The Global Anglican Futures Conference – GAFCON – is to appoint a 'missionary bishop' for conservative Christians in Europe, bypassing Anglican Churches in England and Scotland.
The move was announced in a communiqué yesterday from GAFCON'S meeting of conservative primates in Lagos, Nigeria. Made up of nine Anglican provinces and five 'branches', the organisation claims to represent the majority of the world's Anglicans. It was set up in alarm at what founders saw as the increasing acceptance of homosexuality among Western, more liberal Churches, and is adamantly opposed to any compromise on the issue.
Its statement said: 'During our meeting, we considered how best to respond to the voice of faithful Anglicans in some parts of the Global North who are in need of biblically faithful episcopal leadership.
'Of immediate concern is the reality that on 8th June 2017 the Scottish Episcopal Church is likely to formalize their rejection of Jesus' teaching on marriage. If this were to happen, faithful Anglicans in Scotland will need appropriate pastoral care.
It referred to churches in England planted outside the CofE by the conservative Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), saying: 'These churches are growing, and are in need of episcopal leadership. Therefore, we have decided to consecrate a missionary bishop who will be tasked with providing episcopal leadership for those who are outside the structures of any Anglican province, especially in Europe.'
AMiE said in a statement it was 'delighted' by the move: 'We thank God that the number of AMiE churches is growing and that an increasing number of individuals are exploring ordination with us. As a result, we have an urgent need for more episcopal leadership.' It said the consecration of a missionary bishop will help it 'achieve our gospel ambition of planting 25 healthy Anglican churches by 2025 and 250 by 2050'.
In an apparent attempt to reassure conservative members of the Church of England, the GAFCON statement said: 'We are aware that some Christians within these provinces who are contending for the faith may at first perceive the news of a missionary bishop as a threat to their hopes for reform from within.
'We believe that the complexity of the current situation in Europe does not admit of a single solution. Faithful Christians may be called to different courses of action. We bless those whose context and conscience have led them to remain and contend for the faith within the current structures. If you are successful, you will not need a missionary bishop; if you are not successful, an alternative is at hand. The only true failure would be to waste time through inaction.'
The Church of England's General Synod saw a bitter row in February over a House of Bishops report on gay marriage recommending that the Church did not change its traditionalist position. A highly effective lobbying campaign saw the report rejected in a blow to the bishops' authority. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York subsequently called for a 'radical new Christian inclusion' in what was seen as an indication that the Church's position might be liberalised.
The GAFCON statement appears to warn that if the CofE does accept gay marriage it will have a parallel Church waiting for disaffected members to join.
The move is a direct challenge to the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop David Chillingworth, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It underlines the extreme difficulty of maintaining the Anglican Communion as a cohesive body in the face of extreme theological tensions.
It is not known who the 'missionary bishop' might be or how many Anglican congregations might secede from their Churches and come under his authority.