Home Op-Ed GSFA takes on the challenge of resetting the Anglican Communion

GSFA takes on the challenge of resetting the Anglican Communion

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The Global South Anglican Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) sent out a press release this week entitled “Anglican Global South leaders meet in Egypt to reset and renew the Anglican Communion.”

Which is quite a challenge.

The first blog in this series considered the history of the GSFA – as it changed from being a geographically-based, mission-focused, South-to-South ‘Encounter’, overseen by the Anglican Communion Office, to a confessionally-based ecclesial body with global membership, which seeks, “to offer the whole Communion a new global structure of more representative leadership”. This blog will consider the reasons why a reset is needed and the convictions behind this new global structure.

In 2008, the Windsor Continuation Group set out the problem that faced the Anglican Communion following the crisis caused by TEC in 2003:

“The consequences of actions have not always been adequately addressed, e.g. there appear to have been no consequences following the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire as envisaged by the Primates’ Statement of October 2003, or as a result of primatial interventions.” [para 10]

“The way in which the moratoria have been challenged or ignored in the life of the Communion raises a painful and sharp question: how can any decisions or recommendations be given authority or force in the life of the Communion?” [para 50]

“To be a communion, as opposed to a federation or association, is fundamentally to acknowledge that the fellowship of Churches is not a human construct; it is the gracious gift of God. Churches are enabled to live in communion because they recognise one another as truly an expression of the One Church of Jesus Christ. If mutual recognition of faithful discipleship, the preaching of the Word of God or the ordered administration of the Sacraments is threatened, then the entire foundation of the Communion is undermined. This is why although Anglicans remain committed to a generous accommodation of diversity, there must ultimately be some limit to the extent of the diversity which can be embraced. This limit is the point where the fellowship of Churches can no longer recognise in one of its members the faithfulness to Christ which flows from communion with the Father, in the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit. If the recognition of one another as Churches is to be sustained, it implies a level of mutual accountability in the handling of the life of each Church. [Para 52]

In short, in rejecting the authority of God’s word and the warnings of the rest of the Anglican Communion, TEC had denied the authority of God’s word and placed themselves outside those limits of diversity…

… and yet nothing had happened.

In 2016, the same issue arose again, when TEC refused to abide by the decisions of the Primates Gathering in Canterbury. The problem was exacerbated by the fact both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury colluded with their rebellion.

… and nothing happened.

And finally in 2023, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s involvement in the Church of England’s General Synod’s decision to bless couples in same-sex relationships took the crisis to another level. As the GSFA stated in their Ash Wednesday Statement:

“As the Church of England has departed from the historic faith passed down from the Apostles by this innovation in the liturgies of the Church and her pastoral practice (contravening her own Canon A5), she has disqualified herself from leading the Communion as the historic “Mother” Church. Indeed, the Church of England has chosen to break communion with those provinces who remain faithful to the historic biblical faith expressed in the Anglican formularies.”

Twenty years after the consecration of Gene Robinson, which tore the fabric of the Communion, the “Mother” Church, the Church of England, followed suit and placed themselves outside the acceptable limits of diversity.

And as someone once said, “If your mother is no longer safe to drive a car, someone has to take the keys away from her.”

Something needed to happen.

For more than twenty years, the Anglican Communion has been wrestling with the “ecclesial deficit” that prevents effective discipline. All four Instruments of Communion have failed. The Anglican Covenant failed. Indaba has failed. All that is left is a ‘Communion’ that is not ‘in communion’ and a commitment to plural truth and “variable geometry”.

Unless we look to the GSFA.

In 2019, the GSFA began the process by resetting and reforming themselves by reordering their membership around the Cairo Covenant.

The Cairo Covenant seeks to allow Orthodox Anglicans “to give corporate expression to their unity,” so that they can become, “a life-giving force to the Anglican Communion in deep spiritual need”.

The Covenant is divided into three parts:

1. The Doctrinal Foundations or Fundamental Declarations

The GSFA have set out a biblical, historical Anglican statement of faith, with reference to Scripture, the Book of Common Prayer, Articles and the Homilies.

Current controversies are also referenced with an affirmation Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the view that, “episcopal jurisdiction is unintelligent and becomes an obstacle to the Gospel if it is detached from authentic discipleship and submission to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

The confession is not without controversy, some have asked why the GSFA did not adopt Gafcon’s Jerusalem Declaration and others, including Archbishop Mouneer Anis, have questioned whether commitment to sola scriptura suggests that the Bible by itself can ensure orthodoxy without the guidance of the historic Church.”

Whether these issues will be addressed by the first Assembly is to be seen.

2. The Relational Commitments

Alongside commitments to support one another in mission, prayer and economic empowerment, the relational commitments seek to create “mutual accountability and interdependence” by agreeing, “to a common discipline in matters of faith and order”. This in turn enables “mutual recognition and communion between [our] Churches”.

The Cairo Covenant, thus, creates a mechanism for autonomous provinces to be in mutual submission to one another.

3. The Conciliar Structures

The Cairo Covenant provides for conciliar structures, similar to the Anglican Communion’s Instruments of Unity.

a) The Assembly – a representative body of bishops, clergy and laity from all member provinces, dioceses and networks, which will meet every 3-4 years.

Similar to the Anglican Communion’s Anglican Consultative Council

b) The Board of the Assembly – including

i) The four office bearers of the Primates Council Steering Committee;

ii) Three bishops elected by the episcopal members of the Assembly;

iii) Seven members of the clergy elected by the clerical members of the Assembly;

iv) Seven members of the laity elected by the lay members of the Assembly; and

v) The Legal Advisor appointed by the Assembly.

Similar to the Anglican Communion’s Anglican Consultative Council Steering Committee

c) The Council of Bishops – the duly elected or appointed Primates, Archbishops & Diocesan Bishops of every member diocese, province or regional Church (each of whom must personally accept the Doctrinal Foundation and Relational Commitments before receiving seat, voice and vote). The Council will meet every 8-10 years.

Similar to the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference

d) The Primates Council – “who shall exercise an enhanced collegial responsibility to strengthen mutual accountability and interdependence among the member dioceses, provinces and regional Churches of the GSFA. The Primates, meeting annually in conjunction with the Board.”

Similar to the Anglican Communion’s Primates’ Meeting

Having reset their own membership, the GSFA, then opened membership to all provinces, dioceses and networks, who will submit to the Cairo Covenant, wherever in the world they are based.

Something has happened.

But what is the difference?

What is it about the Cairo Covenant that will keep the GSFA from following the pattern of the wider Anglican Communion?

The answer is found in Clause 3.1.4:

“When a member diocese, province or regional Church chooses no longer to accept the Doctrinal Foundation of the GSFA as expressed in Section 1, or is found to have violated in its teaching and practice the Doctrinal Foundation, it may voluntarily withdraw or be suspended or removed from the GSFA by decision of the Board and the Primates Council.”

The GSFA are resetting the Anglican Communion by creating a means of global accountability and discipline.

The only question is whether they will be able to hold their course – and not be distracted by more empty promises from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other failed Instruments of Communion that IASCUFO have a better answer.

But that is a question for the next blog.