Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Report from GAFCON - Monday, June 23

The following is an abridged report from the Rev Canon Bill Gandenberger in Jerusalem:

The opening session began after dinner. Archbishop Kolini of Rwanda had the honor of introducing Archbishop Peter Akinola as the keynote speaker. ++Peter did a masterful job of outlining how GAFCON came into being – that it is a reaction to the downward slope of theology and morality within the Communion, primarily from the US and Canada. That we are not attempting to split the communion but instead to be a healing force for the continued life and vitality of the Anglican Communion. That statement, and some by other leaders, gives me hope for the Communion, but also frustrates efforts to create a true reformation of the establishment. We’ll have to wait to see what actually is produced here. It has been said by a number that this gathering must not be just another venue for another statement – almost all of the former being ignored by Lambeth, TEC, etc.

Yet the anticipation here is palpable and the enthusiasm contagious. Many of the pilgrims are housed at other hotels, some more than 20 minutes away, and still there are more people arriving each day. Even this evening Archbishop Greg and Sylvia Venables just arrived due to scheduling and other issues.

This Monday morning we started with a 6:30 breakfast and then went to board buses at the other tower. Our Bishop boarded the bus and was actually placed in the front seat beside the bus driver, a position I’d seen him in on our first tour of Israel. The other available seat was in the center of the rear seat, and I had the pleasure of sitting next to Bishop Peter Smith of AMiA and his wife, and an Nigerian Bishop and his wife. Bishop Chuck Murphy of AMiA, his wife and two daughters, were a few seats ahead. We struggling through heavy Monday morning traffic making our way to the top of the Mount of Olives. Our Israeli tour guide told us that along with approximately 1,000 of us, another group of 500 pilgrims from Russia were to be arriving at there that morning. As the second bus in line it was easier for +John-David to exit the bus and enter the cue heading down a slope towards our meeting place overlooking the whole ancient City of Jerusalem. The Bishops had been urged to bring rochets and shemere and Bill and I found a rock ledge which +John-David could rest against as he was vested. Luckily, we had been encouraged to purchase straw hats the night before, because the sun was extremely hot as we waited to organize for a number of pictures and he eagerly wore his hat (although it did sit tiny upon his head – one size does not fit all!).

We were organized with our backs to the city, while being entertained by the Nigerian Youth Praise Band and Fr. Greg Brewer of Good Shepherd, Paoli, Pennsylvania on the keyboard. That group has ministered to all our plenary sessions. A service from our GAFCON worship booklet was geared to praying for Jerusalem, the dioceses and congregations we had left behind, and those who had not yet been reconciled to God through Christ around the world. It was actually quite moving despite the crowd. Interestingly participants from CANA and AMiA helped lead the worship and were welcomed as equals by all the other jurisdictions present, something that Lambeth has not done. Perhaps that is one of the key victories of this whole event. Just as the Diocese of San Joaquin has been somewhat hidden within the Anglican Communion Office website and directories, our other Common Cause Partners are very present and recognized by the orthodox leaders around the globe. Numerous Diocesans made a point of coming over to our Bishop to acknowledge, congratulate, and enquire how we were progressing in our new found freedom from TEC. Our Bishop and Diocese are well known in the Communion, despite the efforts of the established Church.

Both a still photographer, and then a helicopter arrived to take shots of us. There were certainly numerous TV and news photographers there as well. We were disappointed that the copter seemed to stay so far away, but I believe Israeli air space restrictions may be the problem there. Some of us hoped to feel the wind from the rotors to cool us off, but that didn’t happen. Regardless, after the whole group was “shot”, they were asked to leave the bishops behind and retire until the Purple Pictures were taken. A separate picture for Archbishops only was supposed to be taken, but there was sufficient confusion and congeliality abounding that I don’t know if that was ever accomplished. Herding cats may be easier than directing such a gathering of bishops. I believe proofs will be available for sale tomorrow and I hope to purchase a few of them for display later.

That crowd was then to remove their vestments, and then join the other pilgrims to begin a walk down the Palm Sunday path to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. We had already decided that we would take a cab back to the hotel instead. Bishop Schofield has been there at least six times and would not have been able to walk that distance anyway. It is a most gorgeous and glorious place to spend some time in contemplation, but surrounded by 1,000 of our pilgrims in addition to other tourists made it seem better to go back another time. Traffic to the hotel was extremely backed up, and for good reason as the French Prime Minister was in motorcade to or from the Knesset and many roads were blocked. Once we had the opportunity to see his vehicles pass by, surrounded by about 20 motorcycles and other security vehicles we had a quicker time getting to our hotel.

Lunch today was followed by the opening Eucharist. A grand procession of bishops took three full songs to accomplish, and then Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda was led to the pulpit. His luggage was somewhere else in the world, but he did have a suit to preach in. His accent is much easier to understand than Akinola and despite the after lunch drowsiness he was able to keep the vast majority enthralled with a sermon from John 5. The man at the Pool of Bethesda was asked if he wanted to get well. We were asked whether WE, the Church, wanted to get well. Since his sermon should be on I won’t go into the details of his message, but it was effective. The praise music was perfectly suited to the eucharist. Most meaningful for me was the use of the Kenyan Rite for this service. The congregational participation was so much more visible, and welcomed in this setting. I’d love to see this Rite used more commonly within our own congregations.

Frankly, after that service I felt jet lag kicking in and went up to close my eyes for just a bit prior to a presentation by Dr. Os Guinness, a presentation entitled “The Gospel and Secularism.”. I woke up a half hour after he finished, and hurried down to join the crowd. Our Bishop and others present thought it was outstanding and I do hope to be able to see it later on video.

Please keep us in your prayers. Pray that our efforts as a Diocese, and those of our Common Cause Partners, will produce both a structure for effective work for the Lord and formal recognition within the world-wide Anglican Communion. And pray for the effective use of this time for all the participants, as well as our delegation, here at GAFCON in Jerusalem. May we make a difference that translates to our home congregations as well as our Diocese and the surrounding territories.

More to come.

Yours faithfully,

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