Well, who saw that coming?!
This blog having lauded the conciliar nature of the fourth Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon IV) on Monday (link), the Conference Statement Drafting Group only then went and sprung a series of surprises.
In three stages, taking all Tuesday afternoon, the laity and clergy of the Conference were asked to advise as to what they’d like to see in the final Conference statement.
First, ten or so people from across the Communion - a complete mix of laity, clergy, bishops, men and women formed a panel to each share something of the “Communion Challenges” faced in their own context and then to offer some reflections on what the others had said. For the best of reasons, the Conference prohibits sharing the content of much of that session but suffice it to say that there was a remarkable mutual concern for the different heartfelt needs expressed. The last word on these Communion Challenges was, “There is no Christianity where you have not faced a cost”.
Second, ad hoc groups were formed throughout the auditorium just wherever people were sitting. There was no attempt to manage the composition- there could be a group of four or eight in a group, it could be any mix of sexes, ages, clergy, laity and countries of origin. The groups were left to run themselves as they wished.
There were just two “rules” - in no more than three sentences the group had to answer the question, “Our hope for the Anglican Communion is…” and the groups only had 30 minutes to agree their three sentences.
Then, for as long as time allowed, one member of each group was able to read their response aloud to the whole auditorium. With roughly a 1,000 people present, not all could share, but at a guess about a third of 150 or so groups were heard, and that was enough to gain a fair impression of the ideas that appeared repeatedly, as well as one or two unique ideas that really stood out.
At the outset a categorial assurance had been given that, along with a couple of other important matters, the drafting group would consider every one of the responses and to that end, they were all collected from every group. It was a real shame that twelve baskets weren’t provided for the gathering-up of these potentially blessed fragments.
Nothing is perfect, and it might be argued that some advance notice of the question would have produced more considered responses, but on the other hand, there was a marked freshness, simplicity and vitality to the process. Certainly, if the volume in the huge hall was anything to go by the groups brought a great deal of enthusiasm to the task. The feedback suggested that there is indeed some wisdom in crowds, even or perhaps, when, somewhat spur of the moment.
There had been a small hint as to what was then to come - the delegates had been asked, if possible, to bring a mobile phone, tablet etc to the session but that was all.
The leader of the drafting group explained that, together with the Primates, they had reached the stage of having produce in outline a possible framework for the statement for the conference to consider.
Then something entirely new to most - a QR code linking everyone to a very lengthy online survey of opinions appeared on the auditorium screens. For the next half hour or so the delegates individually, and this time, very quietly, worked through a series of potential ideas for inclusion in the statement. Each proposition could be affirmed or not affirmed. The number of potential permutations given the number of participants, questions and languages engaged must be truly vast, but they will have been instantly electronically collated and whatever the precise pattern or patterns that emerge equally quickly discerned for consideration by the (re)drafters.
The final component was another exercise in brevity - the chance for each respondent to put into no more than 50 words whatever they wanted to add into the exercise.
That was the clergy and laity. Simultaneously, the bishops and archbishops had met to complete the survey themselves. Everyone be they archbishop or layperson got one chance to reply, and not least because the responses were anonymous, each and every, response carried equal, electronic, weight.
But then another remarkable occurrence- the Primates of both the Gafcon and from the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GFSA) meet together to consider what they collectively thought the content of the Conference statement should be.
Although, there are differences between the two groups, in Tuesday’s press conference Archbishop Glenn Davies reduced them to the GFSA being “more an ecclesial body, Gafcon is more a movement”. It was said that “They may merge in time, they may not but, they certainly have a common goal”, see more in a great post from Anglican Futures’ big brother, the American Anglican Council.
Primates from Gafcon and the GFSA working together on the statement would appear to be something of an indication of how that is being worked out even at the moment. It remains to be seen whether it will be a statement fully endorsed by both groups.
On Wednesday afternoon the redrafted statement will be considered by the different Provincial/regional delegations in their own private sessions.
It is hard not to feel sorry for the drafting group - it will have been a long night with another long night to follow.
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