GAFCON Day 1 - The Church Gathered and a Firm Word for Archbishop Welby
The first official day of GAFCON has been a great one. I’m sitting back in my hotel reflecting on many powerful things I’ve seen and heard. First and foremost is the incredible joy of being part of a group of over 1,300 people gathered from all over the world. As the conference got underway former Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, led a roll-call of attendees by country. Nation after nation was called and welcomed by the rest of us. Some delegations were enormous - the Nigerian crowd filled the hall with noise when called - and some were tiny, including single delegates from Iran and Pakistan. But the conference made up for their small voices by adding their own in a cheer of welcome and greeting.
The main session of the day was a presentation on the East Africa Revival. Academics and bishops from the region each spoke giving their findings and experiences of the revival. One strain that came through was the clear signal that revival had brought with it deep repentance for sin, and sin as set out in the Scriptures. It was a powerful reminder of the work of God in this region but also a not so subtle signal about the authenticity (or otherwise) of current movements in Anglicanism. It’s also been a day of forming relationships. I had the privilege of introducing Bishop John Harrower of Tasmania to Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina. John had written to Martin in support but was delighted to now meet him. The conference has had many other similar moments.
There are other photos of the day, available courtesy of GAFCON.
Of course, behind all the wonderful expressions of gospel partnership across the GAFCON movement is the thorny question of its place in the Anglican Communion. According to the GAFCON site this conference is “Confirms a major realignment in the Anglican Communion”.
The second Global Anglican Future Conference, which opens today in Nairobi, is confirmation that the churches involved in the GAFCON movement are committed to the Anglican Communion and modelling how the communion should operate in the 21st century.
As well as seeking to set a clear path together in mission, there is the question of the relationship of the movement with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who visited on Sunday and preached at both morning services at All Saints Cathedral. Anglican Ink are reporting that +++Welby had a tough time of it…
The archbishop’s multi-layered sermon evolved over its two presentations – after being all but silent about Gafcon in his first sermon, in its second reading the archbishop spoke three times about the forthcoming Gafcon conference, set for 21-26 October 2013, at All Saints Cathedral.
His sermons also sparked mixed responses. Following the first presentation, Archbishop Pete Akinola, the former Primate of All-Nigeria, told Anglican Ink Archbishop Welby’s sermon was “outrageous”. The Nigerian leader was incensed that Archbishop Welby had suggested there was a moral equivalence between the normalization of gay bishops and blessings by the Episcopal Church and the violation of ecclesiastical boundaries by church leaders from the Global South.
“Did you hear what he said? He is saying the sins of the Episcopal Church are as bad as border-crossing,” Archbishop Akinola said.
However, after the second presentation, Archbishop Welby walked back his moral equivalency comments. Dr. Peter Jensen, the former Archbishop of Sydney and the current General Secretary of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans—the sponsor of the Gafcon conference—said he was encouraged by the address. The archbishop’s statement “the old ways are no longer appropriate, the old structures no longer work, given on the eve of Gafcon, give us hope,” he said.
Several people have told me that Welby looked tired. Perhaps due to a long flight but also possibly due to the meeting he had with the GAFCON Primates. Sources have told me that the Primates gave a very clear message to Welby that he must deal clearly and firmly with TEC and others who have abandoned Scriptural authority; the Scriptures being the very thing that Welby in his sermon said was the cause of any church flourishing. If he thought he could come to Nairobi and present a pathway for “reconciliation” then he will have been very surprised. But I am also told that GAFCON leaders are keen to be supportive of Welby, although that may depend on the choices he makes going forward. It’s certainly true that he faces a very tough position back in the Church of England with continued pressure from liberals to soften the church’s stance on sexual ethics. At some point, it seems, he will have to make a choice. If he chooses to stand publicly for the conservative position then he will find the enormous GAFCON movement squarely behind him. If not, then he will see the “Church within a Church” continue to grow and pursue it’s own authentic Anglican path together.
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