I’m travelling in Tanzania at the moment and am aware that many in Australia will have heard of the happenings at GAFCON in Kigali, but may not be fully aware of what led to this point and just how significant this is for our fellowship with Anglicans around the world. So let me share some of the testimony I gave to the conference about why GAFCON matters.
It was not a complete history and so I apologise for any incorrect or missing elements. But I spoke as a person who had the great privilege of attending GAFCON 2008 in Jerusalem when I was a rector in a Western Australian parish in the Diocese of Perth – a diocese self-described at that time as a liberal and progressive diocese.
A community for the marginalised
That first GAFCON produced the Jerusalem Declaration, which has proved to be a foundational document of contemporary Anglicanism. It was this first GAFCON that, uniquely and for the first time ever, drew together Anglicans from numerous jurisdictions not recognised by Canterbury and not invited to the Lambeth Conference that took place that year. It was the first time that faithful Anglicans from around the world, who had been marginalised, excluded and deposed by their own bishops and synods, were welcomed and embraced by seven Anglican primates of the day and all those who gathered – who made a stand against the failure of the Anglican Communion Instruments to withdraw fellowship from provinces and bishops who had rejected the teaching of Scripture and the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference, the Global South and the Primates Conference.
“[God] had created a movement to promote and protect the biblical gospel and advance mission to the world…”
At GAFCON I, when the statement was read, the whole assembly rose to its feet in applause. There were tears and embracing as those present, Anglican Christians who were faithful to the Scriptures, faithful to the Lord, faithful to Anglican distinctives, expressed unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ independent of exclusive administrative structures that operated from England. There was also a desire to not be only a conference but a recognition of what God had done in our midst. He had created a movement to promote and protect the biblical gospel and advance mission to the world, maintaining orthodox Anglican faith and distinctives as outlined in the Jerusalem Declaration.
It was only a year later, more or less, that the GAFCON primates formally endorsed and recognised the Anglican Church of North America as full members of the Anglican Communion – a church that had drawn together disparate groups and many, many faithful clergy who had been deposed by The Episcopal Church in America. The GAFCON primates subsequently extended the hand of fellowship to the Anglican Church in Brazil and the Anglican Mission in England.
Support offered to those faithfully serving
In 2013, GAFCON II in Nairobi confirmed that the GAFCON primates would formally recognise Anglican jurisdictions of orthodox believers marginalised by liberal dioceses and provinces, and offer support to Anglicans serving in heterodox jurisdictions who were not able to move out or unwilling to do so at that time. In 2019, a year after GAFCON III, the GAFCON family welcomed the Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa/New Zealand (CCAANZ) at the consecration of Jay Behan as its bishop. The CCAANZ was established from 12 congregations (now 17) that withdrew from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia after it changed its doctrine of marriage. Congregations and ministers walked away from their buildings and ministerial entitlements. GAFCON Australia walked closely with New Zealand brothers and sisters at that time; they knew they were not alone – they knew they were welcomed and acknowledged as part of the global Anglican family.
“the effect of this is…to see many communities blessed and the Lord honoured through the proclamation of his gospel”
Last year in Australia the Diocese of the Southern Cross was established, under the auspices of the GAFCON primates, with Bishop Glenn Davies serving as interim bishop. Since 2017 in Scotland, Ireland and this year in Wales, GAFCON has also provided a safe harbour to Anglicans who at great cost refuse to join in a departure from the teaching of Christ.
As I told the conference, the effect of this is to strengthen provinces, to increase our joy in communion, to see the church built and churches planted, to see many communities blessed and the Lord honoured through the proclamation of his gospel, not only in the face of theological and moral liberalism but around the world in the face of religious extremism, poverty and pandemic. In all of this, the GAFCON primates and GAFCON branches have been ridiculed and criticised but they have stood up and stood alongside those who were isolated for the sake of holding to the truth of God’s word.
If it were not for GAFCON these things would not have happened. No one else came to their aid. No one else encouraged their faithfulness. No one else offered to pray and to plan and to stand and to support and to weep and to rejoice with those who preferred to suffer for the Name than take the wide road to destruction.
Under God’s good and gracious hand those who came before us in this movement have handed it on to us.
God used GAFCON to do it. Praise God.