Reflections from Nairobi, October 2013, Simon Vibert
GAFCON2 (the Global Anglican Fellowship Conference) has just finished.
Choosing Nairobi as a venue has caused considerable anxiety over recent months. The airport was nearly destroyed by fire in the summer and the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab attacked the Westgate shopping Mall only a matter of weeks before the start. However, I am so grateful that it was held here.
Our hosts, All Saints Cathedral and Archbishop Wabukala, have done such a marvellous job, both in their welcome to us and the exemplary organisation.
I was not present in Jerusalem in 2008 for the first such global conference. I sense that the movement has gone from strength to strength since then. There were nearly 1300 delegates, 331 of whom are Bishops, and 27 Anglican Provinces. There has been a great spirit of unity among the 120+ UK delegates, although it is sobering to note that there were more Nigerian Bishops than the entire UK contingency!
The week began with a presentation of the impact of the East African Revival which swept Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and beyond, in the 1930s. I was deeply moved to hear of the key themes of brokenness, calls to repentance, Christ-centredness and visibly changed lives through the work of the Holy Spirit in individuals and communities. In the 1970s these key themes were rediscovered and a new wave of revival swept through East Africa.
It was fitting that our closing Holy Communion service incorporated an extended time of individual and corporate confession and repentance. Whilst the Jerusalem Declaration rightly makes the following point (no 13):
“We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.” (http://fca.net/images/uploads/jerusalemdeclaration.pdf)
a notable feature of this conference has been the reminder that all of us need to repent as a necessary component of expecting God’s blessing, and also to do this together in corporate worship.
Others will write more extensively on the conference (see http://gafcon.org/conferences/nairobi-2013) these are some of my highlights:-
- The daily expositions from Paul’s letter to Ephesians have been of a very high quality and also they have been very pertinent. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that the unity they have in Christ transcends racial, sexual and religious boundaries. Christ achieved peace and reconciliation at the cross. This has been demonstrated so powerfully in the multi-cultural diversity of the conference delegates which finds a unity in Christ Jesus.
- An excellent and perceptive address was delivered by Dr Mike Ovey (Principal, Oak Hill College). I particularly resonated with his comment that liberal-minded preachers today think that they are being prophetic when their message chimes in with the dominant agenda of the culture. The hallmark of prophetic preaching, rather, is to faithfully preach God’s word, perhaps particularly when it challenges the prevalent pagan world-view.
- I was amused to be told by a Nigerian Bishop that if they want to punish an errant cleric they send them off to teach in a theological college, which made me wonder what I have done wrong! This attitude also reveals a rather concerning under-appreciation and under-investment in theological education, a dominant theme of the conference.
- We enjoyed a tremendous unity among British delegates discussing the UK scene and possible implications of the soon-to-be released Pilling Report. My own sense is that the AMiE (Anglican Mission in England) will continue to provide assistance with some of the tricky, albeit relatively isolated, problematic issues in England. At the same time, a broader conversation about the possible ramifications of a revision of the Church of England’s position on Homosexual conduct would have huge implications. For me, and for many others at the conference, this would reflect a departure from the clear teaching of the Bible and would lead to a fracturing of relationships within the denomination. It was particularly good to hear from British Bishops, all of whom feel intense pressure in seeking to maintain biblical convictions in a hostile culture. We prayed for them and pledged our support.
- It was great to meet so many people whilst on the Wycliffe Hall stand. There was considerable interest in theological education, although for many delegates the expense and disruption of full time study would be difficult. However, it seems to me that Wycliffe Hall’s place as an excellent centre for undergraduate and postgraduate study and the commitment to training a new generation of evangelical leaders is critical. Nevertheless, I am also convinced that more short courses, accessible and cheap publications, as well as taking up invitations to teach around the world, will continue to be a great stewardship of our rich resources.
- The process of arriving at the final words of the Nairobi Communiqué and Commitment was complex in recognising the need to:
- Speak for Global Anglicanism;
- Be aware of the varied (some negative, but many very positive) experiences of working within the Church of England.
The final wording of the statement was greeted with much enthusiasm and thanksgiving (see http://gafcon.org/conferences/nairobi-2013)
- I had a very stimulating lunchtime conversation with the Nairobi Cathedral Development Officer who gave some great insights into the troubles in Sudan and Somalia. He believes that Sudan will arrive at a peaceful settlement when the border issues are resolved (although this may take time). He believes the Somalian problems will go on much longer, mainly, he says because of the small Christian influence there. “In their language”, he told me “there are no words to say ‘I forgive you’, the only way you recompense is by paying a fine.” He urged me to pray for Christian growth in Somalia.
It is rare to come back from conferences like this feeling refreshed and energised. Yes: GAFCON2 was exhausting and the days were long and the politics continues to be complicated. But overall I feel nourished, encouraged and prayerful. I am hopeful that this will last! Thank God for the health of the world-wide body of Christ!