The former Bishop at Lambeth, Nigel Stock, has joined the Lambeth 2020 Design Group as Chaplain to the Lambeth Conference, the gathering of Anglican bishops which will take place in Canterbury, England in 2020. The Chaplain to the Lambeth Conference is a crucial role, organising worship representative of the diversity of the Anglican Communion as well as providing prayerful support for the Bishops as they meet.
The Chaplaincy can take on different forms, for example in 2008, Winston Halapua, from the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, held the role of Chaplain with a chaplaincy team. In general, whatever approaches the chaplaincy takes, it has three main objectives, of which a major one is organising worship.
“What they [the Design Group] look for the chaplaincy to provide is quality worship, which is the lifeblood of the conference – as the chairman of our design group has described it – which helps people not just to feel that they’ve attended a meeting but that they’ve worshiped together, and they’ve experienced the joy of the Holy Spirit in that worship,” Bishop Nigel said. “That means dealing with people of many different cultures used to worshipping in different languages and somehow to bring that together so that everybody can have a meaningful experience of worship and prayer and openness to the Holy Spirit.”
Bishop Stock also stressed that just because his role must organise worship that does not mean that the bishops will not be involved. In fact, he mentioned that he will be inviting provinces to take part, sharing with the Communion their traditional forms of worship.
In addition, as Chaplain, Bishop Nigel must also minister to the bishops in attendance and provide a praying presence as the Conference takes place. “And I will be there with a concern for the bishops and their spiritual care and their ability to worship – but not taking part,” he said.
The concept that clergy require a chaplain may be an odd or unusual one for many people. That said, Bishop Nigel shared his experiences in the Church of England’s College of Bishops, during which the bishops traded off managing the worship, and demonstrated the clear need in his mind for a specific chaplain role for such events.
“For some reason that meeting always struggled to have a satisfactory feel about it and then one year decided that what we really need was an outside facilitator to help organise the worship and prayer structure and good music and it absolutely transformed the meeting. Now it should be terribly obvious, that sort of thing – get the prayer and worship right and everything else should follow in a Christian gathering but we tried to do every bit of it ourselves when we were busy.”
Bishop Nigel went on to explain how especially critical it is to have an outside facilitator in such an intense environment as the Lambeth Conference. The existence of the Chaplain’s role allows the bishops to have time to be ministered to in the hopes that they leave the conference refreshed. “I think you’ll find that large numbers of the ordained probably still have a spiritual accompanier or director, however you want to call it,” he said. “When they get together they have such an intense programme that actually they need someone apart from the programme to offer that space for worship and provide an opportunity for a neutral listening ear.”
The chaplaincy is not without its challenges. With a Communion spanning 39 provinces, over 165 countries, and a variety of languages and cultures, the Lambeth Conference must represent a global faith. “Getting worship right for everybody is always difficult and you have to be aware of the diversity our Communion and how that is properly represented,” he said. “All those challenges are there but they are just challenges and they can be met, I’m sure.”
Bishop Nigel brings an awareness of this diversity of the Communion to role. “One of my great formational experiences was to spend five years in the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea as a priest and that changed my whole perspective on being a priest in the Anglican Communion,” he explained. The bishop’s time as Bishop at Lambeth – the Archbishop of Canterbury’s episcopal colleague at his Lambeth Palace headquarters – also impressed upon him the existence, and the value, of the diversity of the Communion. “At Lambeth you can’t help but get an experience of the vibrant variety of the Anglican Communion, both the wonderful opportunities it has and the very severe tensions as well. And so being very aware of that I think it helps to understand what people are hoping for and what people are looking for at the conference.”
For Bishop Nigel, this role is about ministering to the entire Communion, not only the bishops. “The flourishing of the Communion is a really important thing for me, not just for the sake of the Anglican Communion but for the sake of what it can bring to this world. And if this conference can strengthen that, it will be a real privilege to be involved and that’s what I look forward to doing.”