Update: Read here the letter to the churches from GAFCON 2018.
By Esau McCaulley
For most Christians in the United States, today will be another Friday. Even for many Episcopalians and Anglicans, the day will pass without note. But for those of us who love the Anglican way and the Anglican Communion, Friday will matter because GAFCON will issue a communiqué that will address many issues facing the Communion.
Those who have followed Anglican happenings in the last decade or so will know that no one letter or encyclical will determine the future of the church. Statements prompt other statements and actions will provoke reactions and the wheels will go round and round. But some statements are more important than others. The statement coming out of the emergency Primates’ Meeting in 2003 is known for its warning that the impending consecration of Gene Robinson would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level.”
The primates’ communiqué from Dar es Salaam in 2007 is significant both for what it said and for the unwillingness of the Communion to follow through on its prescription for healing our fractured body. What GAFCON says on Friday may prove lasting or it may not. Only history can tell us that. But given the stakes that may be in play, it is instructive to reflect on how GAFCON produces a communiqué that can influence the future of the Communion.
Historically GAFCON has been led by its council consisting of primates who commit themselves to The Jerusalem Declaration. This year it has expanded its network of influence to include a council of advisers. This council consists of three members from each branch and province of GAFCON (bishops, clergy, and laity). This council was created at the behest of the primatial council, which saw the need for more involvement by provinces’ branches, and to allow for more continuity when primates retire. This council of advice, with the primatial council, will form a synodical council that will guide GAFCON. The chairman of this synod will be the chairman of the primates’ council. It was left to each province to choose the membership of the council of advice.
Before GAFCON 2018 began, the primatial council approved a communiqué-drafting committee that would meet during the conference. Nothing was written in advance. The stated purpose of this delay was to listen to the Holy Spirit as the people of God gathered in prayer and Bible study to discern the course the movement should take.
This committee consists of representatives from different regions of GAFCON. They have listened to the plenary talks, participated in the Bible studies and prayer groups, and attended the breakout sessions and network meetings. Thus, they have used the conference to form the communiqué. The first draft was approved by the primates and then read to the gathered assembly.
Then each region met to discuss and respond to the draft. These responses will be taken back to the drafting committee, which will produce a final draft on Friday morning. The primates will then review and approve it or offer further revisions. It will then be presented to the gathering for approval. There is no formal process of voting, only discussion and recommendation.
It seems very communal, so far. Although the size of the delegations and the relative number of Anglicans in each province varies, no one delegation has more say than the others. Responses from Nigeria or Uganda will not have more inherent weight than that of South America or the United Kingdom.
The Archbishop of Canterbury (coincidentally or providentially) asked for Anglicans to pray for GAFCON shortly after the draft was read to the assembly. This is good and right. Those who love the Communion should pray for the discernment of all who lead a significant portion of the Anglican family.