One of the original purposes of this blog was to consider actions of General Convention related to health care. With that in mind, and seeing an opportunity that won’t come around for another ten years. I thought I would look into what had come out of Lambeth Conferences related to health care. Blessedly, actions from past Lambeth Conferences are available on line. You can start here, and see for yourself what Anglican Bishops have said in Lambeths past.
The first resolution of Lambeth that appears to have addressed an issue in health care was passed at the third Lambeth in 1888. It the first resolution passed that year. It was short, and to the point: “That this Conference, without pledging itself to all the statements and opinions embodied in the Report of the Committee on Intemperance, commends the Report to the consideration of the Church.” Unfortunately, the Archives on line do not have the Report of the Committee on Intemperance. However, knowing the tenor of the times (this was the heyday of the Temperance Movement in the United States, and the early days of the Salvation Army in both Great Britain and the United States), we can safely infer that it addressed “the evils of drink.” It is of interest that the bishops commended the Report for consideration “without pledging… to all the statements and opinions embodied in the Report….”
The next such resolution appeared in 1897, and was similar: “That this Conference desires to give expression to its deep sense of the evils resulting from the drink traffic on the west coast of Africa and elsewhere, and of the hindrance which it presents not only to the development of native Churches, but also to the acceptance of Christianity by heathen tribes.” Granted, the health effects among “the drink traffic on the west coast of Africa and elsewhere” were not the only, and perhaps not the primary concern. However, they were certainly included.
A second resolution in 1897 was also of interest to a chaplain.
Where difficulties arise in regard to the administration of Holy Communion to the sick, we recommend that these difficulties should be left to be dealt with by the bishop of each diocese in accordance with the direction contained in the preface to the Prayer Book of the Church of England "Concerning the Service of the Church"; And forasmuch as nothing can be so plainly set forth, but doubts may arise in the use and practice of the same; to appease all such diversity (if any arise) and for the resolution of all doubts, concerning the manner how to understand, do, and execute the things contained in this Book; the parties that so doubt, or diversely take any thing, shall always resort to the Bishop of the Diocese, who by his discretion shall take order for the quieting and appeasing of the same; so that the same order be not contrary to any thing contained in this Book. And if the Bishop of the Diocese be in doubt, then he may send for the resolution thereof to the Archbishop.
Now, it is clear that the primary concern was some liturgical conformity in what we now know as “Communion Under Special Circumstances.” However, it is evidence that communion was offered under those circumstances.
A related issue of communion with those who might be sick was addressed in Lambeth in 1908. However, in this case the issue was not those at home but those at the altar rail:
For reasons given in the Report on the Administration of Holy Communion, as well as for other reasons, the Conference is convinced that it is not desirable to make, on the ground of alarm as to the possible risk of infection, any change in the manner of administering the Holy Communion. Special cases involving exceptional risk should be referred to the bishop and dealt with according to his direction.
Once again, we do not have the Report in question. However, use of the common cup has been an issue for this reason, as long ago as the Spanish Influenza, and as recently as AIDS.
We can note, too, that the issue of addiction was raised in 1908, but this time with a different substance.
The Conference, regarding the non-medicinal use of opium as a grave physical and moral evil, welcomes all well-considered efforts to abate such use, particularly those of the government and people of China, and also the proposal of the government of the United States to arrange an International Commission on Opium. It thankfully recognises the progessive reduction by the Indian government of the area of poppy cultivation, but still appeals for all possible insistence on the affirmation of the House of Commons that the Indian opium traffic with China is morally indefensible. It urges a stringent dealing with the opium vice in British settlements, along with due precautions against the introduction of narcotic substitutes for opium.
Finally, it calls upon all Christian people to pray for the effectual repression of the opium evil.
Lambeth in 1908 addressed a series of resolutions to issues of sacramental care of the sick.
With regard to ministries of healing, this Conference, confident that God has infinite blessings and powers in store for those who seek them by prayer, communion, and strong endeavour, and conscious that the clergy and laity of the Church have too often failed to turn to God with such complete trust as will draw those powers into full service, desires solemnly to affirm that the strongest and most immediate call to the Church is to the deepening and renewal of her spiritual life; and to urge upon the clergy of the Church so to set forth to the people Christ, the incarnate Son of God, and the truth of his abiding presence in the Church and in Christian souls by the Holy Spirit, that all may realise and lay hold of the power of the indwelling Spirit to sanctify both soul and body, and thus, through a harmony of man's will with God's will, to gain a fuller control over temptation, pain, and disease, whether for themselves or others, with a firmer serenity and a more confident hope.
With a view to resisting dangerous tendencies in contemporary thought, the Conference urges the clergy in their dealings with the sick to teach as clearly as possible the privilege of those who are called, through sickness and pain, to enter especially into the fellowship of Christ's sufferings and to follow the example of his patience.
The Conference recommends the provision for use in pastoral visitation of some additional prayers for the restoration of health more hopeful and direct than those contained in the present Office for the Visitation of the Sick, and refers this recommendation to the committee to be appointed by the President under the Resolution on the subject of Prayer Book enrichment.
The Conference, having regard to the uncertainty which exists as to the permanence of the practice commended by St. James (5.14), and having regard to the history of the practice which professes to be based upon that commendation, does not recommend the sanctioning of the anointing of the sick as a rite of the Church.
It does not, however, advise the prohibition of all anointing, if anointing be earnestly desired by the sick person. In all such cases the parish priest should seek the counsel of the bishop of the diocese. Care must be taken that no return be made to the later custom of anointing as a preparation for death.
They provide somewhat ambivalent guidance, affirming trust in the Holy Spirit for healing, while also accepting that the sufferer might through individual pain and suffering “enter especially into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings;” and concern for appropriate prayers for visitation, while discouraging sacramental anointing – unless, of course, the sick person is insistent, and the bishop permits, and the sacrament is properly understood (it’s not “Last Rites,” thank you very much!).
In 1908 there were also a series of resolutions regarding marriage and married life, and three of those were related to health care.
The Conference regards with alarm the growing practice of the artificial restriction of the family, and earnestly calls upon all Christian people to discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralising to character and hostile to national welfare.
The Conference affirms that deliberate tampering with nascent life is repugnant to Christian morality.
The Conference expresses most cordial appreciation of the services rendered by those medical men who have borne courageous testimony against the injurious practices spoken of, and appeals with confidence to them and to their medical colleagues to co-operate in creating and maintaining a wholesome public opinion on behalf of the reverent use of the married state.
So, the resolutions condemn abortion and artificial birth control, and affirm physicians “who have borne courageous testimony against” them. We might also note that Resolution 42 could also be interpreted as discouraging procedures that we now think of as common in prenatal care or infertility treatment. I would also wonder what issue they sought to address by "creating and maintaining a wholesome public opinion on behalf of the reverent use of the married state."
The Lambeth Conference was itself born in a situation of perceived crisis of Communion-wide import. However, the bishops involved found the meetings meaningful enough to continue. As time passed, the issues considered by the bishops grew; and while issues we might call health-related were few in the first generation, by the fortieth year and the fifth Lambeth health issues in the life of the Church were seen as sufficiently significant to be worthy of attention at Lambeth.