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The GSFA - a potted history

Updated: 3 days ago

This is the first of three blogs giving some background to the 1st Assembly of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA), which takes place at the Coptic Orthodox monastery of St Mark, Khatatba , Egypt next week.


By most accounts the roots of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) are found at an Anglican Missionary Agencies conference, organised by the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), in Brisbane in 1986.  It was there that Bishop Luke Chhoa, of Sabah, questioned why the ‘southern’ provinces of the Anglican Communion always had to meet on agendas determined by others. 

Rather than allow the ‘southern’ provinces to shape the global agenda, the ACC, facilitated a series of South-to-South Encounters – to allow the Provinces of the ‘South’, where the majority of Anglicans lived and worked, to speak to one another with little interference from the ‘North’.

The first of these Encounters took place in Kenya in 1994, the second in Kuala Lumpa in 1997.

These meetings appear to have strengthened their voice, as Rt Revd Maurice Sinclair, Bishop of Northern Argentina wrote in 1997, "The part of the Communion which is growing numerically is bringing a shared vision into focus, communicating it with others, and seeking to make its full contribution throughout the world." [1]

This confidence manifested itself, first in one section of the 'Second Trumpet', or communique, which became known as the Kuala Lumpa Statement, and then at the Lambeth Conference in 1998.

As part of their consideration of the "Place of Scripture in the life and Mission of the Church in the 21st Century" the 1997 South to South Encounter set out the orthodox position on human sexuality and expressed their concern about the lack of "mutual accountability and interdependence within the wider Anglican Communion." This then became a rallying point at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, which led to the bishops there passing the orthodox Resolution known as Lambeth I.10.

Between 1998 and 2005 The Episcopal Church, USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada consistently ignored the pleas of the wider Anglican Communion, to honour Lambeth I.10 and desist from ordaining or consecrating those in same-sex relationships or blessing same-sex unions. This eventually led to the crisis which would 'tear the fabric' of the Anglican Communion - the consecration of Gene Robinson as a TEC bishop.

During that time, some of the Provinces of the South played an increasingly important role in the wider Anglican Communion:

In 2001, before the crisis, the Primates of the Province of the West Indies and the Province of the Southern Cone edited jointly, "To Mend the Net". This set out a proposal which would allow for the suspension of 'communion' with provinces, which after the exercise of "patient and pastoral" authority continued to refuse, "moral influence or godly admonition." It was virtually ignored.

During the early 2000s some bishops of 'southern' provinces (Singapore, Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria and the Southern Cone) offered episcopal oversight to congregations and dioceses in North America, who had been forced to step out from under the authority of ungodly bishops.

In 2005, after the Robinson crisis, the Third South to South Encounter took place in Egypt. The Third Trumpet did not pull any punches in its criticism of TEC and the ACoC, but also challenged those in charge of the "Windsor Process" which was meant to discipline the erring provinces - "The slow and inadequate response of the Panel of Reference has trivialized the solemn charge from the Primates and has allowed disorder to multiply unnecessarily."

The slow and inadequate response had not yet come to its conclusion, when two years later, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, invited all the bishops who had consecrated Gene Robinson (and therefore caused the crisis) to the 2008 Lambeth Conference. This effectively brought to an end the Windsor Process without any consequences for TEC or the ACoC.

With the hope of discipline dashed, the question was raised amongst orthodox bishops, as to whether their attendance at the Lambeth Conference would be helpful. Many in both the northern and southern provinces feared it would give the impression that it was business as usual. In response to these concerns the first Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon) was hurriedly organised. Orthodox bishops from both southern and northern provinces were invited, along with clergy and lay people. The aim was simple; to meet together, to pray and to consider what should be done.

Archbishop Mouneer Anis, the Archbishop of Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, who had hosted the Third South to South Encounter, wrote an open letter to fellow bishops. He was unable to attend Gafcon for personal reasons, but he wished to share his concern that Gafcon, which was a collaboration of the orthodox from both southern and northern provinces, should not undermine the, "common vision, unity and trust within the Global South". Concerned that once again the needs of Northern provinces would dominate at Gafcon, he suggested "parallel processes for building unity among those loyal to the biblical historic faith and ethics in both the South and the North," would be preferable.

He also urged bishops to attend the Lambeth Conference, saying:

"Please remember that there will be bishops who are not fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. They need to be alerted. Your presence would be a help, as indeed it was in 1998."

The Gafcon meeting in Jerusalem went ahead, with 1148 people gathering, conferring and eventually producing the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration and the setting up of a Primates Council to expand the "fellowship of confessing Anglicans" and "to authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations and to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith." The Anglican Church in North America, was the first recognised jurisdiction, bringing together many of the orthodox Anglicans who had previously sheltered in the southern provinces.

Many bishops who had attended Gafcon then boycotted the Lambeth Conference. Whether their absence had any effect is hard to say as it was set up in such away as to avoid any votes or resolutions, Instead it was just an opportunity for 'indaba' or as the final "Reflections Document described it, "an open space for Bishops to express their views".

In 2008, it was relatively simple to explain the difference between Gafcon and those involved in the South to South encounters - who were becoming known as the 'Global South'.

The Global South was a 'body' which was recognised, and to some extent supported, by the Anglican Communion Office. Their membership was based on geographical location and because the majority of the provinces involved were orthodox they sought to use their influence to reform the central 'Instruments of Communion'.

Gafcon was not recognised, or supported, by the Anglican Communion Office as anything more than a 'ginger group'. Membership of Gafcon was theological; based on a willingness to subscribe to the Jersualam Declaration. As a movement, Gafcon tended towards challenging the authority of the Instruments of Communion rather than merely reforming them.

Over time, however, those distinctions have become less clear.

In 2010, the fourth 'Global South to South Encounter', as it described itself, recognised the newly founded Gafcon province - the Anglican Church in North America - as a "faithful expression of Anglicanism" and invited them to partner with the Global South, alongside the orthodox Communion Partners, who had remained within TEC.

By 2016, Archbishop Mouneer Anis, was less convinced that the Instruments of Communion were reformable - he refused to attend the Anglican Consultative Council in 2016 because of intention not to uphold the decisions of the 2016 Primates Gathering to discipline TEC for their lack of orthodoxy. His open letter, explaining his decision, ended with the words:

"I will be praying for the members of the ACC-16 so that they may affirm and respect the decisions of the Primates’ Meeting. If this happens, it will bring hope back and we will be able to think of the future together."

They didn't.

This, and the failure of the Anglican Covenant, which had been voted down across the world by liberals for being too strict and by conservatives for having no teeth, meant the Global South sought to reform itself, rather than the wider Instruments. In 2019, at the Seventh Encounter of the 'Global South Anglicans' the members agreed to reorganise their own governance - with full 'ordinary' membership only being available to provinces or dioceses willing to adopt the 'Cairo Covenant'. This commitment to work together in a theologically conservative context opened the newly named, 'Global South Fellowship of Anglicans' to provinces and dioceses in the 'north' but closed it to the more liberal provinces in the 'south' [see next blog for details].

Whilst the Gafcon Primates encouraged their bishops not to attend the 2022 Lambeth Conference, the GSFA believed once again that it was an important opportunity to speak truth to power. By this time, Rt Revd Justin Badi, the Primate of Sudan had taken on the leadership of GSFA. He was very clear from the beginning that he and other orthodox bishops could not 'walk together' with bishops who would not repent from their, "absence and respect for biblical authority.” The GSFA bishops lobbied hard to give the gathered bishops the opportunity to vote to affirm Lambeth I.10 but it was a vote that Justin Welby could not risk passing. Instead the Archbishop of Canterbury told the bishops that the issue of human sexuality was a matter which they need to agree to disagree about and moved on.

In February 2023, the GSFA tried again. This time, it was Archbishop Samy Shehata, from the Province of Alexandria, who accepted the invitation to address the Church of England's General Synod, as they discussed the Bishops' proposal to bless couples in same-sex relationships. He spoke quietly, but with extraordinary power, and pleaded with the Synod not to vote in favour of the prayers.

He was ignored.

The GSFA responded to the vote of the General Synod in the Ash Wednesday Statement, which set out their rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury as, "the ‘leader’ of the Communion and no longer the Chair of the Primates’ Meeting by virtue of his position," and their, "resolve to work together [with other orthodox groups] to re-set the Communion."

In April 2023, those leaders of GSFA who were not themselves part of Gafcon nonetheless attended Gafcon IV in Kigali and in a reciprocal act the GSFA convened a meeting of 'Anglican Orthodox Leaders' in Egypt in October, to which Gafcon Primates, and others were invited. The host of this meeting, Archbishop Samy Shehata is reported to have said,

“GSFA is not just about new Communion structures. The motto verse of our Assembly is Isaiah 49:6 ‘I will make you a light to the nations’. We are determined to free our beloved Communion to take the gospel to the nations, to build one another up in our faith and to foster true unity.”

In our next blog we will explore how they might go about achieving that goal.


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7 days ago

Thank you. Really helpful explanation

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