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Is GAFCON in Kenya’s Future?

GAFCON’s New Synod

GAFCON 2018 will include the first gathering of the movement’s synod. GAFCON has previously been led by a primatial council consisting of the leaders of its provinces with the assistance of a general secretary and his office in London.

The newly created synod will consist of three members from each province and fellowship of GAFCON. A fellowship is a gathering of laity, churches, and/or dioceses in provinces of the Anglican Communion that have not joined GAFCON. Its remit will be to provide a council of advice to the primates council.

GAFCON also announced the creation of nine networks that will assist joint ministry across its member provinces. These networks include church planting, theological education, bishops’ training, women’s ministry, youth and children, global mission partnerships, intercessory prayer, lawyers’ task force, and sustainable development.

By Esau McCaulley

Membership in GAFCON is a tricky thing. The decision to join GAFCON usually is in the hands of the primate.

But the authority of the primate varies from province to province. Some primates can decide such matters themselves. Others need the approval of their house of bishops or wider synod. Given these different approaches, it seems unlikely that any primate would join GAFCON if a significant portion of his province opposed it.

In practice, membership in GAFCON has had at least the implicit approval of the provinces involved. Nonetheless, every transition in primatial leadership raises the question of a province’s continued participation in GAFCON.

This issue is important because Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit was elected primate of Kenya in 2016. He replaced Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, the previous chairman of the primates’ council. Archbishop Sapit has yet to join the primates’ council formally, but the GAFCON website lists him as a member.

I sat with him to discuss his role as archbishop and the province’s place in GAFCON.

“I came and we were faced with two immediate challenges,” he said of his early days as archbishop. “First there were the national elections in 2017. The country was divided along tribal lines and threatened to divide the church along tribal lines. My major challenge is how to keep the church together then how do to keep the nation together.”

Historically, two of the major tribes in Kenya have competed for leadership in church and state. Part of Archbishop Sapit’s work as a reconciler is rooted in his being part of the Masai. “I could not depend on my tribal vote because there are only nine in the election college,” he said. He had to learn how to work with different groups, and his election signaled the desire of the province for the same.

When asked about the Anglican Church of Kenya’s relationship with GAFCON, he said: “Kenya was a country that signed The Jerusalem Declaration in 2008, and I was here at that time. When I came in as archbishop, I began asking an important and vital question: What is the aspiration and hope of GAFCON? The answer given by the majority is that GAFCON is a movement for renewal and orthodox teaching.”

Kenya supports this focus on faithful teaching and effective ministry. “Kenya is by nature in the evangelical wing of the Anglican Communion. We preach Christ crucified. We believe the Scriptures. We believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. Therefore, what GAFCON stands for we 100 percent support.”

Archbishop Sapit is weary about the implications of some recent decisions by GAFCON. “If GAFCON creates parallel structures, what does this mean for the Communion? Are we heading into a separate church? If that is the direction, are we happy to wake up one day and say that we are not a part of the Anglican Communion? I do not think that we have arrived at that stage.”

Does his reticence mean that Kenya would drop its membership in GAFCON? It depends on what membership means. If membership means cutting on ties with Canterbury because of its relationship with the Episcopal Church, he would not support that decision.

“Everybody knows that we disagree with TEC,” he said, but this disagreement should not affect Kenya’s relationship with the Church of England.

Archbishop Sapit outlined three levels of relationships in the Anglican Communion: deep communion, which speaks to an unbroken relationship; fellowship, which means “I am in fellowship with you, but not deep communion”; and people “to whom the church must minister. We have a ministry to the whole world to love and reach out to them, even those who say or do things that are contrary to our faith.”

He says that Kenya remains in communion and engaged in joint ministry with the Anglican Church in North America. When asked about the Episcopal Church, he says it is important to stay in relationship with those with whom you disagree.

“We are not renouncing GAFCON,” he said. “We are here with 70 delegates. We still identify with this renewal, but if it reaches a point that GAFCON says that it wants to pull out of the Communion, we will have to go back to our synod and ask for direction.”


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