Gafcon Gleanings - Monday

With 1300 people from 53 countries, Gafcon IV has begun in Kigali, Rwanda. 

In his opening words, Archbishop Foley Beach, Chairman of Gafcon, spoke of how his province - the Anglican Church in North America - like us in the Anglican Network in Europe - was called forth and owes its existence to Gafcon. He highlighted the many challenges since the last Gafcon in Jerusalem in 2018, a world wide pandemic; for many delegates, persecution, famine, drought and flooding as well as war and civil unrest, and consequent sickness and starvation. It was a sobering reminder that for many of our brothers and sisters life is precarious and the hope of the gospel is almost their only sustaining.  So the loss of confidence in the biblical gospel in many provinces is a tragedy. He called on the Anglican communion to repentance, renewal and reform. Meeting against the background of a communion in tatters, ++Foley suggested that this might be one of the most significant  church gatherings of our time. Whether that proves to be the case or not, the opening session tonight was perhaps a tiny foretaste of Revelation 7 with  people gathered from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, determined not to be ashamed of Jesus and his words but rather honour him and King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

Rt Revd Lee McMunn (AMiE) opening the conference with his Nigerian co-host

Previous Gafcons have been hugely inspiring and we want to capture some of that for the encouragement of the whole Network, so over the week, ANiE delegates will be sharing their impressions and reflections of the conference so that the whole Network can connect with what we’re doing and experiencing here on your behalf and so you can pray.

Tim Sandell, Christ Church Central, Sheffield (AMiE)

“Welcome to Rwanda, the country of a thousand hills and a thousand smiles!” 

Kigali is an astonishing city. After unimaginable horrors just 29 years ago, the city is now welcoming, clean, and very green. (The torrential downpours help on that front!) Our Rwandan hosts are warm and friendly. A land of a thousand smiles indeed!

The conference’s theme is “To whom shall we go?” Of course, we have a responsibility to go out to our needy world with the gospel. But, as we were reminded today, that’s not our first responsibility. First, we go to Christ through his unchanging Word. Then, with Christ we go to the whole world. That is a profound truth that promises to liberty, joy and life to those who minister in contexts where people often don’t want to listen to the gospel. Please do pray for us as we engage with this teaching, that it would give us liberty, joy and life.

The first day’s programme began in the evening with canapés and a chance to mingle in the impressive Kigali conference centre. I had a fascinating conversation with a brother serving in Southern Africa. This is my first Gafcon conference, and it’s this kind of connection with Anglican brothers and sisters from across the world that I’d been so looking forward to. As our Rwandan host, Archbishop Lawrent Mbanda, told us, one of his prayers for this week is that we’d leave refreshed, encouraged and not feeling alone — something that many of us Brits feel keenly.

We were then treated to an opening ceremony, which included a rousing rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus from a Nigerian choir and a vibrant Rwandan welcome from a local cultural dance group. Archbishop Foley Beach, Gafcon Chairman, gave an address in which he challenged us to be a repenting church, a reconciling church, a reproducing church and a relentlessly compassionate church. 

Of course, recent developments in the Church of England are on everyone’s minds, and so Archbishop Foley spoke out, calling the Church of England and others to repent, to stop blessing sin and to return to the teaching of Scripture. He added, and I’m sure we’ll hear more in a similar vein this week, that with broken hearts we can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as leader of the Communion as the first among equals. This could be an incredibly significant conference.

Gafcon General Secretary Benjamin Kwashi gave a lively and joyful address. He called on us to be committed to the primacy of Scripture, to remember the power of the gospel, and to be dedicated to the priority of evangelism and mission. 

Finally, the Prime Minster of Rwanda, Edouard Ngirente, welcomed us, declared the conference open and wished us a productive week. 

At the start of the week, please pray for us who are attending, for good friendships to be formed, for hearts that delight in Jesus as we hear Bible teaching, and for humility and wisdom as statements are written and trajectories set.

Pete Birnie, Christchurch Riverside, Hull (AMiE)

In his chairman’s welcome to GAFCON IV Archbishop Foley Beach challenged us to be a repenting, reconciling, reproducing, compassionate Church. Bishop Ben Kwashi then exhorted us to remember the primacy of scripture, the power of the gospel and the priority of evangelism and mission. We are to hear this loud and clear - the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be absolutely central to all that we aim for, all that we pray for, all that we do. 

I have been thinking about that a lot today as I got the chance to meet with people from all over the world. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only answer and the certain answer to all the mess and destruction in this world. It is the answer for Albert, a man I met at the Kigali Genocide memorial. Albert was once one of 11 children but during the 1994 genocide, five of his siblings as well as his father were all murdered. Albert himself still bears the scars of being beaten and slashed during an attack on a church where more than a thousand people were shot dead. Albert is a Christian and his confidence in the gospel enables him to forgive and use his life for others – he knows Jesus will return and will put all things right. The gospel is the answer.    

For Sandy from Australia whose husband went to be with the Lord 2 years ago, the gospel is what keeps her serving hard in her church. For another Sandy, a Dad this time, the gospel is what allows him to encourage his daughter towards a life of taking what look like big risks for the gospel. For Pastor S working in Myanmar with all the opposition and danger, the gospel offers hope that humans can’t. For Benson from Uganda where there are many trials, the gospel is what keeps changing lives. For Wade and Chelsea, missionaries in Kigali with their young child, the gospel makes the sacrifices of being away from parents and grandparents worth it. 

Talking and praying with all these people (as well as many more from Canada, Nigeria, South Africa, the USA etc etc), and then sitting under the exhortations from Foley Beach and Ben Kwashi has been a wonderful encouragement on this first day of the conference. One more memory from today will endure – when Ben Kwashi thanked people for praying for him and caring for him in illness, many began to sing! To see such love for Christian leaders in evidence is simply one more example of the power of the gospel. I can’t wait for tomorrow! 

4 of the St Silas crew arriving at 4am in Kigali!

Kathryn & Robbie Laidlaw, St Silas Glasgow (ACE)

This is our first GAFCON conference, and it’s been incredible to witness the palpable sense of joy as people reunite after 5 years, or meet for the first time and connect over the goodness of God in our many very different contexts. 

Being together with over 1300 people from 53 countries puts everything into perspective coming from one of only 3 ANiE affiliated churches in Scotland.  The faith we have is not limited to a small group of churches in the UK; we are connected to a worldwide movement of Jesus’ followers!

As soon as we started meeting fellow delegates before the opening ceremony there was a real anticipation for this conference and the subjects that would be discussed given what the Church in England is experiencing. As well as anticipation, there is certainly a joyful energy exuding from so many of the delegates at this conference. From afar we’ve seen so many people share handshakes and hugs as they reconnected after the years since the last conference. 

On a personal note, we have been blessed to meet so many people and hear about their churches and their contexts. From Auckland we have heard about a church growing from 3 families to becoming an established church. Over dinner we met a couple from Savannah, Georgia who have been actively on mission together for 52 years and arrived at Kigali after spending time in Uganda sharing the Discovery Bible Study programme with people.

In the opening ceremony Archbishop Ben Kwashi addressed the primacy of scripture, the power of the gospel and the priority of mission. As a couple working in student, youth and children’s ministry at St Silas we were particularly encouraged by Ben Kwashi’s desire to see a specific direction for the youth and the future of the church. We are eager to hear more!

The picture coming out of Day 1 for us is that there is a real urgent passion to guide, encourage and prepare the faithful church for the future. Each of us can be challenged by the words from another address in the opening ceremony that the church is to be repentant, to reproduce and make disciples, and to be relentlessly compassionate. 

It was incredibly moving to realise that five of the GAFCON Primates (the mega bishops) are from countries in which Christian’s are being persecuted and risk their lives daily for the Gospel - and yet they are strenuously contending for a faithful Church. They stand together, despite the persecutions they are trying to protect their flock from, to ensure the despair is being guarded against those who are looking to weaken Jesus’ message. They, and their churches, risk their lives every day, yet still stand up to faithfully proclaim the wonderful news that Jesus came and died for us. What an encouragement to contend in our contexts for the true Gospel, and to pray continually for our brothers and sisters as they stand the Gospel, despite their situations.

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Heart of Gafcon Coverage