What now for orthodox Anglicans?

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

The GAFCON conference in Kigali, Rwanda, takes place amidst some division among the forces of biblical orthodoxy in the global Anglican Communion. 

That reality was already evident at the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops worldwide last summer. Leaders of the orthodox Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) from 25 provinces (autonomous national or multi-national jurisdictions) attended Lambeth seeking to be a "faithful remnant" while the GAFCON archbishops and bishops stayed away.

But on Sunday April 16, as the 1,300 GAFCON delegates were arriving in Kigali, the US website Anglican Ink published a highly revealing statement by the GSFA's ex-press officer.

The Rev Paul Eddy, a Church of England vicar with a background in public relations, acted as the GSFA's press contact at Lambeth.

Eddy revealed that he "resigned as PR consultant to the GSFA" because its leading archbishops (primates in Anglican parlance) insisted on putting out their own statement denouncing the Church of England General Synod's vote for same-sex blessings in February, rather than a joint statement with GAFCON.

He wrote, "My professional advice was for two reasons: that there be no division or difference in approach between the GSFA and GAFCON which the liberals could expose and, a joint statement, once you create the precedent, would ensure a collegiate and united response...Sadly the GSFA put out their own Statement and not a joint one."

Eddy summed up the difference "in a nutshell" between orthodox Anglican Communion remainers in GSFA countries like Sudan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Egypt, and the GAFCON leavers (in practice if not officially) in Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda:

"I have to say that the choices facing the large, global orthodox primates/provinces mirror those facing the leaders of the large orthodox parishes here in the CofE. They, in many ways, don't need the old structures of the Anglican Communion/CofE. And in many ways, have ministered separately for years, if not decades.

"But for smaller Evangelical parishes, like smaller, more vulnerable provinces, open to attack by civil political forces, or Islam, being part of the Communion has created a level of safety and security."

Eddy believes GAFCON should defer putting out a major statement from its conference "until after the primates unable to attend Kigali have been consulted and the upcoming GSFA/GAFCON primates meeting can consider whatever statement finally comes out of Kigali – and a joint statement made".

He expressed the hope that an interim statement would come out of GAFCON "with the promise of a final, joint GSFA/GAFCON Communique, once full global consultation has taken place".

"We are at a watershed moment, and this is too important a decision to make just to fit in with a previously timetabled conference," Eddy argued.

It remains to be seen whether GAFCON will heed Eddy's advice. But his point about the differences in status and privilege between the GSFA and GAFCON mirroring those among orthodox Anglicans in the CofE deserves examination.

It is certainly true that well-resourced evangelical churches in the CofE have privileges not available to smaller churches. A church that is able to cover the cost of its clergy and pay over and above that is clearly in a stronger position that a struggling church that is financially dependent on the local diocese.

But even big churches cannot escape the reality of episcopal power in the CofE. Once the vicar leaves, the diocesan bishop has the power of veto over his successor, even if the church has come under the delegated episcopal oversight of the conservative evangelical Bishop of Ebbsfleet. 

Furthermore, the diocesan bishop has the power to refuse to license assistant clergy (curates) in large churches if he or she so decides. When in March a group of evangelical clergy in the City of London announced that they had formed their own deanery chapter because of the CofE bishops' backing for same-sex blessings, the response from the Diocese of London was quite robust:

"The Diocese was first informed a few hours ago that a group of clergy in the City of London is seeking to set up its own parallel, unregulated structures, outside of those of the Diocese of London and the Church of England. This unilateral move would have no legal substance."

The tone of this response from a major CofE diocese is possibly a sign that bishops might be minded to flex their muscles against conservative evangelical clergy who remain in the CofE but seek to make unilateral declarations of independence against their "chief Ministers, unto whom is committed the charge and government over you", to quote from the Book of Common Prayer's ordination service for priests.

Churches and ministers in uniformly orthodox provinces elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, even in vulnerable ones such as Paul Eddy described, are arguably in a better spiritual position than orthodox ministers in liberal provinces like the CofE.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Lancashire.