by Rob Wilcock
from Signs of the Times No. 35 - Oct 2009

The Lambeth Conference: there's a name! Up until July 2008,  I had no idea what significance these words held in Anglicanism throughout the world. It is quite literally a global event where every bishop from every country is welcome to have their say on topical issues.

Last July really was a journey of discovery in more ways than one. I enjoy learning languages, so I made some enquiries as to how languages could be used in the Church. A few conversations, letters and emails later, I arrived at the Market Place at Kent University and walked into the unknown.

It was funny to feel as if I was a stranger in my 'home town' as it were. I had no idea just how many different groups of Anglicans there were in existence, and this shows the diversity of the Church of England.

However, when I walked up to the MCU stall, I was met by smiling faces; and a beautifully presented and suitably purple stall. After receiving my pass I was introduced to everybody on the stall. The initial person who had put up with all my annoying emails was Jean Mayland, who helped me find my way. I also met Clare Nicholson and Richard Hall on my first day. The only problem was I had gone into the unknown. I knew nothing about the organisation - for all I knew, they thought that Jesus rode a motorbike and was born in 1973! As if fate brought us together, the MCU shared all my beliefs - or rather that I shared theirs! The word 'liberal' is very strong even in society today, so the idea of a liberal theology was quite mind blowing. However, reading the pamphlets and understanding exactly what the MCU really stood for, made me  realise how my beliefs in relation to religion were the same as those of the MCU, so I felt right at home!

During the first few days, I met lots of fascinating bishops and their colourful wives. Many of the bishops took a great interest in what we were talking about, while other had so many bits of paper, they couldn't stand another leaflet! On the stall itself we had books such as Liberal Faith in a Divided Church by Jonathan Clatworthy, whom I also met on the stall on several occasions. We handed out invites to the MCU Reception at one of the restaurants on the University Campus. I spent a lot of my time talking to other people on the stall, and I learnt so much about the MCU.

Several times during my week, I had a brief walk around the Market Place. I was astounded just how many different stands there were, each supporting different things. Some of the most colourful stalls belonged to the vestment sellers. Well, at least it was the sale season - I saw up to 50% off! I also dropped in on the Christian Aid stall, as I have raised money for them in the past. Alongside John Plant, I also spoke a little Spanish to one of the Bishop's wives which was good fun!

One of the highlights of my time on the MCU stall was meeting Gene Robinson, who attended the MCU Conference last year. I had the paparazzi surrounding me as he shook my hand with a wonderful smile across his face. Sadly, I heard no camera snaps, so I wasn't looking at being on front page news any time soon!

A year on, I'm reminded of how important this 'once every ten years' event is, and how it holds so much significance in other modern lives, and is even able to stretch beyond religion. I have to say a big thank you to all those people who helped me during my week at the Conference, and especially to Jean Mayland, for putting up with my emails through the weeks and months leading up to the event! Hope to see you all back again in Canterbury in nine or so years time!