The following was written for the American Anglican Council by the Very Rev. Andrew Rowell:
An amusing image floating around the internet during these trying times is of Christopher Lloyd’s character from Back to the Future. In it he instructs his protégé, Marty McFly, as to the proper use of a time-traveling DeLorean. “The First Rule,” he says, “is never set the computer to 2020!” We can all relate to the humor undergirding this meme. Many of us would choose to skip this year if only we had a time machine! Those of us who know the truth of the Gospel, however, know that even in the chaos of 2020, God is still on His throne. He will bring us through this time of suffering, and suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope (Romans 5:4). My prayer is that once we’re on the other side of the fear and strife in our world, we’ll emerge with a deeper trust in His goodness and a better sense of His will for His Church.
One positive outcome of this year’s chaos was the postponement of the Lambeth Conference. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s call for all Anglican bishops to gather in England in June of 2020. This gathering, the fifteenth of its kind, is a crucial part of the projection of British soft power, and for it to collapse is a disaster for Welby and other power players in the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury continues to assert himself as the titular head of the worldwide Communion, attachment to whom is claimed to be a defining marker of true Anglicanism. He therefore depends on these high profile “instruments of communion” in order to justify his office. In the scramble to reorganize and shift to a later date, momentum for Lambeth has diminished at a crucial moment in Welby’s ministry.
Meanwhile, the Church of England continues its precipitous decline (with, for example, only 2% of 18-24 year old Britons claiming affiliation with the COE), raising questions about his own effectiveness as the purported “head” of Anglicanism. Is his leadership position merely an exercise of British influence that has long outlived its colonial origins?
The lack of a Lambeth conference, which would have reasserted the Church of England’s role as the mother church of the Communion, compounds the grim state of Welby’s shrinking province. Ironically, the same need to postpone is a positive outcome of this pandemic for the planned gathering of orthodox bishops in Kigali, Rwanda. Gafcon’s leadership called together the Kigali conference in order to create an alternative gathering space for those bishops who could not, in good conscience, attend Lambeth. Now that Lambeth is postponed, Kigali will also move, but this gives time for biblically-faithful bishops to take stock of the theological challenges they face from secularizing Anglican Churches in the West.
At Gafcon 2018, over 2,000 delegates from the most vibrant, growing corners of the Communion demanded that Welby invite to Lambeth representatives from newly-created orthodox provinces (ACNA and Brazil) and disinvite heterodox bishops who had violated Lambeth 1.10 (the 1998 Lambeth resolution declaring marriage between one man and one woman as the Biblical norm for the worldwide church) unless they repent and reverse their position. A deaf ear was turned towards Gafcon’s plea. In addition to this error, Welby invited same-sex partnered bishops and their spouses to Lambeth 2020, which prompted an outrage that made him back-peddle and disinvite those very spouses. This caused outrage on the other side of the ideological spectrum. These were not his finest examples in leadership, faithful or otherwise. Before Gafcon’s Kigali 2021 conference, orthodox bishops and other leaders will have this moment to consolidate their efforts in calling the Anglican Communion to faithful obedience to Scripture at the heart of the once-every-500-year-Anglican Realignment happening before our eyes!
While Lambeth and Kigali await their future dates, orthodox realignment continues unimpaired. Gafcon continues to address “the Gospel deficit in the Communion” as it leverages its mission networks and its Bishops Training Institute to further the work of spreading the Gospel. The Global South continues to address “the ecclesial deficit in the Communion” by producing the Cairo Covenant and seeking to have it ratified by orthodox provinces around the globe. The American Anglican Council continues to work tirelessly to train clergy and lay leaders, revitalize congregations, and create sound structures for the future of a biblically-sound Anglican Church.
Without a doubt, 2020 has not been a favorite year for many thus far. Our own DeLoreans would skip right over it and get right to 2021! But we know that God has not abandoned us. There is much good coming from the chaos of this year. He is at work to show the “immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19-20). Despite the rise of diseases, plagues, social discord, and revolutions, and despite the interruption of our best-made plans and conferences, the “faithfulness of the Lord endures forever” (Psalm 117:2).
The Very Rev. Andrew Rowell is the Rector of Christchurch Montgomery and Dean of the Western Deanery of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese. Andrew received his undergraduate degree from Duke University (1995), his law degree from the University of Virginia (1999), and his Masters of Divinity from the Duke University Divinity School (2008). Fr. Andrew is married to Miriam “Mimi” Suber Rowell, who is a Critical Care Registered Nurse. Andrew and Mimi have two sons, Eben and Zeke.