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Gafcon leaders — ‘with broken hearts’ — reject Archbishop of Canterbury as first among equals

19 April 2023

Breakaway Anglicans are meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, this week


Delegates in the main hall at the gathering of Gafcon, in Kigali

Delegates in the main hall at the gathering of Gafcon, in Kigali

THE fourth gathering of the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) is under way in Kigali, Rwanda, uniting breakaway Anglican leaders and some of those still within the Communion in their rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the “spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion”.

In his presidential address on Monday evening, the chairman of Gafcon, Dr Foley Beach, said that “with broken hearts, we must say that until the Archbishop of Canterbury repents we can no longer recognise him as the first among equals. It’s time for the whole Anglican establishment to be reformed anyway.”

Dr Beach is Primate of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which broke away from the Episcopal Church in the United States after the first Gafcon gathering in Jerusalem in 2008, and is not a part of the Anglican Communion.

The Suffragan Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Dr Rob Munro, is the only serving Church of England bishop at the conference. Dr Munro offers ministry to conservative Evangelical parishes that have passed resolutions on the ministry of women (News, 9 December 2022).

In an interview with the Australian priest and radio presenter the Revd Dominic Steele, recorded in Kigali and posted on YouTube on Tuesday, Dr Munro said that he was “not a lone voice” in the House of Bishops. “There are others who are who are speaking for faith and faithfulness in the Church of England structures,” he said.

Dr Munro described the sense of fellowship at the conference as a “taste of heaven”.

The Archbishop of Rwanda, Dr Laurent Mbanda, who is also the vice-chairman of Gafcon, welcomed delegates to Kigali, but, on Tuesday, Dr Beach announced that Dr Mbanda’s son, Edwin, had died suddenly in the United States. It is understood that the Archbishop and his family have since flown to the US.

In an interview with Mr Steele on Wednesday morning, Dr Beach said that discussions were ongoing between Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), a body that remains in the Anglican Communion despite a recent declaration that it no longer recognises Archbishop Welby as the Communion’s de facto leader (News, 20 February).

Asked whether he would like to see Gafcon and the GSFA “become one”, Dr Beach said: “I think down the road all of us would love to see that. But the real issue is our core values are somewhat different in the sense of what we do.” Gafcon considered itself to be a movement, while the GSFA was more focused on building an episcopal structure, he said.

GAFCONThe Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), Dr Foley Beach, during his opening address in Kigali on Monday

Earlier on Wednesday, the Archbishop of South Sudan, the Most Revd Justin Badi Arama, who chairs the GSFA, told Mr Steele that “Gafcon and the Global South are two institutions that overlap in what they do, and in the future it is my hope and prayer that the two maybe become one.”

Along with Dr Munro, there are several serving C of E priests at the conference, including the Rectors of All Souls’, Langham Place, and St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, two conservative Evangelical churches in central London which are withholding payments to the diocese of London in protest at the General Synod’s decision in favour of blessings for same-sex couples (News, 10 February).

The Rector of St Helen’s, the Revd William Taylor, released a video in February welcoming the support of Dr Beach, who said that Gafcon would support “in any way we can” those clerics in the C of E who were at odds with the House of Bishops (News, 1 March).

The Guild Vicar of St Botolph’s without Aldersgate, the Revd Phil Martin, is another of the C of E clerics attending the conference. Mr Martin is involved in establishing an alternative “deanery chapter” in London, announced last month and described by the diocese of London as a “unilateral move” with “no legal substance”. (News, 31 March).

The Rector of Buckingham, the Revd William Pearson-Gee, is also in attendance., He said on Wednesday that “it was a prompt of the Holy Spirit” that brought him there.

“I wanted to hear first hand how the Global South churches are really feeling about the shenanigans that are going on in the Church of England,” Mr Pearson-Gee, who a Synod member for Oxford diocese, said. “I have been taken aback at the extent of a sense of betrayal among the Global South Churches.”

The conference was agreeing a communiqué, due to be issued today, and Mr Pearson-Gee said: “I don’t think the House of Bishops and the [Archbishop of Canterbury] will enjoy reading it, although they probably can guess exactly what’s in it.”

Comparing the conference in Kigali with the Synod’s February meeting in London, Mr Pearson-Gee said: “If General Synod had 100th of the joy that is present in this gathering, it would be transformative. . . There’s no talk [here] about how churches are going to go carbon-neutral: it’s all about mission and evangelism, it’s all about the Great Commission, and, as a result, I think there’s a huge level of excitement here.”

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