The Lambeth Conference, a major gathering of bishops from across the worldwide Anglican Communion, has been postponed until 2021 due to coronavirus.
The gathering takes place around once every decade and had been due to get underway in Canterbury, Kent, at the end of July but the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, announced today that it has been rescheduled for next year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A spokesperson for the conference said that the decision had been taken following consultation with various stakeholders, including fellow primates, and after several weeks of prayer involving the organising teams.
The announcement follows the imposition of travel restrictions by many countries around the world, including the UK, in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.
The Archbishop touched upon these developments in a video message in which he said that the place of bishops was to be with those who are suffering.
"The place of a bishop at a time of difficulty is a place of a shepherd when the wolf is attacking the flock. It is to be with them. To be alongside them. To love them. To suffer with them," he said.
"Because of the Coronavirus, travel around the world is deeply restricted and the amount of time that we will face these limitations is unknown.
"For these reasons, so that we may be good shepherds as bishops in the Anglican world, and encourage the church to be there for God's suffering world, we have decided to reschedule and postpone the conference and to put it forward till 2021 at pretty well the same time."
However, the Archbishop was keen to stress that the conference was definitely still going to go ahead, albeit at a later time than planned.
"We are absolutely not cancelling," the Archbishop said.
"When we come together it will be in a world reshaped by what is going on at the moment, and it is ever more important that we meet to pray, to study the scriptures, to hear the word of God, to comfort, to gain a fresh vision of what it is to be God's Church for God's World."
He noted that the Lambeth Conference of 1920 was originally supposed to have taken place in 1918 but was delayed because of the First World War.
Last week, the Government updated its official advice to tell people to avoid large gatherings. By the end of last week, the guidance had changed again to advise against all but essential travel, with the Government saying since then that it is prepared to take further action to enforce social distancing after people headed out in their droves over the weekend to parks and beauty spots.
A spokesperson for the Lambeth Conference Company, the charitable organisation which runs the conference on behalf of the Archbishop, said that the health of delegates had to come first.
"This significant meeting of Anglican bishops and spouses will continue to be planned- with an exciting and engaging programme, being held in the same venue at the University of Kent and Canterbury Cathedral – just one year on," the spokesperson said.
"We recognise that this will be a significant disappointment for all those registered to attend. Whether that's as an event delegate; participating in the hospitality programme; contributing to the conference programme; being part of our Resource Centre or serving as a volunteer or steward at the event.Especially as the Lambeth Conference in 2020 was set to be the largest conference yet.
"However, the health and safety of our event attendees is our utmost priority."