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Twelve Hundred Pilgrims Meet in the Holy Land to Reclaim the Anglican Communion
by Lisa Severine Nolland
While the meeting of Anglican bishops from around the world every decade or so at Lambeth Palace has been considered the place to take the pulse of the worldwide Anglican Communion, another meeting in Jerusalem this past summer may signal the full emergence of an alternative global Anglican communion. Several weeks before the Lambeth meeting, nearly 1,200 Anglican leaders—archbishops, bishops, clergy, and laity—gathered during the final week of June at the Renaissance Jerusalem Hotel in West Jerusalem to discuss something called the Global Anglican Future. Hence the conference was billed as GAFCON.
The purpose of the conference was to respond to a crisis “involving three undeniable facts concerning world Anglicanism,” as the GAFCON website explained it. The first fact is “the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different ‘gospel,’” undermining the authority of Holy Scripture and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Savior. Further, this false gospel “promotes a variety of sexual preferences and immoral behaviour as a universal human right. It claims God’s blessing for same-sex unions over against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony.”
The second fact, in the words of the conference organizers, is the declaration by provincial bodies in the Global South that they are out of communion with bishops and churches that promote this false gospel. . . . These actions have also led to the appointment of new Anglican bishops set over geographic areas already occupied by other Anglican bishops. A major realignment has occurred and will continue to unfold.
And the third fact is the manifest failure of the Communion Instruments [i.e., Canterbury and the Anglican Primates] to exercise discipline in the face of overt heterodoxy.
A Global Week
The meeting was unlike any Anglican gathering I have attended in the UK or North America. It was far more passionate and had a definite non-Western “edge.” More than two dozen nations were represented, the majority non-white and non-Western. There are roughly 55 million active Anglicans around the globe, and the Jerusalem assembly represented over 35 million of them. The Church of Nigeria, with its 20 million active members, had by far the largest contingent of representatives (termed “pilgrims”).
GAFCON pilgrims embraced God and his Word fervently, publicly, and unapologetically, in an easy, natural way. For some, maintaining their faith in their home countries is a never-ending struggle; for others, it is a matter of life and death. Gloria Kwashi, the wife of Nigerian archbishop Ben Kwashi, shared a testimony of being humiliated, beaten, and tortured by a group of radical Muslim youths because of her faith.
I was on the administrative and workshop teams as well as a lay participant. Each day began very early with many participating in services of Holy Communion, some of them surprisingly “high” liturgies, in designated hotels across the city. After pilgrims arrived via bus, the conference formally commenced with worship and biblical exposition.
The exposition was followed by intense interactive workshops, the leadership and composition of which comprised an intentional mix of East and West. As conclusions were reached in the workshops, they were handed on to the senior leadership team, which also was intentionally mixed. This feeding-back loop was essential for what would emerge at the week’s end.
There were seven workshops to choose from, including “Anglican Identity in the Twenty-First Century,” “Evangelism and Church Planting,” “Biblical Authority and Hermeneutics,” “Gospel and Culture,” and “Family and Marriage.”
I had tastes of various workshops and believe that the Bishops’ Wives’ workshop was one of the most impressive. Women had brought special items from their homes and communities to share with each other and the group as a whole—photographs, artifacts, things to give or sell, stories—which meant there was a lovely blending and cross-fertilization of cultures.
Other meetings during the week addressed HIV/AIDS, poverty, secularism, the Anglican Communion, and long-standing religious and ethnic conflict. One of the most moving presentations was an evening with representatives of the Palestinian Christian and Israeli Messianic communities. They shared the appalling situation each found themselves in because of the actions of Israel (for the former) and the Palestinians (for the latter). Their bond in Jesus was crucial and a mutually held hope for the future. Seeing them sitting on the platform together, listening to each in turn tell their stories, was deeply moving. An African bishop told me he found that session the most powerful of any he attended.
Everyone seemed to realize that effort was required to bridge the many cultural chasms. We had been encouraged to embrace the challenges of cross-cultural communication in the conference guide, and we were well advised on matters like personal space, money, possessions, time, status, and how to negotiate difference. I noted a great deal of apparently intentional cross-cultural connecting and successful “bonding.” It was a level playing field under Almighty God, and no one culture or people group dominated. It was a symphony, not a solo or duet or even a trio.
The Holy Land
Of course, for many, simply being in the Holy Land was an extraordinary experience. Jerusalem is like no other major city I have ever visited, and I believe many shared that perception. Getting to know the Messianic Jewish volunteers from Christ Church Jerusalem and other “locals” was helpful in making Jerusalem become more real.
Various pilgrimages allowed us to be physically and (hopefully) spiritually present at the very spots where Jesus himself lived 2,000 years ago. Pilgrims visited the Mount of Olives, the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and the Southern Steps of the Temple, among other places. Some went to Bethlehem, and almost everyone made the bus trip to Capernaum, the Mount of the Beatitudes, and the Sea of Galilee. A few of us even managed to wade in the latter’s blue-green waves, which were warmer than I imagined they would be. Near the Jordan River, we received a formal visit from Elias Chacour, the Melkite Catholic archbishop (and darling of liberal Episcopalians). He welcomed us profusely and spoke of “Jesus the Galilean,” a subject close to his heart.
The Jerusalem Declaration (see sidebar) summed up the week to perfection. Approved at the end of the conference, it has a magisterial tone. It is a confident commitment to and celebration of historic Christianity that Anglicans of various stripes around the globe can use, own, and promote. Moreover, the GAFCON primates have now formed a council that will act globally to protect and advance the cause of orthodoxy around the world. Especially grateful are those lone, embattled conservative Anglicans in North America, some of whom are facing the challenge of their lives. (Despite Lambeth’s glowing reports of reconciliation, the persecution continues to this day. Bishop Robert Duncan, recently deposed bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Pittsburgh, is the latest casualty.)
Completely absent were vague, comforting religious platitudes and a “wait-and-see” passivity. But thoroughly present were the priorities of investment in “the person” and the importance of relating to people. These pilgrims were simply delighted to be with each other, and a sense of joie de vivre pervaded the environment. As the GAFCON Pilgrimage Guide reminded us, “Westerners have the watches, but Africans have the time.” As I talked with them, I saw none of that “uneasy intensity” or “defensive self-righteousness” of which C. S. Lewis wrote. This made for a winsome witness.
The pilgrims were spiritually “on fire” and longed for more. Theirs was a search for even greater depth in their walk with God and in their life with their brothers and sisters. They were proud to own creedal, historic Anglicanism as expressed in the Evangelical, Catholic, and Charismatic traditions, but were even prouder to be followers of Jesus and lovers of his people, sent into the world in mission.
Additional information on GAFCON may be found at www.gafcon.org and at www.anglican-mainstream.net.
In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit:
We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, have met in the land of Jesus’ birth. We express our loyalty as disciples to the King of kings, the Lord Jesus. We joyfully embrace his command to proclaim the reality of his kingdom which he first announced in this land. The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of salvation, liberation and transformation for all. In light of the above, we agree to chart a way forward together that promotes and protects the biblical gospel and mission to the world, solemnly declaring the following tenets of orthodoxy which underpin our Anglican identity.
1. We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.
2. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.
3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.
5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.
6. 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, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.
7. 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.
8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.
9. We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity.
10. We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy.
11. We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration.
12. We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.
13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.
14. We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus’ coming again in glory, and while we await this final event of history, we praise him for the way he builds up his church through his Spirit by miraculously changing lives.
Lisa Severine Nolland is the author of A Victorian Feminist Christian (Paternoster, 2003) and a contributor to and co-editor of God, Gays and the Church (Latimer, 2008). As web consultant for Anglican-Mainstream.net, she tracks and posts material on the sexual trajectory in the culture and the church. An American by birth, she has made her home for many years in Bristol, England, where she lives with her husband and their teenage daughter.