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Welby on eve of GAFCON: ‘Communion needs rethink’

25 October 2013


Team photograph: the GAFCON delegates pose in Nairobi

Team photograph: the GAFCON delegates pose in Nairobi

THE Anglican Communion needs a new structure for the future rather than, as at present, one "for the power of some middle-aged English clergyman based in London with very little hair", the Archbishop of Canterbury said in Kenya on Sunday, on the eve of GAFCON II.

Archbishop Welby was speaking at All Saints' Cathedral, Nairobi, during a 24-hour visit to the city. He delivered the sermon twice during the morning.

"I have thought and said for a long time that there is a need for new structures in the Anglican Communion," he told the congregation. "The issues that divide us are, at one level, simple; but they are also, at another level, very complicated. Among many things, they tell us that we need a new way of being together as the Communion. A way that reflects the 21st century and not the old colonial pattern."

These new structures would be found through "discernment and wisdom and, above all, prayer and searching the scriptures", he suggested. "Those who lead the Communion must have, at the heart of any structures we build, worship and mission and witness and evangelism as their aims and passion."

The Archbishop acknowledged that there were "many divisions within the Church today". As an example of favoritism within the Church, he spoke of the failure of the Church of England in the 1960s to welcome immigrants from the Caribbean. The churches set up by those immigrants were now "the strongest in the country. . . The Church of England lost the new life that they brought, and that God was trying to offer us through them."

Differences within the Church would "always exist", he said, but that the way in which these were presently handled threatened to undermine evangelism. One of the worst moments of his ordained life had occurred on a Sunday when he opened a newspaper to see the headline: "How these Christians hate one another". The Church had "seldom obeyed the teaching of scripture on disagreement".

There was an emphasis on scripture in the Archbishop's sermon. He twice praised the congregation for having completed a "Bible-reading marathon" - reading it in its entirety during the past two weeks. There was a reference, too, to the East African revival, when the Bible had spoken "like fire and flame to the people". The Bible was "the essential thing without which the Church simply drifts apart, and drifts away from God".

He warned, however, that the Bible could be "misused" by leaders. In South Africa, for example, Christian leaders had claimed that "apartheid was in the Bible." The scriptures must be read "as the whole Communion across the whole world, praying for a common vision that has its own application in each place". The more serious the crisis facing a Christian, the more seriously he or she must take the Bible, the Archbishop said. He recalled the night on which his life had been threatened by soldiers in Africa, during which he had turned to the Bible.

The Archbishop concluded his sermon by addressing the "great areas of sin that tempt all of us", as set out in one of the readings for the day (from Hebrews 13): power, sex, and money. With reference to the misuse of power, he said that since becoming Archbishop, "the biggest and most painful problem I have had is dealing with the victims of bullying clergy."

The passage from Hebrews reads: "Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure." The Archbishop took this opportunity to refer to his opposition to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the Lords (News, 7 June). His opposition was rooted in a desire to honour marriage, "not because we hate or fear anyone, whatever their sexuality". It was, he said, "not just that kind of behaviour that dishonours marriage", but also violence, adultery, and pornography.

The Archbishop left Kenya before the start of GAFCON. He told the congregation on Sunday morning that he was very sad not to be able to spend 24 weeks rather than 24 hours with them, but the christening of Prince George on Wednesday was "not the sort of thing where you can say 'I'm sorry. I'm a bit busy.'"

Anglican Mainstream reported that he had prayed for GAFCON during his sermon: "For a clear sense of hearing what God is saying, and an expression of that in showing the love of Jesus to all of us in all circumstances."

Referring to the recent terrorist attack in Nairobi (News, 27 September), the Archbishop said that he had come to "condole" with the Church in Kenya in its "great suffering". It was in Kenya, while working at a school 40 years ago this year, that he had "first found the Lord".

The sermon can be watched at http://anglicanink.com/article/gafcon-ii-archbishop-welby-addresses-gafcon

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