation of the Gospel through prioritising the voice, languages, and theologies of Anglicans hitherto marginalised. I suspect that if we did lean into this kind of more robustly inter-cultural formation and fellowship our priorities as God’s Church for God’s world be refreshed and renewed

About Robert Heaney

Robert S. Heaney is an Anglican scholar-priest ordained in the Church of Ireland. He has experience serving the church and academy internationally including long and short-term ministry in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America.

He is Associate Professor of Christian Mission and Director of the Center for Anglican Communion Studies, Virginia Theological Seminary, USA. He continues to travel widely in the Communion for teaching, research, consultation, and partnership. Read more about Robert Heaney here

His most recent book is Post-Colonial Theology: Finding God and Each Other Amidst the Hate (Cascade, 2019). Forthcoming publications include a work with William L. Sachs (The Promise of Anglicanism [SCM Press, 2019]) and a collection of essays edited with John Kafwanka K and Hilda Kabia (God’s Church for God’s World [Church Publishing, 2020]). See more.