Thoughts on GAFCON
by the Rt. Rev. Paul C. Hewett, SSC
Moderator of the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas
Bishop of the Diocese of the Holy Cross
Nearly 1,200 pilgrims from five continents, representing 35 million faithful Anglicans, two thirds of the Anglican Communion, gathered for 8 days in Jerusalem, in what must surely be the most significant watershed for Anglicans since the Reformation.
The Most Rev. Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria, the Communion’s largest province, gave the Opening Address, entitled “GAFCON – A Rescue Mission.” “GAFCON,” he said, “is a godly instrument to reshape, reform, renew and reclaim a true Anglican Biblical orthodox Christianity that is firmly anchored in historic faith and ancient formularies...We are here to inaugurate and determine the roadmap to (our) future. And from what better place in the world could we take the fullest advantage of the most powerful reminders of the life and ministry of our Lord and only Saviour Jesus the Christ than here in the holy land where he was born, grew up, served, was killed, rose again for our justification, ascended to heaven and now is seated at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us.”
Normally a conference of this magnitude takes years to prepare. GAFCON was put together, brilliantly, and funded, in five months. The hand of God was upon this mighty work. Our time together was filled with pilgrimages to holy sites, worship, devotional prayer sessions, workshops, Bible study and several plenary sessions. Each of these was arranged so that we could truly be pilgrims, journeying from our roots into the future God has in mind for us. We heard outstanding presentations and sermons from Professor Os Guinness, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, England, Archbishop Yong Ping Chung from Malaysia and Archbishop Gregory Venables from the Southern Cone, and numerous others. The daily morning workshops were superb. I looked in on two, “Family and Marriage,” and “Anglican Identity in the 21st Century.” The others were “Gospel and Culture,” “Gospel and Leadership,” “Biblical Authority and Interpretation,” “Evangelism and Church Planting,” “Theological Education,” and “Bishops’ Wives.” We had opportunities to visit shrines in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Galilee.
FACA was represented by bishops, clergy and laity from the Diocese of the Holy Cross, the Episcopal Missionary Church, the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Mission in America. I had an opportunity to speak as part of a panel of bishops in the Common Cause Partnership, when we met as the CCP to lay out our perceptions and expectations. I said that it was clear that a green light was being given to us in North America to use CCP as the nucleus of a new and recognized North American province that could remain federated until it resolves its differences. And in so resolving our differences, we must always commit ourselves to the consensus of the undivided Church of the first millennium.
Forward in Faith from North America and England were well represented, and it was very useful to have time to network closely with them, to keep coordinated and on the same page. We could see that what GAFCON was doing was launching a new, or second, reformation, positioning itself as the beginning of an ecclesial movement for renewal and proclamation opportunities. To do this GAFCON would open up enough structure, like a giant umbrella, within which we can deal with secondary issues. The largest of these is the ordination of women. In his Address, “Where do we go from here?” Bishop John Rodgers noted the “serious degree of impaired communion...around this matter,” and the need for a proper study such as the one AMiA conducted. To encourage this, Forward in Faith at its recent Assembly in Belleville, IL, passed a resolution urging Common Cause Partners who ordain women to begin such a study, with a moratorium on ordinations until the study is completed. The same resolution will be on the agenda at FACA’s meeting this September.
Bishop Rodgers went on to assert the necessity of returning to “a common prayer book tradition. The classic expression of this is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal. This classic prayer book is grace-centered to a unique degree. Cranmer surpassed all others in placing the Gospel in the center of the worship and prayers of the people.”
He also takes a strong stand for a conciliar form of governance, using the sobornost theology of the Russian Orthodox Church and the other Orthodox. “Our present form is really more like a global family picnic than a council. The early Church from biblical times onward held councils, not picnics...In addition, with regard to ecumenical conversations, a conciliar form of Communion would enable clearer and more easily recognized conversations and cooperation. We should do this because it is biblical, traditional, catholic, missional and ecumenical.” In a Diocese like ours, Holy Cross, we already have a markedly conciliar way of governance. For example, we have holy synods, not conventions. The business or political part of our synods is an hour or two at most, and the rest is all “fellowship in the Holy Spirit.” It is recognized in advance that no matter of Faith or Morals could ever even appear on an agenda.
Bishop Rodger’s projection for the future is that a new faithful Anglican conciliar Communion should be formed as soon as possible. The GAFCON primates would call a Council “which would begin the reformed Global Anglican Family comprised of all those provinces, dioceses and congregations as wished and were able to align with it. It would thus initiate the reformed Anglican Family allowing it to take its place in the world, unattached from the present Anglican Communion. The days of weak response and delay are past. The issues are far too serious, too serious for the spread of the Apostolic Gospel, and too serious for the preservation and vital work of faithful Anglicanism. No matter what the pain or no matter what the cost, we are called by the Lord to devote ourselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers, while living in vigorous apostolic mission.”
The opportunities for networking were massive, meeting new people and strengthening existing ties, with people like Fr. Kevin Donlon, Bp. Mark Lawrence, Professor Edith Humphrey, Bp. John Rodgers, Fr. Douglas Mussey, Bp. and Mrs. Jim Davis, and Ron Spears and the Association of Western Anglican Congregations, and many others. After the final Eucharist and lunch, the Ackermans took me to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and I shall never forget kneeling in the Empty Tomb with Bishop Keith, placing our SSC Pectoral Crosses on the spot where Jesus rose from the dead.
Bishop Keith by the way was a strong presence at GAFCON, as was everyone from Forward in Faith and FACA. Everyone knows that we cannot and will not compromise the ministry as our Lord instituted it and the apostles continued it. We are not, and can never be, in communion with anyone who ordains women. If those who do so continue the practice, we will remain in our federated relationships, entirely independent in our own synods and structures. But we will declare to them “all the counsel of God,” (Acts 20:27) and the way in which all the issues we face are interrelated. All these issues are one and the same thing: the gnostic impulse to redefine human nature apart from Christ. Those who persist in ordaining women are backing themselves into an ever-shrinking corner. It is the women themselves who are increasingly going to rise up against it, and ask that the tables in the house of the Lord have men at their heads. Boys must have this if they are to be men-in-Christ. Our culture is crumbling because not enough boys are learning how to be godly men. Chesterton predicted, early in the 20th century, that the most radical thing in the world by the end of the century would be Christian Fatherhood. The Bible shows us how patriarchy is redeemed, modeled in Jesus the Son, who reveals the Father as the ultimate gracious Patriarch. The Incarnation of the Son is the ultimate in kenosis, or self-emptying. In the Holy Spirit, patriarchy is gracious and kenotic.
For a proper, biblical release of feminine gifts that grows out of the one great tradition, we begin with Our Lady, the first Christian, the new Eve. With a growing awareness of Mary as our Mother, we can begin to ennumerate and build up the ways in which girls and women live in the Body, first as wives and mothers, and then in the plethora of ministries that are or can be open to them, according to their gifts, to build once again a culture of life. Christian women from Africa, with their dress, modesty, courtesy and manners, have some things to teach us, and are a good example to our secular culture.
It is essential that we deepen our relationships with Rome and Orthodoxy, first and foremost because our Lord desires this, and also because the Muslims are coming. At the very least, we need to learn to speak with one moral voice in the face of the rising tide of Islam. The person who hinted at the need for convergence with the larger Catholic world was the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, in his brilliant talk, “The Nature and Future of the Anglican Communion.” The patristic consensus of the undivided Church is our foundation as Anglicans, and is now the basis for dialogue with Rome and Orthodoxy.
As Anglo Catholics we have been in the purgative fires for over 30 years. The Evangelicals have not been in as many refinings. We need to help them understand the Catholic Faith. We need to help them get rid of the cancer of gnosticism that has invaded evangelicalism and the mushy theology that has marked much of the charismatic world. We can help them to really go counter cultural and swim against the tide, as transformers of our culture. Meanwhile they can help us become better evangelicals and take sides with John Wesley, who saw the world as his parish, not his parish as his world. I am going to be asking what opportunities or structures we can create for encounters, at the deepest level, between Anglo catholic, evangelical and charismatic Anglicans.
I would say that GAFCON got it about right with the amount of structure being put into place. We can go slowly on structures now, until we begin to sort out the issues we face. This is the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic way. We cooperate to the greatest extent possible, and let the paperwork follow. This will help us to steer clear of some of the division that followed the St. Louis Congress in 1977. In some ways GAFCON resembled St. Louis on a global scale. One senses from both events that from now on, nothing will ever be the same. What makes GAFCON different is the preponderance of Global South leadership and membership, which will drive our faithful Communion for generations to come.
Of the three models for governance (confessional, conciliar and magisterial) we will, many of us hope, emphasize the conciliar. We are a confessing Church, (now, more than ever, like the confessing church movement in Nazi Germany that resisted Hitler). But we are not a Church with a Confession (a quite lengthy doctrinal statement) like the Lutherans and Presbyterians. Our only confessions are the 3 creeds of the primitive Church, and the Ecumenical Councils. There can be magisterial elements in our governance, because the Book of Common Prayer is our equivalent of a magisterium, a teaching office. But like the Orthodox, we do not have a magisterium centered in the Pope. The teaching office of the Pope should be sufficient for the entire Body, because all Christians should be aware of what he says, and take it very seriously.
GAFCON’s blessing to us in the United States is the acceptance by the Primates’ Council of the Common Cause Partnership as the nucleus of a new province in North America. Building this is a monumental task, probably our last chance to “get it right.” The task before us is staggering, as it was before Nehemiah and the Jews returning from exile. Nehemiah told them “of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.” (Nehemiah 2: 18)