The Gafcon primates – the Archbishops of the Anglican Church in North America, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, South America and the Congo – gathered in London this week.
Anglican leaders are preparing to step up their operations with a charity based in London that will be seen by opponents as a schismatic rival to the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The charity, the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, or GFCA, set up for the “advancement of the Orthodox Anglican Christian Faith”, is to start employing staff to teach and preach a conservative gospel to an increasingly secular world.
The charity, which currently has a turnover of more than £100,000 annually and operates in England, Wales, Australia, Chile, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda, is aiming to raise £500,000 a year to expand its mission.
The plans emerged after the primates’ council of Gafcon, the Global Anglican Futures Conference, met in London this week behind closed doors.
Archbishop Peter Jensen, former Archbishop of Sydney, appointed general secretary of GFCA, told Christian Today: “We are poised for a considerable leap forward. We have a vision. We are on the way. We are raising money to employ people.” These employees will work in ministry, with one taking a particular interest in theological education worldwide, he said.
The charity was set up at the request of the Gafcon primates. London was chosen as the company headquarters.
Archbishop Jensen, who is 71, said: “In my own lifetime we have seen the death of Christian Britain. The assumption people made, that they were Christians, is now broken. That is a huge shift in the last 50 years. Working out how best to relate to a culture that has gone so strongly anti-Christian is putting a strain on all the churches including the Church of England. It is the stresses and strains of living in this brave new world which creates division and disagreement between us.”
The Gafcon branch in the UK is called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. AMiE, the Anglican Mission in England, is a missionary society set up by FCA and supports churches both within and outside the official Church of England structures.
The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, is currently looking into the involvement of the retired Anglican bishop of Paraguay, John Ellison, in a service of commissioning for a church plant in his diocese. Christ Church is affiliated to AMiE not the Church of England.
The Salisbury diocese said in a statement: “Ideally we might want to welcome Christ Church as fellow workers in Christ, but we also wonder why another church explicitly for Anglicans is needed in Salisbury when the broad spectrum of Anglican identities is already catered for.
“The Bishop of Salisbury is seeking clarification about the involvement of Bishop John Ellison in the December service. Bishop Ellison has had to postpone two meetings arranged to discuss this matter due to illness. We hope and pray that the Gamaliel principle of Acts 5:38-39 will guide us.”
Archbishop Jensen said it was not the conservatives who were leaving the Anglican mainstream: “This goes back to the behaviour of The Episcopal Church in America. If there is a schism, it is because the American church decided to break with centuries-old tradition and with the biblical position on human sexuality.”
He was referring to the consecration of the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson in 2004. Bishop Robinson recently announced he was divorcing his partner of 11 years.
Archbishop Jensen said many people in The Episcopal Church were unhappy with the direction it took on sexuality. Gafcon was born to hold these people together in unity. “Gafcon is a unity movement, but its horizons are broader than that,” he told Christian Today.
“Having realised that the Archbishop of Canterbury was more or less powerless to do anything about The Episcopal Church, the Gafcon primates saw the Anglican Communion itself needed to be renewed and restored and brought into unity around biblical standards. That is our vision: to restore unity and renew biblical standards and reach the world for Christ.”
He said he admired the present Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s stand for evangelism and church planting.
“He’s a man after my own heart in that area. I would guess there might be other areas in which we would differ, particularly strategy.”
In a communique, the Gafcon primates said: “We are uniting faithful Anglicans, growing in momentum, structured for the future, and committed to the Anglican Communion.”
The next Gafcon conference will be in 2018.
The Gafcon primates said: “We are particularly concerned about the Church of England and the drift of many from the Biblical faith. We do not regard the recent use of a Church of England building for a Muslim service as a minor aberration. These actions betray the gospel and discourage Christians who live among Muslims, especially those experiencing persecution.”
They continued: “We have planned for the expansion of our movement in order to touch the lives of many more Anglicans with gospel fellowship. As part of this we have identified a clear need for theological education and the training of leaders, especially bishops, and we have started work on both of these priorities. We also recognise an increasing need to be able to respond both to calls for affiliation from other provinces, and requests for support from emerging fellowships where the biblical gospel is under threat.
“In order to carry this forward we have put in place the necessary operating structures, people, and financial resources. We invite all of our supporters to be involved in this work.”
In spite of the plans, though, they continued to deny they were initiating a split. “We are not leaving the Anglican Communion. The members of our churches stand at the heart of the Communion, which is why we are committed to its renewal. We belong to the mainstream, and we are moving forward.”
They also explicitly made a statement of support for Bishop Ellison. “In view of the Great Commission, we note the sad irony that this former missionary bishop to South America now finds it necessary to defend himself for supporting missionary activity in his own country.”
Not everyone within the conservative Anglican movement is happy, however, especially where the conservative clergy espouse a male “headship” model that is opposed to women’s ordination based on the teaching of St Paul.
One dissenter, who asked to remain anonymous, told Christian Today that there was growing concern about conservative evangelical parishes in the Church of England who were opposed to women’s ordination: “This group has been quietly building its own church within a church, by withholding parish money from the mother church, and channelling it to its own organisational networks and structure. These form a parallel para-church, selecting, training, even ordaining ministers. This group of clergy plan with and look to each other for guidance, rather than to those they have publicly and repeatedly promised to respect and obey, at their ordinations, installations and on other occasions – declaration of assent, oath of canonical obedience and so on.”
The dissenter claimed that this was sometimes done without the full understanding of their congregations. “Churchgoers have for years now been feeling betrayed both by these clergy and the church hierarchy who have not stood up to them. Many – particularly women – have suffered damage to their trust and respect for the church, and to their faith.”
According to Religious Correspondent for ‘Christian Today’, Ruth Gledhill, this report might seem to express a more eirenic outcome from the recent GAFCON Primates’ Meeting which has just concluded in London. However, now that the former conservative Archbishop of Sydney. Peter Jensen, has been appointed Secretary of the local ‘Global Fellowship of confessing Anglicans’ (GAFCA), headquartered in the U.K.. one might be forgiven if this new venture by the GAFCON Primates is anything less than a takeover bid for the soul of world-wide Anglicanism – on the door-step of the Church of England:
“The charity, the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, or GFCA, set up for the “advancement of the Orthodox Anglican Christian Faith”, is to start employing staff to teach and preach a conservative gospel to an increasingly secular world.” – Bishop Peter Jensen –
From Ruth Gledhill’s report, it will be seen that Bishop Jensen, who was one of the prime movers of the conservative strategies that enrolled the mostly African Primates in the formation of a movement to challenge the Western Leadership of the worldwide Anglican Communion, has become the Western focal point of protest against the trend in the Communion towards the emancipation of both Women and LGBT people in the Church.
Despite GAFCON’s denial of any intention to leave the Communion – on the grounds of a purer bible-based theology of gender and sexuality; it should be obvious by now that even the Mother Church of England is to be challenged in its leadership of the Communion by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Council and the ACC. Rather than a secession; this might possibly be an outright takeover bid for supremacy in the world-wide Communion.
The rest of us in the Communion may have to wait and see the response of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primus-inter-pares of the ACC, before we can assess what might be the outcome for the future of the Anglican Communion.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand