The Global Anglican Future Conference is meeting this week in Nairobi, Kenya, gathering together almost 1,400 delegates from across over 40 countries and 27 Anglican provinces. Here is our top 10 list of the things about GAFCON you might not expect.
10. Not all delegates are from provinces typically associated with GAFCON like Nigeria and Kenya. Delegates from the countries of Sri Lanka, South Africa and even Mexico are on site in Nairobi. There is a bishop from the Anglican Church of Canada and at least three U.S. Episcopalians participating, some in prominent roles.
9. Nairobi’s brand new Trinity Center is a modern facility. Built on the campus of All Saints’ Cathedral, the multi-story complex features stadium seating and modern audio and video projection systems. The building is designed in a gothic style, with dark wood floors and stone arches to closely match the 1930s cathedral.
8. Delegates describe a “peaceful, less anxious” climate than GAFCON 2008. “I expected to build relationships,” reported one delegate “but I never expected such unity and intimacy in Christ.”
7. Global South Anglicans are leading the conference, not merely the visible spokesmen for a western-backed effort. At 450 delegates, the Nigerian contingent is several times larger than the North American delegation. Kenyan, Nigerian and Australian leaders are prominent, with one western delegate noting that “the Global South is maintaining the faith as the West is losing it.”
6. Anglican churches are being planted in places they have never before existed. While careful to say that he did not wish to overstate the development, a Nigerian bishop reported that mission congregations have been planted in the border regions of nations immediately adjacent to Nigeria.
5. No other international Anglican gathering since GAFCON 1 in 2008 has represented as many Anglicans, even the 2008 Lambeth conference. This is partly due to the inclusion of clergy and laypersons alongside bishops and their spouses.
4. The style of the worship team from Nairobi’s All Saints Cathedral is surprisingly broad. From organ-backed renditions of “Faith of Our Fathers” to an electric guitar-accompanied “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” traditional hymns and contemporary praise songs have made it into morning worship. As one delegate noted, “Anglican worship in East Africa has changed so much in the past 10 years, freedom of expression in worship has changed enormously.” Another said: “I expected it to be more formal, but it increasingly resonates with what I know half a world away.”
3. GAFCON won’t be confused with Episcopal General Convention. While some might expect a politically conservative mirror-image of General Convention’s legislation-heavy workload, GAFCON’s focus is on scripture studies and mini-conferences on evangelization, the persecuted church and family life. Political resolutions are nowhere to be found.
2. Bishops, bishops everywhere – but not a mitre to be seen. While Archbishops Welby and Wabukala wore their bishops’ mitres at a Sunday morning service before the conference began, the purple-shirted crowd has eschewed mitres and most other obvious episcopal accessories. Perhaps out of willingness to meet other bishops halfway, low-church Sydney bishops have been spotted wearing collars, a rare sight.
1. GAFCON isn’t about schism — or sexuality. Archbishop Jensen of Sydney immediately countered talk in the western press of Anglican schism by calling it “nonsense” and defining GAFCON as a movement to renew the Anglican Communion, not a new church. Similarly, press attention on homosexuality hasn’t been realized in the discussions at GAFCON. Instead of flashpoint issues, GAFCON has seen more attention give to bringing the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus.