Vol I No. 7

Anglicanism’s costly vocation and the fight to belong.

by sinetortus

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre


From Jerusalem: A Personal Reflection  on GAFCON 2018

and its Strategic Challenges


If anyone were to read the headline “2000 aesthetes gather to consider their emotional attraction to Anglicanism” it is unlikely any of those at GAFCON would recognise themselves. Surely this would describe some other more High Church congress of priestly types adorned with quantities of lace and such gorgeous robes as to be in breach of the cautionary Lucan reference (12.27) to King Solomon himself –not to mention Shakespeare in King John.  And of course they would be right to miss such resemblance, but consider the phrase “We are Christians who like Anglicanism”. This phrase would be easy to hear at GAFCON.

On the one hand, it is clear what is meant: namely the rightful priority of conversion, as central to what makes someone a Christian in the deep sense of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and that this is so fundamental as to come before anything else –like mere denominational affiliation, for one’s Christian identity comes before any other.

But does this truth capture all that is to be said?  Are there, to take an alternative example, many Baptists who say that “My being Baptist is just an emotional thing” or members of the Plymouth Brethren who say “I just couldn’t resist the aesthetics”. If so they would surely be Post-Modern Baptists or Plymouth Brethren, of whom the latter in particular are probably in quite short supply. Unless they happened to be followers of Schleiermacher in reducing all religion ultimately to being about feeling.  But down that path lies the risk captured so well in Ronald Knox’s salutary poetic line “When suave politeness, tempering bigot zeal, corrected ‘I believe’ to ‘one does feel’.” No one in GAFCON surely wishes to be like that!

Then again, would Cranmer have gone to the stake for something that really came down to liking? Obviously not. Something deeper too is reflected in the real sense of hurt and insult felt by those in GAFCON when their own sense of being Anglican is questioned, or placed in doubt, owing to the application of legalistic criteria, such as the ACC has to apply under the terms of its present constitution (which reduces being Anglican to the narrow meaning of being part of a province currently listed on their “Schedule”).

Such reflections surely bring out that being Anglican is something altogether more powerful than mere likes and feelings. There is real substance to it and it is something worth struggling to preserve. Indeed, this is surely the real intent so deeply felt by the members of GAFCON. In part this drive is captured in a specific way by Articles 6 and 7 of the GAFCON Jerusalem Declaration of 2008 which stated that:

“We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, ….We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.”

Then again,  it has been a repeated assertion in Jerusalem that GAFCON is not leavingthe Anglican Communion, all of which leads to the question of how in terms of practical policy that vocation can best be lived out bearing in mind the injunction of Matthew 10,16)

One clear path is to do the work of God’s Church that Christ intended and that is obviously behind the launch of all the initiatives, yet the feeling that this has to be done apart from  existing networks and structures of the global Communion gets to the heart of one of the sharpest difficulties – namely the sense of impossibility that has come to be associated with working through those structures. Many in GAFCON feel that the ACC is not open or able to work with them, without entailing compromise of their classical Anglican beliefs, or forcing association with those who have broken with the mind of the church, as expressed at Lambeth in 1998 and in regard to human sexuality in particular.

Even the Primates Meeting has now run into parallel challenges, as several of the GAFCON Primates have not attended recently because they do not feel that their views can be adequately expressed or heard in that Forum. And even the position and office of the Archbishop of Canterbury is questioned, on account of the Archbishop’s perceived inability to address the problems identified, causing Archbishop Akinola to say tartly “The road to God’s Kingdom does not go through Lambeth Palace” a crushing turn of phrase that nonetheless focused on the failures of administration in that office, rather than on the place of the Chair of St. Augustine itself.

Amidst this frustration, it is highly relevant to notice that GAFCON is led by Primates from some of the largest Anglican provinces, namely Nigeria (18m), Uganda (8m), Kenya (5m), Tanzania (2m), Rwanda(1m) , Sudan (1.1m)  and L’Eglise du Congo (½ m), as well those of Argentina and of ACNA and the soon to be independent Province of Chile.

While the latest exact figures are uncertain, the African Provinces alone participating in GAFCON represent nearly half of the likely number of Anglicans worldwide, a fact that must be relevant to some of the tensions driving the movement. For example, within the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) representation is equal for each of the 39 Provinces  (soon to be 40) that the ACC is currently able to recognise under the particular terms of its constitution regardless of the number of Anglicans actually in each province.   While even in the Primates Meetings each Province has inevitably but one vote, regardless of size.

All of which points to the fact that the only“Instrument of Unity” in which the participant numbers bear some (albeit imperfect) relation to the number of church members in the Provinces is the Lambeth Conference. And that relationship tends to move in favour of the non-Western Provinces with each successive conference, since they are expanding and thus have ever more new Sees.

In addition, it has to be remembered that the high point of Global South impact on the Anglican Communion was Lambeth 1998 which was the last one attended by nearly every bishop invited. And it was that Lambeth which passed the resolution I:10 which has been the benchmark for the mind of the Church upheld by GAFCON ever since.

This means that deliberately boycotting the next Lambeth must seem to many hard to accept, both in terms of consistency and as a matter of strategy, however understandable and well intentioned the reasoning adduced.

Given the high emphasis previously placed upon the moral authority of the Lambeth Conference, it risks seeming inconsistent to walk away from it – however frustrating its procedures can seem  (and they did not prevent the global mind coming to expression in 1998). And this remains true, however pressing the issues are of disapproval regarding others who are invited (or indeed not invited). Honouring the status previously claimed for the Conference would surely suggest continued and active participation.

Moreover, in strategic terms, if the ACC and even the Primates Meeting have been deemed oppressive of the mind of the wider and of the African church in particular,  and as unable to reflect proportionately the global distribution of members,  then the Lambeth Conference stands alone as the one Instrument of Unity where these particular limitations can be overcome. But they can only be overcome when all the bishops of the wider church attend. This is a simple matter of arithmetic to demonstrate. In 1998, the key votes would never have been passed if the bishops from Africa had not all attended. In 2008 if there had been votes and resolutions then the boycott by about 220 out of the total of 880 invited would have dramatically changed the outcomes.

It is anticipated that Lambeth 2020 will revert to the traditional pattern of having votes on resolutions and without the African bishops present much that was voted through in 1998 is likely to be reversed.  How will those Bishops and Archbishops who decide not to attend, because insufficient attention was later given to the resolutions of 1998,  feel about the new Resolutions of the 2020 Lambeth that overturn 1998, if they decided to stay away and not to vote?

GAFCON is being held only minutes from the Old City and  the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a fact that could hardly be a sharper reminder of the the costly endurance of the Way of the Cross.

Yet it was C.S. Lewis in discussing his conversion who observed that “ ‘Emotional’ is perhaps the last word we can apply to the most important events” and it is in entire continuity with his wider thought to say that it is in the particularities of being Anglican, that we are able to experience the fullness of Mere Christianity and that this demands of us, not only action and defence of the truth, but the costly endurance of all the trials and tribulations that come with full participation too.

A. M-R