Gafcon is a movement in search of a mission, George Conger reports from Nairobi on the first day of the Second Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon).
Gafcon II began on a different key than its first assembly in 2008. The anger-tinged passion that drove the Jerusalem conference is absent from Nairobi and there is a confidence in the vigor of the global reform movement.
Yet, for its successes – playing midwife to the birth of the Anglican Church in North America, expanding the circle of supporters across the globe, garnering acknowledgement from Canterbury — the movement is in the midst of a reimagining of its identity.
“Who are we” asked Dr. Peter Jensen, the Gafcon General Secretary in the opening address to the 1352 delegates from 40 countries representing 28 provinces. Will we be here in five years, he mused.
The 21-26 October 2013 conference is expected to give direction to the movement – but to where remains unclear. Some hope to see it become an alternate to the existing communion structures, others a fellowship with no structure – while many believe that if it does not lead the reform movement within the communion but seeks to follow, it may be time to wind down Gafcon.
The competing visions (and cultures) were on display on the first day of the conference. Gafcon I began with a series of speeches by the archbishops and key bishops laying out the problems of the Anglican Communion, and reached a climax of celebration by its close with the Jerusalem Statement. Gafcon II began on a note of celebration.
Following an introduction to the conference from Dr. Jensen, the first day focused on the history of the East African revival, with speakers from Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya describing the outpouring of the spirit that began 50 years ago that transformed the churches of East Africa and the Great Lakes.
An African choir led the delegates in singing traditional hymns and African praise-music between presentations from African delegates who offered faith testimonials. The theological recriminations and ecclesiological turmoil that gave birth to Gafcon five years ago were absent.
Speaking to the BBC Sunday programme on 20 October 2013 Archbishop Eliud Wabukala said he believed the crisis within the Communion was over. In a press conference held at the start of the gathering, he explained the issues that sparked the movement remained, but Gafcon was now in a very different place.
“We have moved on from that” Archbishop Wabukala he said.
Yet not all participants shared the Kenyan leaders’ views. The Nigerian church – with 481 delegates the largest delegation in Nairobi — in the person of its primates, Nicholas Okoh and Peter Akinola maintain a hard line on the Episcopal Church, while delegates from North American and the UK were taken aback by suggestions the crisis had passed.
In their opening presentation to the press, the primates of Kenya, Nigeria and the Southern Cone, along with Dr. Jensen emphasized Gafcon’s place within the Anglican Communion. “The churches present are committed to the Anglican Communion,” said Archbishop Wabukala, and “to the reform” of the structures of the Anglican Communion.
Gafcon was not a political lobbying group or a movement that saw itself as being “against” something, the Kenyan archbishop said. Rather it was “a movement within the church to come and worship together.”
To understand Gafcon one needed to understand Anglican ecclesiology, he said. The Anglican Communion had “no pope” nor did it possess a central authority that controlled doctrine and discipline.
“Anglican ecclesiology allows us independence and freedom to worship,” he explained.
What bound Anglicans together was “affection and worship,” he said adding “we worship together and are loyal to what the Bible is saying.”
The Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, the Most Rev. Tito Zavala stated “what we seek is a new ways of support and encouragement for one another. We want to keep this humble, simple. Not an institution but a fellowship.”
Asked how Gafcon’s vision differed from that set out by Archbishop Justin Welby in his sermon on 20 October 2013, Dr. Jensen said “nothing could be further from the truth” than to suggest Gafcon was opposed to the archbishop’s call for the church to engage in “ministry, mission, evangelism and a passion for the Holy Spirit.”
“We will work with the Archbishop of Canterbury on those issues,” he said.
“But is vital to get the Bible right,” he added, as there is always a tendency to conform to the culture.”
“We think this has occurred far too much,” Dr. Jensen said, and “will stand by Scripture.”