To Whom shall we Go?

(I apologise for the spelling and grammar in advance – this was written and posted late from the airport!)

I always have a sense of anticipation when it comes to travel; I am not so much nervous about airports, transfers, or different parts of the journey but rather more about what I will do. That anticipatory excitement about new experiences, connections and challenges. It is always something that builds as I get ready to travel, and for this trip, I found that feeling stirring even more than usual as I packed and got ready to head to Rwanda.

Introduction: A Global Anglican Gathering

I was privileged to touch down in Kigali, Rwanda, on Monday, 15th April, after flying through the night from Heathrow for the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON). A gathering of the global Anglican Church that occurs every five years to encourage, reflect and discern the health of the Anglican Communion. A sort of State Of The Union gathering. With so much stirring within the Anglican Communion over the last thirty years, and so much of it has come to a head over the previous five years as a succession of provinces (local geographical expressions of Anglicanism) had taken to change their doctrines and teachings to embrace new theological norms defended not from the authority of Scripture. Still, through the prism of reason and logic (thus separating themselves from the gospel orthodoxy of the majority of the Anglican churches across the world) it meant that this Global Anglican Futures conference would be historic regardless of what was discussed, prayed for, lamented or decided. There has been much written about all that was said and done from many perspectives; what I want to do is reflect on some personal encouragements that I had over the five days of the conference:

  1. The Word of God.
  2. The Breath and Depth of Worship in the Anglican Church.
  3. The health of the Anglican Church.
  4. The Value of the Gospel.
  5. Excitement and Direction.
  6. Gathering at the Lord’s Table.

1. The Value of the Word of God

To know Jesus Christ in any way is to have encountered the Word of God in some way – regardless of what you think of it! To know the beauty of Jesus Christ in a saving way is to have not simply read the Christian Scriptures but to have been changed by them: to have been utterly transformed by the truth they have revealed to us about the human condition, the world that we live in, and more profoundly the God that we where made to worship. Specifically, there is no greater revelation of all of those things than in the person of Jesus Christ, who is revealed to us primarily in the four Gospels of the New Testament but also on every page of Scripture. By the Word of God we know the truth and beauty of life in God, the Gospel, and the danger of sin. It is why since its birth, the Anglican Church and her founders have valued the Word and authority of the Word of God above anything else. It has been the scriptures that have shaped our Worship, prayers and denominational identity because it has been the Scriptures that have revealed to Gospel and the way of the Cross.

I came to faith at a young age, but my faith truly came alive when I heard the Word of God opened up and explained in a simple – yet profoundly deep – way that helped me to understand who Jesus was, what he had done and what it would mean to be his disciple and witness in this world through the working of the Holy Spirit. Conversely, the health of my faith has slipped when the prominence of God’s Word has slipped from my own patterns of discipleship and devotion because it is by the Word of God that the Holy Spirit shapes us into the image of Christ as He helps us know Christ.

It is the Word of God that does the work of God in the people of God so they can witness to him. I feel called to share that which I received by the Word to the churches that God has called me. How will God revive dying churches? By the Word preached, studied and lived out in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It was profound to gather together in one place with Anglicans from all over the world under the Word of God, as Gospel preachers from all over the world shared from Colossians. It was encouraging to hear people coming from different contexts, bringing different perspectives but proclaiming the same Gospel and truths of the Church throughout the ages. Additionally, it was and in every session heard about the importance of the Word of God, its authority and value in the life of the individual disciple and the healthy of the Church.

2. The Vibrancy and Diversity of Worship

If you asked several people you knew to define Anglicanism, I can guarantee that you would get several different perspectives. Anglicanism is a practical sense that is very hard to define even in a local context, as parishes look distinctly different in how they do liturgy, Worship, and preaching. Never mind then trying to find a common definition of Anglicanism in the Global sense. Every day at Kigali 23 reminded me of the diversity of what it means to be Anglican in a practical sense as with every conversation and new connection, we chatted about what it was to be an Anglican in their context. Every parish in every place had a nuanced way of worshipping God, and what was so encouraging in conversation was that often those different ways of doing things were not out of personal preference but out of missional preference; churches had found a way to build the Kingdom of God in a distinctively Anglican way whether in the Uk, USA, Nigeria or Sydney in Australia. Anglicanism was diverse in terms of contextual preference and vibrant in its Worship. Yet, regardless of the “how”, what was clear was the unity in “why” and “heart.” The gathered Anglican Church in Kigali might look different across the globe, but its heart and desire were the same – the Gospel of Christ and serving him. It was a beautiful diversity on display over the five days.

3. The Vitality of the Church

“The Church has no relevance in our world today” You might hear someone say, “The Church is dying,” another headline might read similarly. Even those of us who are part of healthy churches or know them can struggle to believe a different narrative than the one the world loves to whisper to us: How soon the Church and Christianity will pass because it has no relevance in our culture and society. It is a message that may seem true in the West, but it was a message that was proved demonstrably false during every minute, interaction, session and gathering during the conference. I was so encouraged by the vitality and health of the Anglican Communion across the world as churches that have remained faithful to the Gospel have received the blessing of God and seen real fruit – often in the most difficult of circumstances. From meeting missionary bishops who God had called to serve in Northern Nigeria amid the threat of Boko Haram to meeting the first newly ordained Deacon to serve in Guinea-Bissau, west Africa, from conversations with those who have joined new expressions of Anglicanism across the western world and seeing Church plants grow to become healthy mature churches that are making disciples and planting new churches.

It was so encouraged to be encouraged by almost every conversation and see that far from withering slowly under the weight of irrelevance that the Anglican Church is growing, healthy, vibrant and vital across the majority world where the Gospel is being preached, and the Lordship of Christ is proclaimed. Jesus Christ is building his Church, and the Anglican Church is blessed to be a part of his building and Kingdom making it across the majority world. Our Church is healthy, and where there is death, we must look to life to see life, learn from it and hopefully, by the Grace of God: follow it.

4. The Supremacy of the Message and Our Unity In It

What is it that unites Anglicans? A shared history descending out of one mother church? At one point, a shared prayer book (1662) out of which our liturgies, theology and beliefs were taught and formed. The answer will depend on which Anglican you ask! Yet, the narrative around unity in the Anglican Church has been dominated not by historical truths, liturgical links, or a shared ecclesiastic but by the instruments of Communion. Specifically, it seems that Anglican unity is in human-made tools of the Communion:

  1. A historical link to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
  2. The Lambeth Conference
  3. The Anglican Consultative Council
  4. The primate’s gathering

These things unite us and apparently will keep the Anglican churches united despite our differences. Unity despite difference, we are told! Unity in diversity is a beautiful thing. Such diverse unity was so obvious and beautiful across the five days of Kigali 23. 1300 Anglicans from 50 nations had gathered in Kigali to be united, to encourage one another, to sing with one another, and to learn from one another. It is a sobering thing to meet someone who is willing to die for something and who has known many who have died for that cause. The 1300 delegates from across the Anglican Communion were there in unity, not under the mechanisms of inter-church governance, cooperation and communication: no, all gathered were united by one thing – The Gospel of Christ. It was all about the Gospel! It was a profound and sobering thing to be reminded supremacy and cost of the Gospel by all who were gathered and our unity in it. Those who, in missional contexts, had felt called to the most difficult places to proclaim the hope of the Cross, and those who, in more comfortable contexts, had chosen to leave institutions to be free to preach the Gospel of Christ.

The beautiful thing about Kigali 23 is that it was all about the Gospel: everyone gathered because of the Gospel; in every session, the Gospel of Christ was preached, proclaimed and declared to those there and those watching across the world. The diversity of practice so moved me, context, ways of doing Church and discipleship because our unity became clear – It was the Gospel. The only clear instrument of Communion in Global Anglicanism was the Gospel of Christ as received in the Canon of Scriptures. Then from it flowed everything that united us across waters and nations: The Gospel saturated liturgies of our Prayerbooks, the ordinal and its promises, Cranmers’ Homolies, and so much more. It was so beautiful to be reminded again and again that what unites the Anglican Church is nothing of the man but the Gospel of Christ crucified as revealed by the Scriptures and everything in our (Anglican) tradition that flows from it. To be an Anglican is to be a Gospel proclaiming and professing Christian: thus, Kigali 23 was a conference of Gospel encouragement and Gospel supremacy as we were reminded again and again about how it must be central in our Church and mission if we are to be faithful disciples of Christ and Kingdom builders. In the Global Anglican Church, the Gospel is supreme, and it is the Gospel that unites us, and our instruments of Communion and all that help us know it and live it out: The Scriptures, our liturgies, and so much more of what is beautiful and biblical about Anglicanism!

5. The Purpose and Direction

Institutions can seem like the most directionless things, especially when you are in them; it can feel like the Titanic slowly turning in circles towards an iceberg—especially denominations. I love the denomination that God has called me to serve in, I love our history and our diversity in practice, and what I loved at Kigali 23 was the natural flow from Gospel proclamation and teaching to Gospel Living. What was so beautiful about being there was a desire for both gospel orthodoxy and praxis in every conversation, presentation and interaction. There was such a tangible and beautiful zeal to share the faith handed down and build the Kingdom. Kigali 23 was not just about teaching orthodox but inspiring it to be lived out as testimonies were shared prayers offered, and visions given about what a vibrant Anglican Church might look like in every corner of the world.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew‬ ‭28‬:‭19‬-‭20‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Hearing gospel stories from across the world was the most encouraging and inspiring thing. Whether it was Church plants growing within the ACNA, or the work of missionary dioceses in Nigeria going back into parts of their home country, they were no longer welcome to bring the good news of Jesus to those who needed to hear it. Every conversation shows uniformity in belief and doctrine, desire and practice, as all gathered wanted to see God’s Kingdom be built, and Christ’s Church grow in a distinctively Anglican way.

6. One Table under One Lord

Sadly, I missed most of the last evening when my Stomach took a rather harsh reaction to some of the local food, the next morning, I wasn’t feeling a whole lot better, but I did not want to miss any more of the conference so after resting in the hotel during the morning session I made my way down to the conference centre for the end of the gathering – and I was so glad I did. I love Holy Communion, I think it is such a radical moment in Christian Worship, and I love how the Anglican Church approaches Communion in both theology and praxis. Hence, the last act of the conference to gather at the Lord’s table was humbling and beautiful. It was hard to put into words what it was like to gather at the same table with over 1300 Anglicans – laity, clergy, & bishops – from over 50 nations in unity and need at the same table, before the same Lord in need of his Grace and thankful for it. The Lord’s table is such a beautiful moment because it reminds us of our need for Grace and our equality in receiving it, and from the table, we are sent in the Grace that we have received. It was beautiful to be with a global gathering of the Anglican Church and finish by gathering at one table under God and then to be sent from that table to every corner of the world with the same Gospel hope to answer the question that had been asked and asked again: “To whom shall we go.”

“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” – 1 Corinthians‬ ‭11‬:‭26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Conclusion: To Whom Shall We Go?

So much more could be said, shared and reflected on in both the positive and negative. Perhaps some critique could be offered in reflection and has already been in other spaces. I wanted to express my own perspective from Kigali 23 and the immense joy and privilege that it was to be there. Personally, I am indebted to those who made it possible by both invitation and support. What excites me now is to see the impact that will be had across the globe and within the local Church. It would be hard not to be encouraged, challenged and inspired about what might be possible wherever God has placed us.

The theme of the conference was the challenge of the conference was that potent question: “To whom shall we go?” As again and again, the answer was given: all those who need to hear. Yet, with the Kigali Commitment given, I think an equally important question was left unspoken as all gathered were left to consider not just: “to whom shall we go?” But also “with whom shall we go?” In the work that God has called us all to.

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