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Going to Church on a Sunday

It being a Sunday many of the delegates to this week’s Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon IV) went to church here in Kigali, Rwanda.

And basically, there is nothing to report as to what it was like. Particularly, as it was the regular English-language service, it was just like 'going to church'.

But that lack of difference is one of the essential points at the heart of the Gafcon gathering.

Thousands and thousands of miles from home, visitors from at least four continents worshipped and shared in the eucharist with a natural ease and familiarity.

This is the beauty of Anglicanism, which adheres to Cranmer's Scripture-soaked work, uses the lectionary, preaches the text in accordance with the traditional Anglican understanding of Christian doctrine and reflects all that in what they sing together.

The preacher's description of his own experience was a good summary of the service. He spoke of being part of a 'Dead Prophets Society' at seminary who, in the face of higher criticism and other empty theological novelties, “clung on to the Nicene creed like a rope” to sustain their Biblical faith. The clear affirmation of the doctrines of grace in word and sacrament at this service were testament to their endurance.

An absence of hermeneutical innovation or 'progressive' ideology does not create a lifeless, exclusive Anglicanism, it does the very opposite - it unites this generation with Christendom throughout history and across cultures. The contrast with the liturgical muddle at the last significant gathering of global Anglicans, the Lambeth Conference, was marked.

For sure there were some unusual features but nothing that did other than reinforce the shared fundamentals.

The cathedral was modern and simple, although airily elegant: but the pews were reassuringly firm. Special prayer was offered for Sudan and Africa: but presumably many churches across the world did that today. There were a few different minor variations in the liturgy: but only enough to keep everyone on their toes and the cadence was unchanged. The singing was perhaps louder and more melodious than in many congregations: but the words were mainly familiar. The four clergy leading, preaching and presiding seemed impossibly young: but that was a reminder that it is only in the heterodox parts of Western Anglicanism that it is predominantly the faith of the elderly. With a handful of exceptions few knelt: but that may have been a shared understanding that the marbleised floor was even harder than the pews.

It would also be fair to say that most of the worshippers, even those who regularly attend cathedral services don't usually worship with a dozen Primates and bishops. But their presence, once again, only underlined the essential egalitarianism of the whole service. The Primate of Rwanda, the Most Reverend Laurent Mbanda in greeting said that “I want to give you all a big Rwandan hug”. The Primate of All Nigeria and a former Primate of that Province, the giant of the Anglican Communion, who is the Most Reverend Peter Akinola both simply smiled and waved at the congregation. They obviously didn’t feel in need of being platformed or given the place of honour.

Instead, this was a church just doing its usual, “going to church” quietly, faithfully, in an all but timeless Anglican way. As the delegates departed, they were just starting to do it again, with more delegates visiting, this time in Kinyarwandan.


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