In an email yesterday, a friend challenged me, asking (I’m paraphrasing): “Why does GAFCON matter? Why should I care about it? I’m not in ACNA, it’s nice that some ACNA people get to go to an international conference, and they will enjoy good preaching, fellowship and worship, but how is this relevant?”
Those questions got me thinking… and also researching a bit. Let’s look first at the numbers:
GAFCON 2013: Yesterday’s press release gives these attendance figures for this week’s GAFCON conference in Nairobi: “Although initially expecting 1100, the final total is 1,352 Archbishops, Bishops, clergy and lay people, men and women, from almost 40 countries. [I’ve seen the figure of 36 or 38 countries reported in other articles.] The number of bishops attending is 331, of whom 30 are Archbishops.” Other reports mention that 27 of the 38 Anglican Provinces are represented.
Without any context, it’s hard to appreciate those numbers, so let’s compare GAFCON 2013 with some prior Anglican gatherings:
GAFCON 2008: According to Wikipedia the first GAFCON gathering in Jerusalem in 2008 had 1148 delegates, including 291 Anglican Bishops, from 29 countries and 19 provinces. GAFCON2 is 20% larger overall, with a 30% increase in countries and a 40% increase in number of Anglican Provinces represented. (GAFCON2 includes delegates from 70% of the Provinces, while at GAFCON 1 there were 50% of the Provinces represented).
The Global South Encounter Gatherings: the 4th Global South Encounter in Singapore in 2010 brought together 130 Anglicans from 20 countries. The 3rd Global South Encounter in Egypt in 2005 brought together 103 delegates from 20 Provinces. GAFCON2 is 10 times larger than any of the Global South encounters, and brings together participants from nearly twice as many countries.
Lambeth 1998: 749 bishops present. Lambeth 2008: “Over 650 bishops present.” [Per a recent article by George Conger at Get Religion, 214 bishops were absent at Lambeth 2008.] While all Provinces are represented at Lambeth, the representation is very unequal. In 2008, more than 20% of the attending bishops were from the United States, while the US Episcopal Church makes up less than 3% of the total Anglican Communion membership.
The Anglican Consultative Council Gatherings, while including laity, clergy and bishops from the entire Communion, are much smaller, with less than 100 participants. It is particularly important to note that, like Lambeth, this gathering is completely disproportional to the membership of the Communion. The Episcopal Church in the US with about 1.2 million members, sends the same number of delegates as the Province of Nigeria with 18 million members (3 delegates each).
By contrast, GAFCON 2013 seems to have taken extreme care to be VERY representative of the membership of the Anglican Communion. There are over 400 Nigerians attending GAFCON – approximately 34% of the attendees. With approx. 19 million members, Nigerians make up about 25% of the Anglican Communion. So, for once, there is a global Anglican gathering in which Nigeria and most of the large African provinces are represented fairly accurately according to their membership!
So, in terms of size and the make up of the participants alone, it’s clear that GAFCON 2013 matters! I believe it is the largest truly GLOBAL and REPRESENTATIVE Anglican gathering in modern history. GAFCON 2013 gives us a glimpse of what the Anglican Communion REALLY looks like.
An article by Andrew Symes at Anglican Mainstream last night highlighted Abp. Peter Jensen’s reading off the roll call of countries during yesterday’s GAFCON plenary session:
Recently retired Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen, the secretary for GAFCON 2, had to briefly fight back tears as was overwhelmed by the reality of the fulfillment of months of hard work and preparation. A list of countries represented was read out, which included Bermuda, Burundi, Fiji, Argentina, Gambia, India, Iran, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Singapore, South Sudan, Uganda, Germany, Sierra Leone and many others. Why are we here? Jensen asked, and said that the structures of the old communion could not contain the new wine of today’s confessing Anglicans.
So GAFCON is a step towards helping towards creating new wineskins for the shape of today’s Anglican Communion. One look at the picture above makes clear the “new wine” is a reality that demands a response!
In the same article, Abp. Wabukala of Kenya, the chariman of GAFCON 2013 is quoted as follows:
According to Archbishop Eliud, this is a movement of global Anglicans for worship, fellowship, growing together in Christ, and mission, with the intention of “modelling how the Anglican Communion should operate”
So in light of all of the above, my prayer request for GAFCON today flows from the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:
For through [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18-22, ESV)
May this week in Nairobi be a time of building friendships, love and trust, strengthening the bonds of unity in Christ. May each individual present, and the delegates corporately, re-center themselves on the foundation of Scriptural truth, and with that foundation strong and solid, may the Holy Spirit do a wonderful work of knitting together and rebuilding a temple for the praise of His glory.
We who only know the current brokenness and destruction of the Anglican Communion can hardly imagine what new wineskins might look like…, what wholeness and health is. May GAFCON 2013 be an occasion for God to impart His vision for the future. May God help us glimpse the promise of new wine and new fruitfulness that’s ahead if we allow Him to reshape us.
UPDATE: I just came across a lovely blog entry by a GAFCON delegate from Sydney Austrailia. GAFCON Day 1 in Living Colour. It echoes a lot of what I’ve just written in terms of GAFCON being a visible symbol of the true vibrancy and life of the Anglican Communion in Africa.