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Former Belfast Dean sounds GAFCON alarm

19 June 2015


Prominent figure: Dean McKelvey is made an OBE by the Queen, in September, 2010 

Prominent figure: Dean McKelvey is made an OBE by the Queen, in September, 2010 

THE retired Dean of St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, the Very Revd Houston McKelvey, has expressed concern that GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) and AMiE (Anglican Mission in England) are planning a meeting in Down diocese.

He described the two organisations as "divisive" and "judgemental".

In a statement on his website, Church News Ireland, he says: "The event is titled: 'GAFCON: a moment and a movement - a discussion on the future of global Anglicanism'", and notes that the meeting venue is Church of Ireland premises in a parish whose Rector is the Archdeacon.

"Anyone who knows anything about the Anglican Communion knows that these are organisations whose stance is, by their own documentation, judgemental, and who themselves, at times, have sat lightly to the previous norms of inter-Anglican behaviour."

He said that the leaders of GAFCON included the retired Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen - of whom there was "a continuing, growing bibliography about the divisive nature of his episcopal contribution" - as well as bishops who wished to dissociate themselves from other Churches of the Anglican Communion, particularly those of the United States and Canada.

Dean McKelvey said: "I find it difficult not to agree with those in the Church of England who feel that AMiE is promoting schism."

He referred to concerns raised by the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, in January, about AMiE's activities in his diocese (News, 20 February), and said: "So, as I see it, the Church of Ireland is effectively hosting a body [AMiE] which is determined to supplant or split the Church of England if it does not conform to AMiE's interpretation of Anglican doctrine.

"I find it difficult to see my Church of Ireland aligning itself with a body which has attempted to usurp the role of a bishop and diocese [Salisbury] from which we could really learn a lot, and be inspired, if we were so inclined."

The Church of Ireland needed to exercise caution, he said, and examine how it used its gift of hospitality to such groups, for the important messages articulated or a "hidden curriculum" that might be communicated.

"There are matters here of public trust as a registered charity, as well as our internal ecclesial judicatory issues. If this event is a rallying of the troops of a particular standpoint, if it is designed to send a message to the wider Church of Ireland, it cannot escape from being interpreted as a power play and a stratagem to either force or scare the rest of the Church into conformity with the views of GAFCON and AMiE and their assorted runners in Reform. I object to my Church being abused in this manner."

Responding, a spokeswoman for the diocese of Down said that the only part played by the diocese in the GAFCON meeting was in providing a venue.

On Tuesday, the organiser of the event, the Revd Trevor Johnston, of the neighbouring diocese of Connor, described the movement as about partnership, and the strengthening of others around the Communion in the ministry of the gospel.

It was a growing movement, whose leaders represented the majority of Anglicans globally. A significant number of Irish Anglicans had attended GAFCON in Nairobi two years before. "It is difficult to discern the trenchantly negative image of GAFCON and the event in Belfast, as expressed by the Revd McKelvey," he said.

"The growing reality is that a number of us in the Church of Ireland agree with GAFCON's convictions: that it is crucial we understand what is happening elsewhere in the Communion, to learn from those who have proved faithful to their biblical and Anglican roots, and build relationships for mutual benefit.

"Our aim is to encourage one another here in Ireland, as we share with fellow Anglicans who bring a particular global perspective from beyond the confines of these shores."

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