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Lottery anyone?Hallo again to all.

We learned this week of the existence of something called 'The Lambeth Company', an organisation of which we'd never heard before. Its director is also the secretary general of another organisation called the Anglican Communion. We might never have learned of The Lambeth Company but for the following news release on Finances and the Lambeth Conference 2008:

With a budget of £5.6 million, and in common with previous Conferences, the projection of a deficit in the immediate period following the Conference was always recognised. For an international conference on this scale and taking into account the places from which the participants travelled, England continues to be the most economical place to hold such a gathering and a university campus the most financially viable.
Bishops were notified of the current financial position during the conference, and the possibility raised with them that there might have to be further approaches for assistance with the costs of the Conference at this stage, the shortfall in funding is unclear as bills come in to be settled, but it is likely to be approaching £1 million.

Other media reports note a debt of £1.2 million, or about 20% of the original budget—this significant shortfall at a conference about three quarters the size it might have been had it been attended by all of the active bishops in Nigeria, New Hampshire, Uganda, Australia, Pennsylvania, Rwanda and Kansas who did not attend. (One North American bishop said in succinct wisdom that he 'would not spend any of the Church's money on a three week retreat in England, which even the Archbishop of Canterbury said would not work to solve our problems, when I could not even afford priests for all my congregations'.) It seems possible that this estimated debt could in the end be somewhat higher, since press dates of only a few days' separation involve cost estimates of several hundred thousand pounds' difference.

We've tried very hard to observe and highlight positive things about the Lambeth Conference 2008. (You can read about the inspiring 2008 Lambeth Walk here.) Not having been in attendance ourselves, we cannot report first-hand on what we know was an important event in the lives of many of our bishops and, indeed, a watershed event of sorts in the life of the Anglican Communion. (You can read about one fine Global South bishop's experience of the conference here.) But at this writing, a full week after the conference's end, we are put in mind of friends whose wedding celebrations have left them and their families in debt long after the marriages the feasts were intended to celebrate had themselves reached an end, or quondam seminarians whose First World theological education casts a shadow of indentured servitude over the first decades of their ministry. This is all surely the way of the world if we allow it to be so and do not fight against its structures of perpetuated debt and irresponsible lending.

Call us bolshy if you like: we'd wear the insult as a badge with honour. But is the Church not called to higher standards of stewardship, (thrift even!), transparency and accountability, when the Church's people—Jesus' people—live in poverty, hunger, injury, weakness and fear throughout the world? Can we in good conscience continue to perpetuate a system of on-the-ground conferences that come to only chimerical concrete result if they are accompanied by carbon footprints to make Paul Bunyan blush and budget shortfalls that would represent annual or decennial budgets for some dioceses?

We don't have definitive answers this evening, but the questions are well worth asking. We acknowledge the real need for bishops to have face-time and to share in the sacramental fellowship that their ministry signifies; we'd even very much like to contribute to that important end on an individual basis by helping to pay the bill for bishops, their clergy and people to visit one another in ways that further their common mission in tangible ways. But we experience little jolts of surprise and disappointment at learning of the existence of something by the name of The Lambeth Company after the fact, if that company can report in one breath with one of our Instruments of Unity that its budget shortfalls have 'always been recognised'. It is always very well to say such a thing post facto, but it rings hollow and disappointing when its content strikes us by complete surprise only on notice of receiving the bill. We're not sure if the solution may be in lotteries or stocks and bonds, but Anglican history provides ample example of both, as you can see above and below.

Our guidance in financial giving—indeed, in giving of time and talent, too—has always been the evangelical dictum that 'where your treasure is, there will your heart be also'. We're saddened and emboldened to think of a communion whose heart is in debt rather than in treasure, when our hearts and treasures could be better poured out in support of church schools, malaria and HIV/AIDS clinics and family support, food provision for child-headed households in sub-Saharan Africa, obstetric care to the vast numbers of impoverished Anglican women who are of child-bearing age, assistance for sustainable electrification in off-the-grid churches and dioceses, subventions for Bible- and Prayer Book-printing and church building. Our hearts and treasures are ours to open as we will, and that is a part of that 'blessed liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free'. Thanks be to God for it, and for the space of a full ten years before the next scheduled conference in which to arrange serious, cost-effective, sustainable and Gospel-based alternatives to this year's painful reality of dysfunction for many and debt for all.

Anglican smelting stock, just what you've always wanted

See you next week. Keep those mites ready, and throw them with good aim.

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Last updated: 10 August 2008

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