The archbishop of Canterbury told 440 Anglican bishops from around the world this week that some of them had virtually given up believing that God still spoke to the church.
Archbishop Donald Coggan preaching at a service formally opening the Lambeth Conference, which convenes every 10 years as a consultative assembly to chart the course of Anglican Church policies.
Coggan told the bishops, who represent some 65 million Anglicans: "God forgive us, we would not admit it, it would shock our congregations if we did, but we have stopped listening and our spiritual life has died on us, though we keep up appearances and go through the motions."
The conference, lasting until Aug. 13, will debate such issues as Anglican relations with other churches and the ordination of women.
Coggan, in his sermon, continued: Many in this congregation know that God does speak and that He makes his mind known to his followers - yes, even to us bishops, men who occupy of all positions the most perilous, because the cameras are always on us and we are compelled constantly to utter."
Coggan said it is urgent that the bishops hear what God has to say about the world, the church and themselves. Those who really believe that God goes on disclosing Himself in ever fuller fashion are men of hope and expectancy, putting less trust in human talk and more trust in listening.
"We noisy, comfortable Westerners have much to learn from our Eastern brothers, materially poorer and often spiritually richer," he said.
One of the conference's main tasks will be to examine the nature of the episcopacy (the function of bishops). Some people see bishops as "a kind of super executive, an organizer-in-chief, given to much talking and little thinking. But that of itself is no great gift to bring to the church," said Coggan. "Such men there are in plenty without our adding to them."
The bishop, he suggested, should be open to the Holy Spirit, a teacher because he continues to be a learner! A speaker because he is a hearkener and a guardian of the faith because it is to him a many splendored thing.
Following opening ceremonies, the 440 bishops divided into three sections each with a separate theme: What is the church for? - The people of God and the ministry - and, the role of the Anglican Church among the churches.
Later the bishops will gather for four major hearings on training for the ministry, the ordination of women to the priesthood, anglican relations with other churches and the anglican communion and its future.
The bishops' wives are staying apart from their husbands at a teacher training college at Canterbury. They have their own program.
Shortly before the Lambeth Conference opening, representatives of the archbishop of Canterbury announced that Eastern Orthodox churches had asked the Anglican bishops not to proceed with ordination of women to the priesthood.
The appeal came in a report of a meeting of the International Anglican-Orthodox Commission that met in Athens earlier this month. Orthodox churches have contended that ordination of women to the priesthood has no basis in Christian tradition.
A major objective of the Athens meeting was to discuss difficulties the ordination of women would pose in the continuing dialogue between churches of the Anglican and Orthodox traditions.