This morning, Dec. 26, conservative Anglicans announced they will gather in Jerusalem (see press statement below) about 6 weeks before the historic Lambeth conference in the UK. Lambeth will start in mid-July and end in early August 2008.
Many conservative bishops will boycott Lambeth due to the fallout over The Episcopal Church's actions supportive of GLBT clergy and couples, TEC's rejection of global accountability, and its re-interpretation of core scriptural teachings.
TEC's ambiguous response to the Windsor Report and its refusals to follow the guidance of Anglican primates meeting in Tanzania in early 2007 to end gay ordinations, same-sex blessings, and property litigation against conservative parishes have undermined Anglican unity worldwide.
The 2003 consecration of a homosexual Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire has been the flashpoint.
In recent weeks, there has been speculation about whether Anglican conservatives will put together a rival Lambeth-like event. Many conservative Anglican bishops expect to opt out of the once-per-decade-event in Canterbury, but had hopes of gathering for a global consultation.
Conservative firebrand David Virtue of Virtue Online observed back in June 07:
The concept of a parallel Lambeth Conference was first raised by the Most Rev. Peter Akinola, Archbishop and Primate of Nigeria, as well as head of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA)....
In mid-December, Virtue noted:
Now the idea has again emerged with a news report out of London, by Jonathan Petre of the Telegraph, that Conservative Anglican leaders are secretly planning a meeting next summer for the hundreds of bishops expected to defy the Archbishop of Canterbury by boycotting the Lambeth Conference.
The unprecedented event will be widely seen as an "alternative Lambeth", further damaging Dr. Rowan Williams's hopes of averting a formal schism over homosexuals, wrote Petre.
Aides of the Archbishop said that any such gathering, which is due to be held just before the official conference, would be perceived as a symbol of division and would send out a "negative" message. Indeed, it would.
These events in June, July, and August pose a three-fold test as I see it:
1. It will test the strength and coherence of an emerging conservative majority within global Anglicanism.
2. It will test the resolve of the Anglican left-wing's agenda to steer the global church toward affirmation of homosexuality as normative human sexual expression.
3. It will test the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury in its ability to provide a viable way forward for a deeply divided church.
Here's the edited version of the press release:
GLOBAL ANGLICAN FUTURE CONFERENCE IN HOLY LAND
ANNOUNCED BY ORTHODOX PRIMATES
Orthodox Primates with other leading bishops from across the globe are to invite fellow Bishops, senior clergy and laity from every province of the Anglican Communion to a unique eight-day event, to be known as the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) 2008.
The event, which was agreed at a meeting of Primates in Nairobi last week, will be in the form of a pilgrimage back to the roots of the Church's faith. The Holy Land is the planned venue. From 15-22 June 2008, Anglicans from both the Evangelical and Anglo-catholic wings of the church will make pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where Christ was born, ministered, died, rose again, ascended into heaven, sent his Holy Spirit, and where the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out, to strengthen them for what they believe will be difficult days ahead.
At the meeting were Archbishops Peter Akinola (Nigeria), Henry Orombi (Uganda), Emmanuel Kolini (Rwanda), Benjamin Nzimbi (Kenya), Donald Mtetemela (Tanzania), Peter Jensen (Sydney), Nicholas Okoh (Nigeria); Bishop Don Harvey (Canada), Bishop Bill Atwood (Kenya) representing Archbishop Greg Venables (Southern Cone) , Bishop Bob Duncan (Anglican Communion Network), Bishop
Martyn Minns (Convocation of Anglicans in North America ), Canon Dr Vinay Samuel (India and England) and Canon Dr Chris Sugden (England). Bishops Michael Nazir-Ali (Rochester, England), Bishop Wallace Benn (Lewes, England) were consulted by telephone. These leaders represent over 30 million of the 55 million active Anglicans in the world.
Southern Cone Primate Gregory Venables said: "While there are many calls for shared mission, it clearly must rise from common shared faith. Our pastoral responsibility to the people that we lead is now to provide the opportunity to come together around the central and unchanging tenets of the central and unchanging historic Anglican faith. Rather than being subject to the continued chaos and compromise that have dramatically impeded Anglican mission, GAFCON will seek to clarify God's call at this time and build a network of cooperation for Global mission."
The gathering set in motion a Global Anglican Future Conference: A Gospel of Power and Transformation. The vision, according to Archbishop Nzimbi is to inform and inspire invited leaders "to seek transformation in our own lives and help impact communities and societies through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ". Bishops and their wives, clergy and laity, including the next generation of young leaders will attend GAFCON.
The GAFCON website is www.gafcon.org.
Canon Chris Sugden added: "While this conference is not a specific challenge to the Lambeth Conference, it will provide opportunities for fellowship and care for those who have decided not to attend Lambeth. There was no other place to meet at this critical time for the future of the Church than in the Holy Land ."
Frequently asked Questions
1. Who is sponsoring the Conference?
The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) is being called by those who took part in the Nairobi Consultation:
Archbishops Peter Akinola (Nigeria), Henry Orombi (Uganda), Emmanuel Kolini (Rwanda), Benjamin Nzimbi (Kenya), Donald Mtetemela (Tanzania), Archbishop Peter Jensen (Sydney) Archbishop Nicholas Okoh (Nigeria). Bishop Don Harvey (Canada) and Bishop Bill Atwood (Kenya) who also represented Archbishop Greg Venables (Southern Cone). Bishop Bob Duncan (Anglican Communion Network and Common Cause USA.), Bishop Martyn Minns (Convocation of Anglicans in North America), Canon Dr Vinay Samuel (India and England), Canon Dr Chris Sugden (England)
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali (Rochester, England) and Bishop Wallace Benn (Lewes, England) were consulted and also form part of the Leadership Team.
These bishops and their colleagues represent over 30 million Anglicans out of the 55 million active Anglicans. ( Nigeria 18m , Uganda 8m Kenya 2.5m Rwanda 1 m Tanzania 1.3 m plus Southern Cone, US, Sydney, England). The notional total of the Communion is 77m. The active membership is nearer 55 m, since of the 26m notional members in CofE 3.7m attend at Christmas Services)
2. Whom do you expect to come?
We will be inviting bishops and their wives, senior clergy, church planters, and lay people including the next generation of young leaders. We aim to make it a Global Anglican Conference with its eye on the future and future leadership.
3. Is this a Global South Initiative?
Not quite. Many of the Primates at the Nairobi Consultation are in the Global South, but it also included Anglican leaders from parts of the world beyond the geographic Global South.
4. Why a pilgrimage?
We are looking to the future of the Global Anglican Communion, which is itself a pilgrimage.
Those who want to hold on to the Biblical and Historical faith need to come together to renew their faith and develop a fresh vision for our common mission. The way we have chosen to do this is to undertake a pilgrimage to a land whose heritage we all share, the land where Jesus Christ was born, ministered, died, rose again, ascended into heaven and sent his Holy Spirit, and where the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out. We believe this will strengthen us for the difficult days ahead.
The conference will outline the mission imperatives for the next 25 years for orthodox Anglicans. It is important therefore to reconnect with our roots in the biblical story.
5. Is not Israel/Palestine a controversial venue?
Israel/Palestine has been a place of conflict for decades. That should not keep us from making pilgrimage to a land that is our common heritage. We want to bring fellowship and bear testimony to the Christian communities in Israel/Palestine. Those of us from Africa are no strangers to the pressure that Christian communities are put under from other religious groups and communities.
6. Why call it in June?
The pilgrimage is to strengthen bishops at a crucial time in the life of the Anglican Communion. Many bishops will not be able to accept the invitation to the Lambeth Conference as their consciences will not allow it. Some will attend both gatherings. The purpose of the consultation is to strengthen them all spiritually.
7. Is it not really an alternative to the Lambeth Conference?
No. It is not at the same time or in the same region as the Lambeth Conference. So there will be some who will attend both conferences and thus be able to consult with the Archbishop of Canterbury and others there.
As Archbishop Gregory Venables has said: "While there are many calls for shared mission, it clearly must rise from common shared faith. Our pastoral responsibility to the people we lead is now to provide the opportunity to come together around the central and unchanging tenets of the central and unchanging historic Anglican faith. Rather than being subject to the continued chaos and compromise that have dramatically impeded Anglican mission, GAFCON will seek to clarify God's call at this time and build a network of cooperation for Global mission."
GAFCON is a call to vision and action for mission based firmly on the "faith once delivered to the saints" and revealed in Scripture, to reform the church and transform persons, communities and societies through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. African Bishops had this focus at their Lagos 2004 conference. The Episcopal church's agenda has recently overshadowed it. We now need to develop this gospel agenda for all like-minded in the communion.
It is to outline the mission imperatives for the next 25 years and how to begin to respond to them.
It is a pilgrimage to the places of the Biblical story to renew our faith and commitment. It is to envision the Global Anglican Future.
The Lambeth Conference has a different agenda.
8. Is this all over a gay bishop?
No. GAFCON is about churches being grouped by what they have in common. We're for growth, we're for being passionate about the truth. We want to look to the future. That's what the conference is about - Global Anglican Future.
9. Aren't you splitting the church?
No. Communion depends on having something in common. Churches in the Global South are growing. They're passionate about the truth and their faith. We are building on this strength.
As the Anglican Communion develops, some of the old bonds are loosening, and some new bonds are being formed. That's a good thing. These bonds involve churches which are growing, and which have something distinctive to say to the world. GAFCON is enthusiastic about mission. Its focus is the future.