GAFCON 2013: ‘a force for unity’

by
18 October 2013

The conference next week represents a stronger Communion, says Chris Sugden

The venue: All Saints' Conference Centre, Nairobi, and the GAFCON Primates Council

The venue: All Saints' Conference Centre, Nairobi, and the GAFCON Primates Council

MORE than 1100 Anglican bishops, clergy, and lay people from around the Anglican Communion will be meeting at GAFCON 2013 in Nairobi next week, to develop partnerships and mutual support in their gospel mission (News, 11 October).

They have been invited by the Primates' Council of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA), which includes the Primates of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, the Southern Cone, Nigeria, and the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), who represent more than 40 million Anglicans.

The council says that acceptance of its invitation is taken to assume that participants are willing to be known to affirm the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration, which were issued at the first GAFCON conference in Jerusalem in 2008.

The council has set its invitations to reflect the balance of numbers in the Anglican Communion. So the Church of Nigeria (26 million) is sending 480 participants, the Church of Kenya 120, and 100 are going from the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK and Ireland).

 

A COMMENTARY on the Jerusalem Statement, Being Faithful, by the Theological Resource Group of GAFCON (edited by Nicholas Okoh, Vinay Samuel, and Chris Sugden; Latimer Trust, 2009), says that GAFCON met in 2008 after the persistent failure of the Communion to deal with the divergent understandings within Anglicanism of what the Christian faith actually is.

When asked recently what had changed since 2008, the secretary of the GAFCON Primates' Council, the Rt Revd Dr Peter Jensen (until recently Archbishop of Sydney), said: "The birth of ACNA, with its active church-planting programme, has saved tens of thousands of Anglicans for the Communion. The fact of GFCA is helping the Communion to mature in partnerships which include but transcend the old relationships. The crisis of 2008 means that the Communion will never be the same again, but that it has energised a new level of Anglican co-operation, biblically based and Christ-focused. GFCA is a force for unity."

But the crisis in Anglicanism remains. One of the leadership team at Jerusalem in 2008, Canon Vinay Samuel, from India, identifies that the challenge that GAFCON 2013 faces is that which faces the whole Communion: "How is it possible to affirm the integrity of the local without the identity of the local being derived from the universal? And how is it possible to affirm the universal without being seen as a mere collective of local churches?"

He answers: "Unity flows from the gift of the Spirit, and lies in the identity of the Church in acknowledging one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. Unity is recognising this identity in each other."

"GAFCON 2013 has not been triggered by any particular event," the Revd Paul Perkin, the chairman of FCA (UK and Ireland), says. "We have moved beyond reacting, to developing and building spiritual fellowship and orthodox coalitions and partnerships across the Communion. The orthodox Anglican movement, which existed prior to GAFCON 2008 and met in Jerusalem to address a crisis, continues to grow."

People are attending the meeting in Nairobi, the FCA (UK and Ireland) says, "to address current challenges to the faith (persecution and poverty, militant Islamism, aggressive secularism); to listen to each other and support the most vulnerable among us (physically that's the Africans, spiritually that's us); to make plans and decisions together, praise and mourn together, pray and resolve together; and to return to our churches stimulated, encouraged and resourced for mission."

 

SOME have asked whether the conference represents a breaking away from the Church. What is meant by the Church in this question? This raises again the issue of the local and the universal, and what constitutes the universal. The Anglican Communion is not defined by any particular bureaucracy. Those attending from UK and Ireland provinces are affirming their commitment both to their own provinces and to the wider Communion.

The FCA (UK and Ireland) believes that "the Anglican Communion is worth preserving. The Communion's best days could still be in the future. FCA will be at the heart of them. We are committed to serve the Anglican Communion with its wonderful history and its self-governing provinces, held together by a common Christian faith and deep bonds of spiritual fellowship, shared mission, and exchange of ministry across the world.

"GFCA offers the strongest, some would say the only, effective remaining glue that holds this precious unity intact, now that the structural four instruments [the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates' Meeting, and the Lambeth Conference] no longer do the job, promotes a dynamic mission, and counters inauthentic expressions that depart from a biblically ordered faith."

The Archbishop of Canterbury was invited by the Primate of Kenya, Dr Eliud Wabukala, who chairs the GAFCON Primates' Council, to bring greetings in person to the conference. He declined because he was scheduled to chair the meeting of the Porvoo Churches in Iceland in the same week, but said he would send greetings by video.

Later, Archbishop Welby is understood to have suggested to Dr Wabukala that he preach at the cathedral in Nairobi, and meet the Primates before the conference. Bishop Jensen has warmly welcomed his initiative: "The Archbishop's decision to come to the Primates' meeting is a recognition of the importance of such a significant gathering of Anglicans."

At GAFCON, we look forward to a strengthening of spiritual fellowship across the majority of the Communion of those who recognise authentic and biblically faithful Anglicanism in one another. This can mean only a stronger, more vibrant, more united Communion, ready to share the good news of Jesus with the world of the 21st century.

Canon Chris Sugden is the secretary of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK and Ireland).

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