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GSFA Assembly Opens with a Call to Faithfulness

With solemn prayers and a rousing call to faithfulness, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) began its First Assembly on June 11 at St. Mark’s Khatatba, a Coptic Orthodox conference center in the Egyptian desert.

“The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches now becomes home to all orthodox Anglicans within the Anglican Communion,” Archbishop Justin Badi Arama announced in the assembly’s opening plenary. The primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, Badi has served as the GSFA’s Chairman since 2019.

“We have 200 participants coming from 40 countries around the world. They represent the ‘holy remnant’ in the Communion. They hold fast to God’s Word as ‘the faith once delivered’ and seek to obey it in their lives. They are those who have resisted bowing to the demands of revisionism. They have committed themselves to proclaim and live out the authentic gospel truth.

“All those who are committed to preserving the historic Anglican doctrine and teachings are the true Anglicans. We respect and relate to the seat of Saint Augustine. It is always our prayer that the person who sits on that seat will always be faithful to the faith we once received to the saints and faithfully transmitted.

“Currently, the Communion and the world need the witness of a holy remnant,” he added. “We will continue to stand strong and never compromise the truth for a unity that condones sin.”

The Path to the Assembly

The GSFA traces its origins to a series of conferences that began 30 years ago in Nairobi. Originally only a gathering for Anglican leaders from the Global South, the body found a political voice in its 1997 South-South Kuala Lumpur Statement, which helped to shape Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which commits the Anglican Communion to traditional teaching on human sexuality.

The body came to the attention of many in the wider Communion during the 2022 Lambeth Conference, when Archbishop Justin Welby refused to consider its request for a vote on reaffirming Resolution 1.10. Significant numbers of GSFA-affiliated bishops declined to receive the Eucharist in a coordinated protest.

In February 2023, several of the GSFA primates released a statement saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury had forfeited his role as the Anglican Communion’s leader because of the Church of England’s decision to bless same-sex unions. In April, many GSFA primates chose not to participate in the most recent Primates’ Meeting.

Following a three-year study process, the GSFA adopted a Covenantal Structure in 2019 to address what the Windsor Continuation Group identified in 2008 as “the problem of an ecclesial deficit in the life and structure of the Communion.” The document clarified, in Badi’s words, “that the basis of membership in the Global South Fellowship would change from geography to doctrine.”

The Assembly is “the comprehensive and authoritative voice of the GSFA,” according to the Covenantal Structure’s terms. Anglican churches that have become members of the GSFA by adopting the Covenantal Structure elect representatives, which are allocated on a proportional basis and meet in three houses. The Assembly expects to gather every four to five years, and works in tandem with the GSFA’s Board and Primates Council, which gather more often and oversee day-to-day management of the organization’s work.

The GSFA’s organizational life remains fairly ad-hoc. The body has not yet been formally incorporated and does not have a bank account. Badi said that the assembly will elect the first members of the GSFA board and launch development of “tracks” for mission partnership, economic empowerment, and leadership and ministry development. Leaders intend these tracks, like the Anglican Communion’s networks, to share best practices and develop cross-provincial partnerships.

During formal introductions on June 12, Bishop Rennis Ponniah, former primate of the Province of South East Asia and a longtime GSFA leader, announced the 10 Anglican churches that have become full members in the last five years. Eight of these — Alexandria, Chile, Congo, Myanmar, South East Asia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda — are recognized by the Anglican Communion’s Canterbury-based Instruments of Communion, while the Anglican Church in Brazil and the Anglican Church in North America are not. Together, they have elected 74 representatives to the assembly.

Most of those gathered in Cairo are observers. Some are from the three GAFCON-affiliated churches that have been granted associate membership status: the Australian Diocese of the Southern Cross, the Anglican Network in Europe, and the Church of Confessing Anglicans in (Aotearoa) New Zealand.

Others are from 14 institutions, mostly based in England and North America, that have been identified as mission partners of the GSFA. These include the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion, the Church of England Evangelical Council, Trinity Anglican Seminary and Anglican Global Mission Partners, sponsor of the influential New Wineskins Conference. Others, like the primates of Kenya and Central Africa, come from provinces that share a common vision with GSFA, but have not yet committed to the covenantal structure.

GSFA and GAFCON

The relationship between the GSFA and the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) remains unresolved. Like GSFA, GAFCON is a coalition of Global South Anglican church leaders and conservatives from the Global North. Many assembly participants had last seen one another at the GAFCON’s last gathering in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2023, where several speakers urged a formal union between the two groups.

In a June 12 plenary about evangelism, Archbishop Tito Zavala of Chile referred several times to “our brothers in GAFCON,” and the churches that GAFCON has founded in recent years to gather “refugees” from more progressive Anglican churches in Britain and Australasia have been admitted as associate members of GSFA.

Historically, GSFA has spoken with a more moderate voice than GAFCON, and has been dominated by provinces with a firm commitment to the Canterbury-based instruments, but things are clearly shifting. Under Badi’s leadership, the GSFA’s rhetoric has often been more forceful, and some left-leaning provinces that were early participants in GSFA gatherings, like Southern Africa, Korea, and Japan, are no longer involved in its work.

The Anglican Churches of Nigeria and Rwanda, which have been especially influential in GAFCON, are members of GSFA and have not sent significant delegations to the assembly. Many GSFA leaders have also resisted GAFCON’s call to break decisively with the Canterbury-based instruments and serve in Communion-wide leadership roles.

Partnership in Evangelism

Archbishop Tito Zavala, the GSFA vice chairman and a longtime leader in church planting in his native Chile, called assembly members to partner in “bringing the gospel to the nations” at a June 12 plenary.

“Our God is unknown in many parts of the world,” Zavala said. “But our God is a missionary God, and his heart is the salvation of the world through Jesus Christ.”

He cited a series of internal problems within his own church and others around the Communion that are limiting the church’s ability to reach nonbelievers.

“Many in our churches seem to think that Christian mission is only about conducting religious services. We have taught people to be passive and to wait for people to come to them,” he said.

Zavala said that Anglicanism has a “vocational crisis,” with clergy focusing too much on tending to the needs of existing members and managing buildings and finances, while neglecting the crucial work of sharing the gospel with nonbelievers.

“Church members do not have much clarity about why they are going to church,” Zavala said. “They know it is good for their souls and that they feel peace. But they are not anxious about the sense of mission, reaching those outside.”

“We are a people called to be God’s missionaries,” he said. “The mission is not ours, but God’s. The mission was not created for the church; the church was created for the mission of God.”

Zavala urged GSFA member provinces to nominate experienced and passionate leaders in mission to participate in its mission partnership track. The track will aim to help start churches across the world. “We can’t just talk about the mission,” he said. “We need to do the mission.”

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