GAFCON Is Future of Anglican Communion

SEWAAC: GAFCON Is Future of Anglican Communion – Bishop Wantland “We are Living in a time of Chaos and Confusion…

The following address was given by Bishop William Wantland retired Bishop of Eau Claire and Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Ft. Worth to SEWAAC at Nashotah House, Wisconsin.

August 15, 2008

I don’t promise to know the answers to all questions, but if you ask a question and I don’t know the answer to it, Brother Kirt does. I’ve been asked to speak about two major events this year in the life of the Anglican Communion; the first being the GAFCON Meeting in the Middle East and the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. Let’s begin first with the GAFCON Meeting. What is GAFCON? That’s an acronym for the Global Anglican Fellowship Conference. It was a conference of representatives of Anglican provinces that are deeply concerned with the trends and developments within the Anglican Communion that appear to divide and separate Anglicans from 2,000 years of Christian tradition and history.

The GAFCON Meeting was by invitation only and there were something over 1,000 people who were invited to take part in that meeting. The first part of the meeting was in Amman Jordan and that was to be the first half of the meeting and then the meeting was to end up in Jerusalem, but because of some problems on visas and so forth, actually most of the meeting was in Jerusalem.

The representation from the various provinces that were present was based to some extent, on the size of the province. So out of the roughly 1,000 delegates, bishops and clergy and laity to this meeting, the United States, the Episcopal Church was allocated only 71 members. And the reason for that is because in the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church represents slightly less than three percent of all the Anglicans in the world and yet at Lambeth Conference, the Episcopal Church had 25% of all the bishops present. So this was an attempt to balance that to say that the largest churches should be the ones to have the major voice. So the Episcopal Church had 71 representatives at GAFCON.

The GAFCON Meeting did a number of things and it dealt with a number of issues, but there are two major primary actions taken by GAFCON that have some real importance for the life of the Anglican Communion.

The first of these was a declaration to determine a structure to represent those Anglican partners present at GAFCON and those not present that would be supportive of what GAFCON was attempting to accomplish. And therefore, a Council of Primates was established, made up initially of the nine primates present at the meeting in Jerusalem. Other primates undoubtedly will come on board as they ratify the actions of GAFCON. So GAFCON, this Global Anglican Fellowship is seen as a way of bringing together a majority of all the Anglicans in the world. Depending on how you count, there are somewhere between 60 and 75 million Anglicans in the world. About 60% of those Anglicans were represented at GAFCON.

The second thing that GAFCON did after establishing a Council of Primates and a means by which this organization could continue within the Anglican Communion, they adopted a declaration of 14 points and that declaration spells out what historically Anglicans have believed and what things we can refer to as of authority to determine Anglican theology and understanding of the Christian faith. I won’t enumerate all 14 of those, but I will tell you that obviously, the three creeds; the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed are held up in that document as binding on Anglicans. The articles of religion are held up as binding on Anglicans.

The theological determinations of the first four Ecumenical Councils of the church are held to be binding and the Theology of the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer is determined to be the normative of theology as expressed in liturgy. In many ways, what this GAFCON document says is what historically the canons in the church have declared to be the basic doctrines and documents of the church. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said, although he wasn’t thrilled with the GAFCON meeting of course, he nonetheless said that the document of faith, the doctrines that are to be believed and spelled out in these various documents are things that are constant with virtually all Anglicans; that this is something that every Anglican should be able to affirm without question.

I’m afraid that Dr. Williams is mistaken. I think that there’s a large number of Anglicans that would not be able to affirm those things because you do have the understanding that Holy Scriptures are as Father McGlynn, in quoting from my sermon at St. Mary’s, that in the oath of conformity that every ordained member of this church takes there is that declaration, which is also found in the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral and in the Book of Common Prayer and that is the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain all things necessary to salvation and are the ultimate rule and standard of faith. That’s what we believe as Anglicans and that is what GAFCON was dealing with.

Now one of the things that will have an impact and I want to talk about this later is that at GAFCON, it was determined that the situation in the United States and Canada is absolutely critical and that there is a need for change in structure in North America and GAFCON called for the formation of a new Anglican Province in North America. And that is very, very important because if a province is brought into being, it would be through this structure and the application for the province will go to the Council of Primates and if approval was made and presumably the structure of that new province would be directed, to some extent, by the Council of Primates.

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