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Gafcon looks to the future

25 October 2013

by George Conger in Nairobi


Joining in: the youngest delegate, Theophilus (eight months) enjoys the GAFCON conference

Joining in: the youngest delegate, Theophilus (eight months) enjoys the GAFCON conference

AT THE second Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), held this week in Nairobi, the General Secretary of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, the Rt Revd Dr Peter Jensen, said that the "future" of Anglicanism had "arrived" - and it was GAFCON.

The sentiment was apparently shared by most of the 1352 delegates from 40 countries, including more than 100 from the UK. Women clerics from Africa and the United States worshipped with conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics (Comment, 18 October).

"We believe the apostolic faith," Dr Jensen said in the opening session, "and we do not believe the faith of those who contradict the Bible, and who deny the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ."

The first day of the conference was devoted to worship, and to a preparatory talk given by Dr Jensen. The second day alternated between worship and presentations by the Archbishop of Kenya, Dr Eliud Wabukala, who hosted the conference, and the Principal of Oak Hill Theological College, the Revd Dr Mike Ovey.

Shorter presentations were offered by the Vicar of St Mark's, Battersea Rise, the Revd Paul Perkin; the Archbishop of Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng Bul; the Bishop of Jos, Nigeria, the Rt Revd Ben Kwashi; Andrea Minichiello Williams, of Christian Concern; the Bishop of Nelson, New Zealand, the Rt Revd Richard Ellena; and the vice-chancellor of Uganda Christian University, Canon John Senyonyi.

Dr Jensen characterised the Church's problem as a failure of commitment. "We have failed to make disciples through teaching the commands of Jesus found in the Bible at depth. That is why so much of the Church in the West has simply collapsed, capitulated, and compromised before a virulent, antagonistic secularism."

Delegates did not agree, however, on the extent of the collapse. The chairman of Reform, the Revd Rod Thomas, said that it was possible to be a conservative Evangelical cleric in the Church of England, but one should not expect the hierarchy's preference, support, or sympathy.

Bishop Henry Scriven, the SAMS-CMS South American director, painted a less bleak picture. "Four of the five senior bishops of the C of E are Evangelicals," he said; and the majority of the House of Bishops were "solid, orthodox men".

Dr Wabukala said that the Churches represented at GAFCFON were "committed to the Anglican Communion", and to the reform of its structures. GAFCON promised that it would work with the Archbishop of Canterbury in this.

The Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, the Most Revd Tito Zavala, said: "What we seek is a new way of support and encouragement for one another. We want to keep this humble, simple."

The old ways of the Anglican Communion were as "dead as the British Empire", Dr Jensen said and a commonwealth of Churches would replace it.

Welby: Live in holiness

IN A video greeting, the Arch-bishop of Canterbury told GAFCON on Wednesday he was "pleased . . . that you are meeting to be clear about where you stand", writes Madeleine Davies.

The Archbishop was, he said, delighted to be able to speak to the conference, though "very regrettably" previous obligations had prevented him from joining it. "I am so thrilled that you should be coming together to seek afresh the face of Jesus Christ, and for yourselves to have new vision in his service and bringing the gospel to an incredibly needy world."

His message emphasised the "different contexts" of the Anglican Communion. In the Global North, the Church was dealing with "very rapid changes of culture . . . and the issue of sexuality is a very important one. How we respond rightly to that - in a way that is holy, truthful and gracious - is absolutely critical to our proclamation of the gospel."

Other Churches were dealing with war or corruption. "Wherever we are, there's a different context; but wherever we are, in our own context, in the right way, we have to live as a Church that is holy."

Unity did not mean being "unanimous", he said: "all saying exactly the same thing in exactly the same way". It meant that "we demonstrate by our love for one another that Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore people are drawn to believe in him."

The Archbishop said that the "main reason" for his pre-conference visit to Kenya had been to offer his condolences in the wake of the terrorist attack in Nairobi last month. On Wednesday, Lambeth Palace issued a statement confirming this (see below).


Statement from Lambeth Palace on Archbishop Welby's time in Nairobi:

The Archbishop of Canterbury was appalled by the terror attacks that took place in Nairobi and Peshawar last month. Immediately after the attacks, the Archbishop contacted the Primates of Kenya and Pakistan and asked how he could best support them. The Primate of Pakistan, the Most Revd Samuel Azariah, said that it would be more helpful for the Archbishop to visit at a later date. The Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd Eliud Wabukala, warmly welcomed Archbishop Welby's offer to visit immediately.

Archbishop Welby had been invited several months ago to the GAFCON 2013 conference in Nairobi, and had declined the invitation because of prior commitments, including the baptism of Prince George. He had offered to engage with GAFCON participants before the start of the meeting, but this was not believed to be workable because they  would not yet have arrived. The Archbishop sent a video message to the conference expressing his greetings and prayers for their discussions.

On Sunday, during his condolence visit to Nairobi, the Archbishop preached twice at All Saints Cathedral to hundreds of people, a minority of whom had arrived early in Nairobi to attend GAFCON 2013. After the services, the Archbishop was pleased to join a lunch attended by about 40 people, the majority of whom were Kenyan bishops and senior staff. He had said before visiting that he would be pleased to meet any Primates who had arrived early in Nairobi for the GAFCON meeting, some of whom were at the lunch.

The Archbishop came to Christ in Kenya and was personally affected by the attack on the Westgate Shopping Centre. Archbishop Wabukala is an old personal friend and Archbishop Welby was pleased to come to Kenya to offer support and prayers. Reports suggesting that the primary reason for the Archbishop's visit was anything other than to offer condolences are incorrect.



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