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Archbishop of Canterbury tweets GAFCON III

Archbishop of Canterbury tweets GAFCON III
Justin Welby tweets, as put down by the Anglican Consultative Council become public

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
June 23, 2018

GAFCON III technically started last Sunday (June 17) with Evensong and ran until early Friday (June 22) afternoon. GAFCON ended in time to make sure the participants cleared the International Conference Center before the 7:08 PM lighting of the Shabbat candles Friday evening to welcome in the Jewish Sabbath Day.

The largest gathering of Anglicans in more than 20 years almost went "unnoticed" by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has been turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the clarion cry of traditional Anglicans for internal reformation and a return to Biblical truths and Apostolic teaching within the wider Anglican Communion.

GAFCON has been at cross swords with the Archbishop of Canterbury since the beginning, no matter who is living in Lambeth Palace.

When GAFCON I was launched in 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, immediately pushed back against the GAFCON movement, considering it renegade and a threat to his leadership within the Anglican Communion.

Following the publication of GAFCON's 2008 Jerusalem Declaration, Archbishop Williams replied: "A 'Primates' Council' which consists only of a self-selected group from among the Primates of the Communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the Communion. And any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties, both theological and practical."


Fast forward five years and GAFCON II, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in October 2013. The leadership in Lambeth Palace had changed and Justin Welby was in the first year of his reign as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Initially, Archbishop Welby rebuffed an invitation to GAFCON II, stating that he "is unable to attend because of a long-standing commitment on the same date. But he would be sending a pre-recorded video greeting." He was scheduled to baptize Prince George of Cambridge on October 23, 2013.

However, the mass shooting terrorist attack at Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi just one month to the day before the start of GAFCON II, brought Justin Welby to Kenya. The attack on the upscale mall left 67 dead.

Archbishop Welby used GAFCON II as an opportunity to make a flying trip to Kenya and respond to the terrorist attack.

GAFCON's General Secretary, Archbishop Peter Jensen, saw the Archbishop of Canterbury's trip in a positive light.

"The Archbishop's decision to come to the Primates' meeting is a recognition of the importance of such a large and significant gathering of Anglicans from around the world and he will be made very welcome." Archbishop Peter Jensen said at the time."

However, Archbishop Welby's focus was not really GAFCON, but he used the Anglican gathering as a springboard to respond to the deadly Westgate Mall incident.

In a November 2013 interview with Vatican Radio, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: "The trip to Kenya was wonderful. I went principally to express my solidarity with people and churches in Kenya, following the terrorist attack in Nairobi. It happened to be the weekend leading into the GAFCON meeting, and I met their leaders and that was a great privilege. The Anglicans have always conducted their disagreements very openly, publicly, loudly. I rejoice in groups, like GAFCON, with many other across the church, with lots of different perspectives, which call us in particular directions and remind us of the breadth and depth of Christian commitment that we need. So, I'm grateful that they force me back to think and I listen to all of them."

Stephen Noll was quick to point out: "I just note that (1) he explains his visit as primarily one to express solidarity with Kenyans; (2) he refers to GAFCON as one 'group' among many others with 'different perspectives'; (3) he refers to 'their leaders,' not the GAFCON Primates or Primates' Council; and (4) there was no reference to the Communique and its political implications."


Another five years pass and Archbishop Welby is becoming well-known for his embrace of the culture and his encouragement to the Church of England to do likewise.

During the ensuing time, the current Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken some veiled harsh words about the GAFCON movement, calling it a "ginger group."

In a February 8, 2018 General Synod meeting, Susie Leafe, a member of General Synod who recently resigned her position as director of REFORM, asked about attending CAFCON III and Justin Welby replied: "Well, all I can say is that when I have been asked, I have said totally openly, that having talked to numerous primates about this, who are part of GAFCON, notably people like the Primate of Kenya, that where GAFCON is acting as a ginger group, a source of prayer and renewal, of spiritual life within God's people around the world and within the Anglican Communion within that...it is a very good thing. I have not warned people off attending, but I can't speak for other people, and if you give me examples, privately, I am happy to speak privately to people. Thank you."

The British were quick to pick up on the true meaning of "ginger group" in the King's English. Again, Stephen Noll was able to bring the British meaning to the term.

"The Archbishop was not intending to flatter the upcoming Conference but to belittle it," he explained on his blog Contending Anglican. "How do I know that? Because his characterization of GAFCON as a 'ginger group' cannot be further from the actual character of the movement, and he knows that."

"He was trying to be rude. This is a part of English 'code language.' "Bishop Gavin Ashenden fleshed it out on Anglican Unscripted. When you want to be extremely and offensively rude you do it with very subtle understatement."

The former Church of England Honorary Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II continued: "This subtle understatement 'the ginger group' was really intended to be as offensive as possible. Saying this group (GAFCON) has no longer standing, no integrity, no voice and no judgement. It's just a small informal gathering of people muttering to themselves about things that interest them."

Bishop Ashenden, who was one of the GAFCON seminar presenters -- Teaching on The Challenge of Secularism -- concluded by explaining: "It was intended to be offensive and, of course, it was a huge deliberate misunderstanding of one of the most powerful groups of Anglicanism that has emerged ever."

GACON III returned to Jerusalem where GAFCON I was launched and nearly 2,000 people attended. That is more than the number who attend Lambeth Conferences. But the gathering drew the ire of Anglican Consultative Council Secretary-General, Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who fired off an e-mail letter to the GAFCON primates about "duplication and the setting up of rival bodies for influence, activity and impact."

Rumors of the letter were known early in the week and by midweek, Bishop Idowu-Fearon's June 13th letter came to light and was made public.


Finally, at 3:15 AM on Thursday (June 21), a mere 36 hours before GAFCON III concluded, Archbishop Justin Welby tweeted just 47 words: "To our Anglican brothers and sisters meeting in Jerusalem this week for #GAFCON2018, you are in my prayers. I pray the Holy Spirit will bless you with wisdom, insight and fresh vision for the renewal of God's world -- and our role as Anglicans in that great work."

His tweet was one of 3.5 million tweets about GAFCON; it was hardly noticeable. But within an hour, at 4:02 AM, Adrian Hilton, who tweets as Archbishop Cranmer@His_Grace noticed and retweeted Archbishop Welby's tweet to #GAFCON2018.

Archbishop Welby's original tweet on his personal Archbishop of Canterbury
‏@JustinWelby Twitter account was retweeted 59 times and generated 289 likes. The tweet also brought a thread of 17 responses including:

• Matthew Firth: "Sincere thanks. And we pray that the Holy Spirit will empower you to courageous gospel leadership on the deep concerns you will be hearing about in our statement which we are working on today."

• Supergoodplus: "May the spirit of Lord Jesus come back into the hearts of the Executives of the Anglican Church. May men of God become shepherds to their flock once again & reject the leftwing ideology taking over the church & reversing the teachings of Jesus."

• Ian Paul Fletcher: "Having read the letter published by #GAFCON2018 I would say that your prayers have been answered. I hope that the wider church has the humility to listen to it."

• Eyitayo A. Oginni: "When are we having a unified communion?"

• Archdeacon Dr. Gideon: "In the next world!"

• Eyitayo A. Oginni: "Thought a Venerable should promote a unified communion..."

• Archdeacon Dr. Gideon: "... in all things lawful and honest and in accordance with the Scriptural standard."

• Eyitayo A. Oginni: "Then we're on the same page..."

• Archdeacon Dr. Gideon: "Blessings+"

• JOSHDAVEkeyz: "Amen"

• autigers1970: "Please consider *why* a group like GAFCON is even necessary. As C.S. Lewis said, "We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive."


• AlabamaAnglican: "Praying that you have the strength and wisdom to keep to the narrow path in so doing, be a light to others and a call to repentance."

• the tweeting churchwarden: "Amen to that @JustinWelby"


• Alison Chambers: "Thank you for this message to the Gafcon community. You are an example. I couldn't do this sincerely but I'm glad you can. I know my prayers are less gracious."

• Ian Hawkins: "I don't understand. Why are your prayers 'less gracious'?"


ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach, the incoming GAFCON Chairman, was surprised that the Archbishop of Canterbury more or less ignored GAFCON III. A 47-word tweet was not enough.

The American archbishop, who maintains a personal friendship with Justin Welby through e-mails and phone calls and even exchanging Christmas cards, was hoping the sitting Archbishop of Canterbury would attend GAFCON III.

"One of my surprises is that he (Justin Welby) was not here," Archbishop Beach noted on Anglican Unscripted at the close of GAFCON III. "If the largest gathering of Anglican leaders was meeting somewhere and I was the Archbishop of Canterbury I would think it would be good to at least show you cared about what they cared about."

GAFCON III drew nine active primates -- two sitting primates were unable to attend due to visa problems; six retired primates -- one was unable to attend due to visa problems; 333 Anglican bishops and 31 "Mamas." Africans fondly call the wife of a bishop "The Mama." It is a title of respect and honor.

GAFCON count includes at least 993 clergy -- including 94 women clergy -- and 973 laity. In all, 1,292 men attended GAFCON and 670 women came, but not everyone self-identified by gender. The delegation from Ghana was finally able to make GAFCON on Thursday morning. GAFCON organizers called the registered number of attendees a "moving target" because participants dribbled in throughout the week as their passport and visa problems were solved, allowing them to travel to Israel.

"I was really surprised," Archbishop Foley said. "I think a lot of people were dumbfounded that he (the Archbishop of Canterbury) was not here in some way."

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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