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‘We are not the weirdos’: English conservatives welcome Gafcon support

25 April 2023

YouTube/The Pastor’s Heart

General Synod members Gabriel Chiu (Liverpool), Debbie Buggs (London), and Jane Patterson (Sheffield), talk with the Revd Dominic Steele in Kigali, Rwanda

General Synod members Gabriel Chiu (Liverpool), Debbie Buggs (London), and Jane Patterson (Sheffield), talk with the Revd Dominic Steele in Kigali, Rw...

CONSERVATIVE Evangelicals in the Church of England have endorsed last week’s communiqué by Gafcon (Global Anglican Future Conference) which dismissed the structures of the Anglican Communion, including the part played by the Archbishop of Canterbury (News, 21 April).

More than 100 people from England were present at the Gafcon gathering in Kigali, Rwanda, last week (News, 19 April), including priests and members of the General Synod.

In a statement released on Monday morning, the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) described the Gafcon communiqué as “significant in various aspects”. These included its “reminder to us of the authority of God’s word”; its call for repentance; and its commitment to “appropriate pastoral care to all in our churches”.

The CEEC statement described a “palpable and profound” sense of “grief, dismay and betrayal expressed by delegates from all around the Communion towards the English bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury” after the vote by the General Synod to endorse blessings for same-sex couples (News, 9 February).

The CEEC goes on to exhort bishops to offer a “settlement” for conservatives: “Urgent consideration needs to be given to a form of good differentiation involving structural re-organisation without theological compromise. Following this path could prevent the unity of the Church of England being torn apart in the same way that the Communion has been.”

The release of the Gafcon communiqué coincided with the first meeting in London of the three working groups established to find a way forward on the blessings, provision for those who oppose their introduction, and pastoral guidance for priests.

It is understood that the membership of the groups will be made public after the Coronation.

One of those who went to Kigali was the director of Church Society, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, who said on Friday that the statement would “really strengthen the hand of those of us in the Church of England who want to stay and fight. . . We are not the weirdos, we are the not the eccentrics here: we are the ones who hold to the historic Christian faith.”

In an interview with the Revd Dominic Steele, an Australian priest and broadcaster, Dr Gatiss said that the communiqué, known as the Kigali Commitment, “shows that Gafcon will maintain and defend the true profession of the Gospel . . . but the Church of England has decided it doesn’t want to do that.”

The Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, the Revd William Taylor, told Mr Steele: “If provision is not made, if repentance is not made, the Church of England will become a tiny little dot in the Anglican Communion. . . It’ll be like a derelict shed in a field of turnips.”

He referred to a passage in the communiqué: “Since the Lord does not bless same-sex unions, it is pastorally deceptive and blasphemous to craft prayers that invoke blessing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, and said it was “quite a relief, when you’re in the thick of it, to hear somebody say that.”

Asked whether he believed that Archbishop Welby had, in effect, abnegated his duties as the first among equals in the Anglican Communion, thereby leaving the Communion leaderless, Mr Taylor said: “I do, actually.”

The Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, Canon Vaughan Roberts, said that the Church of England’s move to sanction blessings for same-sex couples was contributing “massively” to a “fundamental breach in the Communion”.

He said that he was “grateful” for the Gafcon statement, but that “the circumstances from which it was said, and the fact that it was focused . . . on what’s happening in England, caused me great grief. . .

“Any provision for different oversight needs to be clearly differentiated. If the Church of England continues in this direction, it can’t be the kind of thing they did over the ordination of women priests: it’s got to be quite clear we are not walking together.”

He continued: “That’s what this conference has said: this is not a secondary division. This is two very different paths, and if there’s going to be provision it needs to recognise that we’re not walking together.”

Busola Sodeinde, a Church Commissioner and lay member of Synod for the diocese of London, was also in Kigali for the conference. On Thursday of last week, she posted on Twitter: “The wider Anglican Communion is a beautiful gift to the Church. I’m not quite ready to let go and fighting hard to maintain unity where possible.”

 

THE relationship between Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) was a central theme throughout the conference.

On Wednesday, the Archbishop of South Sudan, the Most Revd Justin Badi Arama, who chairs the GSFA, said 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.”

The final communiqué set out several areas on which the two groups agreed, and described them as having “complementary roles in the Anglican Communion. . . Gafcon is a movement focused on evangelism and mission, church planting and providing support and a home for faithful Anglicans who are pressured by or alienated from revisionist dioceses and provinces. GSFA, on the other hand, is focused on establishing doctrinally based structures within the Communion.”

The Primate of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd James Wong, who is listed as a “Primate adviser” to Gafcon as well as a member of the GSFA’s steering committee, mused on the possibility of the two groups being able to operate together under the name of “the Anglican Communion”.

In an interview with Mr Steele on Friday, Archbishop Wong said: “I think we are the Anglican Communion, but we need to look at the legal aspects; we need people who specialise in canon law, and push to see what the future is going to be like legally, because ‘the Anglican Communion’ can be a sort of copyright protected expression.”

In recent months, there have also been indications of closer relationships between conservative Evangelicals in the UK and Gafcon and GSFA Primates.

In January, the honorary director of the GSFA executive secretariat, the former Bishop of Singapore, the Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah, was present at the annual residential meeting of the CEEC (News, 31 January). At the time, the CEEC’s director of operations and strategy, Canon John Dunnett, said that Bishop Ponniah’s presence was “indicative of a warm relationship” between the CEEC and the GSFA.

At the end of February, Mr Taylor announced that Dr Foley Beach, who chairs Gafcon and is Primate of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America, had “offered to make provision for the annual clergy review process at St Helen’s” (News, 1 March).

He said that St Helen’s hoped to “secure the future of Anglican Evangelical ministry in London”, which they “would love to do . . . within the Church of England”, but that there are “Anglican bishops and Archbishops across the globe that . . . are ready to help us. We do not stand alone.”

Dr Beach will end his five-year term as the Gafcon chairman this June. It was announced last week that he would be succeeded by the Archbishop of Rwanda, the Most Revd Laurent Mbanda, who is currently the vice-chairman of the organisation.

The release of the Gafcon communiqué coincided with the first meeting in London of the three C of E working groups established after the General Synod vote to find a way forward on same-sex blessings, provision for those who oppose their introduction, and pastoral guidance for priests. It is understood that the membership of the groups will be made public after the Coronation.

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