Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
There's lots that could be said about the conference, but what's relevant for this blog is that the delegates have issued a Commitment in which we heartily endorse the Jerusalem Declaration and invite others to join us.
You can signal your support of the Jerusalem Declaration here:
Again, please see the blog below for details of a public session on GAFCON this Sunday in Melbourne where Jenny George and I will speak and take questions.
Grace and peace in Christ,
Monday, July 7, 2008
(Written for the North West Region of the Diocese)
I was one of the seven Melbourne Anglicans present at GAFCON in Jerusalem last month. I have to say it was one of the most profound, challenging, and moving conferences I have ever been a part of. And I am sad that the message that has been told to Melbourne Anglicans has come through the secular press and not from those who were there. I met with Bishop Philip yesterday and he asked me to write my reflections for the North West.
GAFCON was a deeply spiritual experience. The majority of the conference time was spent in worship, prayer and pilgrimage to the places which have been the historic foundations of our faith.
On the first morning all 1200 delegates met on the slopes of the Mt of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. We were led in singing by an African Youth Choir, and then into a liturgy recalling Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem. As we read from Matt 23, we were asked to call out the names of the cities from which we had come, over which Jesus still weeps. Then recalling Jesus’ prayer from Unity from John 17, we were asked to name the Provinces, Dioceses and Parishes from which we came, over which Jesus still weeps. Then after reading the Luke 4 “Nazareth Manifesto”, we were asked to name the individuals we knew who did not know Christ, over whom Jesus wept. All of this with the backdrop of the city of Jerusalem, where the dome of the Rock, and the Al Aqsa Mosque sit where the temple once stood, where the Jews continue to pray at the Western wall, and where Christians have been dwindling in numbers for centuries. We then made our way to Gethsemane.
On the Wednesday we gathered for worship on the southern steps of the temple, where our Lord would have trod on many occasions, and where Peter preached his Pentecost sermon. Although we were not 3000, we were from 35 nations of the world. The sign of God’s blessing, reflected in the accents and colourful national dress of the delegates was a sign of God’s faithfulness to his promise.
Gathering each day for worship, and then in small groups for prayer was a delight. A joy to sing (and some to dance!) with the Nigerian Mothers’ Union Choir, to sing in Spanish with the Latin American Bishops, to pray with brothers and sisters in my small group from Malaysia, Nigeria, Ghana, and the US, to hear a sermon from John 5 when the day before my wife and I had stood at the excavated pools of Bethesda.
Bishop Philip reminded us the other day of the Church stories he would be taking to Lambeth. One of the things that struck me at GAFCON is how sheltered we are here in Australia, from the stories of ordinary believers in churches in North America.
Patience and Felix (born in Nigeria now living and working in Washington DC) spoke of their bewilderment in the leadership of the church in the US where Bishops tell the people that you can find your own way to God and that you don’t need to trust in Jesus.
Ryan who told us of one US Cathedral with a Muslim Imam on the staff, and another cathedral with a Bhuddist monk as part of the leadership team. He then went on to tell how the theological colleges in his region actively promoted sexual activity as a way to experience the divine.
The congregation leader who will be charged with trespass this Sunday if he enters the church building, simply because he clings to the doctrine of the BCP and 39 Articles, and has sought out oversight of a Bishop in another Diocese, because his own Bishop has long since abandoned these basic tenets of Anglican faith.
The Bishop who told me that the Episcopal Church (TEC) has spent $35 million prosecuting its own clergy and parishes who are seeking to be classical creedal Anglicans.
If you only had the secular media to listen to, you would be forgiven for thinking that GAFCON was about homosexuality. In fact this was not the case. Sure the trigger point for calling the conference was the intractable situation in the US where the TEC has consistently rejected the direction of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and thus one of the instruments of Unity in the Communion over this issue. But the conference was less about this, than about contending for classical Anglican doctrine and identity. The workshop I was in, spent a lot of time exploring the foundations of Anglican identity in the BCP, Homilies, Articles and Creeds. Sounds like fun? Absolutely vital if others are telling you that the Anglican church means something very different from what we have affirmed for 400 years.
The process whereby the GAFCON statement and Jerusalem declaration were formulated was nothing short of miraculous. Rather than being presented with a fait d’accompli from the leadership, this document was a grass roots statement by the 1200 delegates themselves. A statement working group was formed, and on day 1 they invited individuals to answer 4 questions to guide them in preparing the conference statement. Then our (cross national) small groups were invited to answer the same questions and submit them. We then met in Provincial groups to provide input. On Thursday, the statement group who had worked night and day, presented a draft which was then discussed in provincial groups. Many of the comments made by Melbourne delegates were reflected in the final outcome. The final product released last Sunday was met with great joy and a united affirmation from the delegates as expressing the mind of this group. Not a communiqué from Jensen and Akinola, but the statement from the delegates at the conference.
I don’t imagine these steps will make much difference for us here in Melbourne. I imagine that the vast majority of Melbourne Anglicans would like to be known as confessing Anglicans, confessing the 14 points of the Jerusalem Declaration. That is because we have not strayed so far from classical Anglican faith and teaching as some parts of the world. Where this document has real teeth is in providing rescue for those faithful Anglicans who cannot in good conscience follow the leadership of their Bishops who have given away Anglican faith for something quite alien. For them, this is hope for a future in the Anglican communion.
It might appear to the outsider that the GAFCON is triumphant and some have said bullying in its demands. I only wish you could have seen the humility and pain and sadness with which these steps were taken. The Anglican communion has been on a downhill slide since 1998 as Bp Philip has rightly noted. What transpired in Jerusalem last week was a pathway to stand alongside those who have clung to traditional Anglican faith in the midst of that slide. Sadly the instruments of Unity: Lambeth, the ABp of Canterbury, the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council, have done little to stem the decline and provide the support that is needed. GAFCON has simply tried to provide this.
My clergy sisters and brothers have taken an oath that we believe the marks of classical Anglican faith as expressed in the Anglican formularies now re-expressed in the Jerusalem declaration. Imagine the horror of being told by your Bishop that you are now in error for defending this faith – that is the situation GAFCON is trying to redeem.
I am sad that I went to GAFCON, in that it was called to address a tragedy that should never have occurred, and I pray will never touch the Australian Anglican Church. But I am so blessed to have been part of this remarkable meeting in Jerusalem. I am spiritually enriched, challenged by the church in Africa which is so vital, moved by the suffering pain of sisters and brothers around the world, stunned by the diversity of the Communion represented at the Conference, and overall thankful to God for this experience.
I would be happy to talk about GAFCON and its implications for Melbourne with anyone in the Region. Please let me know if you have concerns or questions, as I would be more than happy to discuss them with you. Bp Huggins has suggested that post-Lambeth, the Bishops meet with GAFCON delegates privately, and then together talk about the implications of both for our church. I welcome this opportunity.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Speakers for the day were Archbishops Henry Orombi of Uganda, Greg Venables of the Southern Cone and Peter Jensen of Sydney, and Dr J. I. Packer - formerly of New Westminster, now a priest of the Southern Cone and Argentina. Each spoke about Anglican Orthodoxy and various aspects of the GAFCON experience.
It was a power-packed day! I had not worshipped at All Souls' before, but it was quite an experience to be in close proximity with 800 believers, all singing with gusto 'In Christ Alone' and 'Lord of the Church'. I prayed at several times in the day with a Ugandan vicar in exile and an elderly ex-missionary to Africa and the Middle East lady who were sitting next to me. As the speakers presented their talks, each was greeted and then thanked with incredible wholehearted sustained applause. Jim Packer got an extended standing ovation.
What really struck me was the range of people there, how wide a representation there was in the group, and how thoughtful and concerned they were about what is unfolding in the Anglican Communion. Richard and I, debriefing later, considered that it was so different to the Melbourne scene where many orthodox believers are apathetic towards our corporate life.
The final talk, by Peter Jensen, was insightful, passionate and prophetic. It is perhaps the best I've heard from him as a leader of orthodox faith and practice. It was not without great emotion and crystal clear thinking.
The good news is that all the talks and sessions will be available on the GAFCON.org site in due course. It may also be put up on the AllSouls.org site so check there as well. Check them out!
There will be an opportunity to hear a report from Jenny George and I at St Alfred's Anglican Church, Blackburn North (worshipping in Old Orchard Primary School, Koonung Road) on 13 July at the 6pm service. Q&A and extended prayer to follow after the service and a short break. An EFAC briefing is also planned for a few weeks later. Please do come along to hear our first hand account, pray and think together about what this means for the Diocese of Melbourne and our ministries.
Grace and peace in Christ,
Monday, June 30, 2008
On Tuesday at All Souls' Langham Place, there will be a special briefing for the Church of England by various GAFCON delegates and leaders. These include Henry Orombi, Peter Jensen and J. I. Packer. It has been organised by a coalition of nearly 50 vicars and leaders who represent a wide spectrum of orthodox believers within the C of E. As of yesterday morning they had 750 registered attenders! Interest in GAFCON and what it means for the future shape of Anglicanism is, to put it mildly, intense.
Richard Trist and I will be attending the meeting here and would love to have your prayers for us, as we keep learning and thinking through what all this means for us back in Melbourne and Australia.
I also want to offer my reflections on GAFCON at this stage. I'm exhausted! It was an intense 8 days of meeting lots of sisters and brothers in Christ and hearing lots of stories - good and bad - of ministry and life as an orthodox believer in Jesus Christ.
Our corporate worship was a wonderful wonderful experience, a real foretaste of heaven. I have video of Richard Trist doing the Nigerian 'shaky shaky' song and dance: just him and his 1200 new best friends!!! We are first hand witnesses of South American worship led by Bishop Tito and the 3 Amigos (including Greg Venables) - Alabare!!! We even saw Peter Jensen break into song, African-style, mid-way through announcements!
Our discussions were serious, thoughtful, passionate, and tinged with a sadness that we have come to this point in Anglican history when heterodoxy must be called out for what it is, and no longer condoned. It is one thing to be Anglican and comprehensive, another to close our eyes when so-called Anglican leaders are actively persecuting faithful sisters and brothers in their own church as they clearly have and are in North America. Some of those stories of persecution are genuinely disgusting, distasteful and devillish. I had not appreciated the intensity of the situation there as clearly before. It was one thing to read about it on the web, another to hear them first-hand.
Many encouragements were shared: the way the Gospel is moving forward in parts of Nigeria and Uganda is amazing! There's great ministry happening in the UK, in the US, in South America, in Asia, in NZ, in Australia. Many challenges were identified: I have a notebook full of 'Big Important Ideas' for the future, for a global future in Gospel ministry! So beware, if you're going to catch up with me when I get back!
But for now, please do pray for us: that we would travel home safely; that we would not fall ill (post-conference let-down); that we would be protected from evil and sin; and that we would discharge our ministry faithfully and well, by the grace and power of God.
in Christ Jesus our Lord,
Sunday, June 29, 2008
By now, you will be able to read the Gafcon statement on the official Gafcon website. See the links on the side of this page.
I'm really happy with the Jerusalem Declaration. As a statement of orthodox Anglican belief I think it is great and should be helpful. The rest of the statement is good. I'm sure that it will be possible for people to disagree about some of the specifics set out in the "Road Ahead" - we probably all have a different ideas about how we would deal tactically with the current situation! However I'm pleased that it does not split the church. It's very good that the Australian church will not be asked to take sides. And yet it does make quite definite advances in bringing order to the relatively chaotic situation in North America. All the delegates I talked to from parishes in the USA and Canada were happy with the outcome. Actually they were mostly quite overcome.
I'll be checking the discussion forum every day or so, happy to talk about this more there with anyone who's interested.
Friday, June 27, 2008
However I thought it might still be interesting to talk about some other aspects of the conference, and being in Jerusalem, so far. Today Shabbat started at 4pm. The Sabbath is taken really seriously in Israel and it has challenged me about how well I implement this in my own life. Right now families are gathered on a large lawn outside the window, enjoying each other's company, picnicking and swimming. It's easy for us to pay lip service to the idea of a day of rest and yet let other things creep in and take away the time to worship and re-create.