Since GAFCON is to take place in June of next year, prior to the Lambeth Conference, the question most kicked about is whether GAFCON is “an alternate Lambeth Conference.”
Perhaps the best response to this is in an article posted on line by Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney in the Anglican Church of Australia. He is on the Planning Committee, and He addresses the question directly, and lists several reasons that in fact
The Anglican Future Conference is not designed to take the place of Lambeth. Some people may well choose to go to both. Its aim is to draw Biblical Anglican Christians together for urgent consultation. It is not a consultation which can take place at Lambeth, because Lambeth has a different agenda and far wider guest list. Unlike Lambeth, the Future Conference is not for Bishops alone – the invitations will go to clergy and lay people also. But it is a meeting which accepts the current reality of a Communion in disarray over fundamental issues of the gospel and biblical authority. It therefore seeks to plan for a future in which Anglican Christians world-wide will increasingly be pressured to depart from the biblical norms of behaviour and belief. It gives an opportunity for many to draw together to strengthen each other over the issue of biblical authority and interpretation and gospel mission.
So, GAFCON is more limited in interests and invitations than Lambeth. It incorporates lay and non-bishop clergy. Most important, its purpose is not simply consultation, but to develop a plan for the future.
I’m not surprised, really, that those involved in this wouldn’t have an alternate Lambeth. As this makes clear, they wouldn’t want one. They’re not interested in simply talking. They want to make decisions. They want to make plans. They have accepted that, 1998 notwithstanding, planning and decision-making have not been the purpose of past Lambeth Conferences, and will not be the agenda of the next one. So, while some participants may attend both GAFCON and Lambeth, that’s hardly the point of this.
So, what are they doing? They’re establishing an alternative Anglican Consultative Council. Consider their purposes in light of the description of the work of the ACC on the Anglican Communion website:
The role of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is to facilitate the co-operative work of the churches of the Anglican Communion, exchange information between the Provinces and churches, and help to co-ordinate common action. It advises on the organisation and structures of the Communion, and seeks to develop common policies with respect to the world mission of the Church, including ecumenical matters. The ACC membership includes from one to three persons from each province. Where there are three members, there is a bishop, a priest and a lay person. Where fewer members are appointed, preference is given to lay membership.
So, here are the important elements GAFCON replaces: facilitating cooperative work, coordinating common action, and developing common policies.
This is actually quite an interesting development. Recall that there are four institutions that have been designated “instruments of communion:” the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury; the Lambeth Conference; the ACC; and the Primates Meeting. Note, too, that the only “instrument of communion” with structures outside Lambeth Palace is the ACC. Both Lambeth Conferences and Primates Meetings are at the invitation of and under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury. While they have been dependable, any given Archbishop could simply decide not to hold a meeting. The ACC, on the other hand, the presidency of the Archbishop notwithstanding, has a Constitution and its own defined structure.
In addition, it is the only “instrument of communion” with an independent means of defining membership. Again, participation in Lambeth Conferences and Primates Meetings are at the invitation of Canterbury; and so membership is, essentially, dependent on the Archbishop. We’ve seen that in preparation for this Lambeth Conference. The bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and the Central African diocese of Harare are not invited, nor are bishops of CANA or AMiA (I’m not suggesting any “moral equivalence” here; only the institutional equivalence: they are equally not invited). The ACC, on the other hand, has provisions in its Constitution for both adding and removing representation of member provinces, provisions that are not dependent on the sole decision of Canterbury.
Unfortunately, these folks from the Global South and their fellow travelers have seen that they have not been able to sway any of the “instruments of communion” to their agenda. The Archbishop of Canterbury is determined to keep everyone possible in the conversation, without pressing for resolution. Thus, he invited almost everyone to Lambeth, excluding only those arguably most problematic. He supported a planning committee that insured an agenda that would be limited to conversation and consultation, and not allow for decisions or conclusions. Even without voting participation by the Americans and the Canadians, the most recent Anglican Consultative Council could be induced to bring strong sanctions against the American and Canadian churches. Finally, even the Primates Meetings could not be swayed, as was best seen by the recent responses to Canterbury regarding reactions to the New Orleans meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops. Those reactions were seriously evenly divided, with perhaps a slight plurality accepting the American bishops’ statements.
So, perhaps this is the alternative they are seeking: an alternative ACC. It would provide the control of agenda and decision that they could not have in Lambeth. It would allow a remarkably like-minded community to plan for future cooperative actions. It will allow them to establish and proclaim resolution, and get on with mission.
Of course, if they start replacing an instrument of communion – any instrument of communion – what sort of commitment can we expect them to show to the Communion itself? And if they’re replacing one instrument of communion, can replacing the rest be far behind?