THE ORGANISERS of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) insist that they will be holding the event in Jerusalem, despite strong protests and an alternative suggestion from the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Suheil Dawani, and his colleagues in the Holy Land. Bishop Dawani says he learned about the conference from a press release.
Minutes were circulated this week of two meetings held earlier this month between Bishop Dawani and the GAFCON organisers. In the first, on 12 January, Dr Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, apologised for the oversight, according to the minutes, saying that the idea for a conference “had only developed in December 2007”. He had “immediately felt this was the right venue” when someone had suggested the Holy Land.
Bishop Dawani told Dr Jensen that he was concerned about issues that threatened unity and dialogue, and that the heads of Churches in Jerusalem had all taken issue with the language of the GAFCON press release. Not only was the venue wrong at a time when Christians in the Holy Land were struggling with issues of peace and dialogue between the different communities, but the conference would threaten ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, and would be “disastrous” for his own ministry in the Holy Land.
Dr Jensen “responded by saying that he would do his best to present Bishop Suheil’s point of view to the leadership, but that he could not promise this matter would change”. Dr Jensen hoped that Bishop Suheil “would be able to contribute something to the conference”.
Three days later, on 15 January, Bishop Dawani and two colleagues met Canon Chris Sugden, executive secretary of the conference, and the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, who said he did not see how this conference could become a “political problem”.
“He stressed that liberty was important for Africa and that he could not allow anyone to tell his community what to do and to say,” the minutes state. “He repeated that his interests were not political, and that his major concern was about how to grow and how to be strengthened and exchange experiences.”
Coming together in the Holy Land would help [the delegates] “to find the road map”, he said. Bishop Dawani repeated his concerns about keeping the balance in a diocese that covered five countries of different cultures and traditions.
Canon Hosam Naoum, who has a parish on the West Bank, is acting Dean of St George’s Cathedral, and chaplain to a hospital in Nablus, had a series of exchanges with Canon Sugden. He said that Christians in the Holy Land did not want to be forced to deal with issues that were not on their agenda yet.
Asked by Canon Sugden in what way the conference was imposing on the diocese, he said it was imposing the issue of homosexuality. “The Revd Canon Chris Sugden responded by saying this conference was not about homosexuality.”
According to the minutes, Archbishop Akinola countered that he couldn’t understand how the conference would impact on the diocese. “[He] said that this was a pilgrimage, and wondered what the difference was to other pilgrimages.”
In reply to Canon Naoum’s contention that this was not a pilgrimage but “a conference with an agenda”, he “replied that he would be happy to change the terminology and refrain from calling it a conference, in which case he would call it a pilgrimage”.
Bishop Dawani finally suggested that Archbishop Akinola reconsider either the venue or time for the conference, “or divides his programme into two parts: to have the conference in Cyprus and to have a pure pilgrimage in the Holy Land. . . Should Archbishop Akinola be ready to accept this suggestion, Bishop Suheil would warmly welcome him and his pilgrims.”