GAFCON Day 2 - A Clear Challenge to Welby and much more
GAFCON Day 2 has been and gone. And what a day!
We began with a large communion service (using the Church of Nigeria liturgy) in the beautiful All Saints Cathedral here in Nairobi. It’s a stunning building and looks all the more impressive with all the bishops sitting in the choir, loads of wonderfully dressed African ladies and a full house of delegates.
After morning tea we turned to the opening plenary session and the chairman’s address. Archbishop Wabakula of Kenya is a softly-spoken man but even his gentle voice could not disguise the power of what he had to say. We reported yesterday that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had been challenged by the Primates in their meeting and Wabukala had equally firm words to say. Here’s the key paragraph,
Five years on, the paralysis of which we spoke has intensified. And it has become clear that the Communion now needs new wineskins, a new way of ordering its affairs to fulfil the world wide scope of the Great Commission. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has now come to this conclusion and I am grateful for
His Grace’s honesty in acknowledging that the Anglican Communion’s neo- colonial leadership structures need to be replaced when he preached here at All Saints Cathedral last Sunday. However, it is difficult to see how stable and effective leadership can be developed unless the depth of the spiritual crisis we face is acknowledged. Organisational change on its own will not be enough. Even the very weak theological discipline of the Anglican Covenant has failed to win consent despite years of negotiation and the Archbishop of Canterbury is no longer able to gather the Communion.
Or, put in simpler terms, it’s not enough for Welby to visit GAFCON and tell them that he recognises that the current structures are failing. If he will not deal with the real issues (the apostasy of the American and Canadian churches) then GAFCON will continue on without him. He no longer commands any leadership amongst them.
Wabakula’s speech also contained a call to action, to not be afraid to act if required, even the continued crossing of boundaries if necessary. None of this, of course, will please Welby. I am told that the Primates would be more than happy to openly back him if only he would deal with TEC and the ACC, but as long as he fails to deal with the situation then he will, instead, find himself marginalised within the Anglican Communion which he is meant to lead.
Enormous stuff. As the writing groups begin to contribute to the final conference document this firm approach of the Primates will, no doubt, be a key train of thought.
But the day was not simpy spent on those things. Dr Mike Ovey, the principal of Oakhill Theological College in London gave a brilliant presentation on the corruption of grace in Western culture. Reflecting on the contribution of Kant in emphasising a “maturity” which breeds moral autonomy he showed how we have become the epitomé of Bonhöffer’s “cheap grace”. The full text is not yet published but when it is I’ll be sure to link it. Well worth the read. Later that day a number of people described it to me as the best sustained theological work they had encountered in a long time.
The afternoon brought a session entitled “You Are Not Alone”. Archbishop Peter Jensen hosted and introduced an enormous variety of individuals who were all, in their own way, in need of reassuring that “You Are Not Alone”; Archbishop Deng of Sudan, Andrea Minichiello-Williams of Christian Concern in the UK, Paul Perkins from the Church of England, speakers from Kenya, the Diocese of Nelson in New Zealand, Diocese of Recifé in Brazil and the ACNA all testified to the various pressures they were under. Each in turn was warmly welcomed by the conference with the repeated refrain of “You Are Not Alone” being heard again and again. There was a clear sense of solidarity in the conference hall as contributors said “we are not alone”, “we cherish the encouragement and support of global friends”, “we need you, you tell us we are not alone” and “my province is GAFCON”. If the intention was to solidify our mutual commitment to one another then it certainly succeeded.
Tomorrow the conference breaks into “mini-conferences” looking at topics such as the role of the Spirit, the challenge of Islam, re-evangelising the West and so on. This is where the real work will begin with delegates making their own contributions to the ongoing discussions. These, in turn, will be fed back into the groups working on the final conference document. What that will look like remains to be seen but, if today is anything to go by, it will express a clear commitment to standing firm inside the Anglican Communion and with each other so that the gospel can go out as far as possible.
There is a tangible expectation around me that something big will be produced. As one delegate put it to me, “I didn’t just come here to network, as good as that has been. We came here to make a massive difference”. What that different will be remains to be seen, but it will not be negligible. What GAFCON has shown today is that none of us are alone and together we can effect real changes.
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