The first Lambeth Conference met in 1867, marking the occasion when the various churches of the Anglican Communion began to be conscious of themselves as a single family of churches.
The immediate cause of the first gathering was an effort on the part of several bishops to respond to the unsettling effects of the publication of Essays and Reviews and the « Colenso controversy. » The « Colenso controversy » followed the arraignment of John Colenso, Bishop of Natal, on charges of heresy for holding « advanced » views of the creation stories in the OT. The debate aroused intense feelings. A jurisdictional dispute between two bishops in South Africa regarding the controversy became a matter of concern for all the colonial churches of England.
In 1867 Charles Thomas Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury, responding to an appeal from Canada, invited Anglican bishops from all over the world to Lambeth for the purposes of mutual discussion and consultation. The meeting, neither a synod nor general council, was a purely informal gathering of bishops meeting at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The informal gathering continues to have no power to make binding decisions. The Conference has met at ten-year intervals, except during time of war. Its deliberations command considerable moral authority. From time to time it has made significant pronouncements, notably its Appeal to All Christian People (1920), a major ecumenical document.