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Servants of all?

Next week, Anglicans from around the world will be gathering for the fourth Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon).

After Jerusalem in 2008, Nairobi in 2013, Jerusalem again in 2018, this time Kigali, Rwanda is the venue.

When he was last in the UK the Primate of Rwanda, The Most Reverend Laurent Mbanda, described his nation as, “a small country of tall people”. Archbishop Mbanda, host of Gafcon 2023 is himself a towering example of his peoples’ physical stature. But not only that, Rwanda, a place that has experienced great trauma and then a process of reconciliation and rebuilding is also a towering spiritual example: by membership, the fourth largest Province in the Anglican Communion.

From its inception Gafcon has been to an extent “political”. It was born out of the boycott by many bishops of the 2008 Lambeth Conference and that first meeting produced the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement. The former sets out what are the widest possible bounds of legitimate diversity within Anglican orthodoxy, and the latter helps that to land in practice. They may well prove some of the most important documents ever written in Anglicanism.

During each subsequent conference some type of statement to the global Anglican church has been produced - Gafcon is many things, perhaps most of all a fellowship of the faithful, including those struggling in revisionist contexts, but there is always, quite rightly, that political edge.

A delegation, or just perhaps more accurately, two fused delegations will be attending from Great Britain and Europe. One will be members of the Anglican Network in Europe - the jurisdiction created by the Gafcon Primates’ Council in the face of the heterodoxy of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Church in Wales and Church of England and the other comprised of those who remain in what are sometimes collectively called, “the Canterbury-aligned structures”.

Arguably, two fused delegations because despite, doubtless a porous boundary, they are so different - one is currently walking with the Canterbury aligned structures, even, if as was said after the 2016 Primates’ Meeting, it is now, “at a distance” and possibly, one day, “visibly differentiated”; the other has walked apart, much more like its counterparts in North America, Brazil, New Zealand and elsewhere.

Difference there may be, but it is to be hoped that politically there will only be a single agenda - to serve and not be served.

As has been recently restated, for too long the Communion has been expected to serve white, western, post-imperial interests.

And, to be frank, the main inclination of previous Gafcon delegations from this continent has been to see what the now thriving parts of the Communion in the Global Majority World could do for the ever more beleaguered Western churches. In particular, how their numerical and growing political influence could be deployed politically, “at home”.

The time for such attitudes is clearly past. The question now is what the beleaguered, but still in many ways, privileged western churches, can do to serve the wider Gafcon community and especially in how best to honour and support the costly stands taken by many Primates and Provinces, together with the decisions they have already made.

Those stances were made not for the good just of Europeans, even if some of the decisions that flowed from them, graciously were, but of the whole Communion. That means Europeans must do their utmost to ensure that those uncompromising stands are of the greatest possible benefit to the whole Communion.

The issue of how to serve the Communion best is most pertinent of all for those who live in the home-country of the mother-Church against whom, and whose prestige and powers, those sacrificial stances are now being taken.

The key political issue for the English at Gafcon 2023 can only be how they in particular, with all their privileges of money, heritage and influence, can best honour, support and serve those members of the Communion who have so proved their gospel-courage.

For the foreseeable future the Anglican future is going to be led by the bishops, clergy and laity of the Global Majority World, so, how the English are to best use the few precious minas still entrusted to them to serve the global majority must be decided for way beyond even Gafcon 2028.

Properly meeting that challenge will by no means come naturally to the English. It remains to be seen if failing to evangelise the nation, endless scandals, not least in the constituency most represented by English Gafcon delegates, and the abject failings of their Church of England will finally humble English Anglicans to accept their proper place.

To lay aside English exceptionalism, with its backchannels and secret deals, to concede that the rest of the world largely does a better job of running their Provinces and to surrender an assumed right to lead, by dint of birth, will be very hard.

But happen it all must, not least because English Anglicans need the Communion like never before - not to dragoon it onto their side in domestic ecclesiastical squabbles - but for the very survival of a Christianity that is characteristically Anglican in the nation.

Such survival will require great generosity from the Gafcon community, many of whom, in many ways, have the least. And generous they are - not least out of gratitude to God for the missionaries who first brought them the Scriptures - but the sooner English Anglicans realise, they have no right to such aid, much less an entitlement to expect favour, the better for all concerned.

There is much talk of “Global Anglican Re-alignment”, the challenge for the English Anglicans going to the Global Anglican Futures Conference is to have hearts realigned to be the servants of all and master of none.

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