Nourishing Unity? NEAC 2008

by Graham Kings

Date added: 14/11/2008

Unity amongst Evangelicals in the Church of England is urgently needed at this crucial moment in the Anglican Communion. We are committed to the teaching of the Communion on sexuality and opposed to the developments in North America which have caused this crisis.

Unity should be organic, not imposed; founded on the long standing ‘basis of belief’ of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), not on controversial new declarations; and fully cognisant of the variety of perspectives of the three streams within our tradition – conservative, open and charismatic – not a uniformity of one or two streams only.

As the National Evangelical Anglican Congress (NEAC) opened in Blackpool on 19 September 2003, the Church Times published my overview of evangelicalism, ‘The Nature of Living Water’. It developed the metaphor of watercourses to describe the three streams as ‘canal, river and rapids’ and was a summary of an Anvil article, which was also published on Fulcrum.

Tomorrow, Saturday 15th November 2008, some Evangelicals in the Church of England will be meeting at All Souls’ Langham Place, London, for a one day ‘consultation’. The theme is ‘Shaping the Future: Anglican Evangelicalism Post Lambeth and GAFCON’. It is organised by the CEEC and, although it only lasts for one day, the traditional brand name of NEAC is being used, with the ‘C’ being changed from ‘Congress’ to ‘Consultation’.

Usually, NEAC meets every 10 years or so over a period of days: 1967 (Keele); 1977 (Nottingham); 1988 (Caister); 2003 (Blackpool). In the past there has been substantial planning and publications and the residential aspect has been a vital part of the fellowship. In the midst of the current crisis in the Anglican Communion, and after five years, this year’s meeting seems very brief.

Nevertheless, my hopes are fourfold. First, that we may be united in the good news and in our Anglican calling. Second, that people from all three streams will attend and be consulted. Third, that ordained women will be called to contribute to the discussion after the panel – there are, sadly, no ordained women speakers. Fourth, that no vote will be taken officially to back the Jerusalem Declaration and join the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) based in Sydney, which is the continuation movement of GAFCON. Is it not significant that the Diocese of Sydney, in recently allowing deacons, and (also in principle) lay people, to preside at Holy Communion, has itself broken point 7 of the Jerusalem Declaration, which specifically upholds the 'classic Anglican Ordinal'?

The first published schedule for the day was criticised in the constituency because the three bishops featured were the three Church of England bishops who did not attend the Lambeth Conference. Wallace Benn (Lewes) was to be the opening speaker, Michael Nazi-Ali (Rochester) the key note speaker, and Pete Broadbent (Willesden) a panel member. The first two were at GAFCON and the last was at neither conference.

In the revised agenda, Keith Sinclair (Birkenhead), a bishop from the charismatic stream of evangelicalism who did attend Lambeth - as well as GAFCON - has replaced Wallace Benn. He will speak after the welcome and bible reading by Paul Perkin, the vicar of St Mark’s Battersea Rise, and before Michael Nazir-Ali.

In the afternoon, as first published, there will be a panel of four speakers on the subject ‘How do we move on from here’. It is made up of Christina Baxter, Principal of St John’s College, Nottingham; Mike Ovey, Principal of Oak Hill College, London; Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden; and Chris Sugden, Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream who was also the secretary of GAFCON. This is scheduled for two hours and some time for discussion from the floor has been promised. The day will finish with a concluding address by Richard Turnbull, chair of CEEC and Principal of Wycliffe Hall.

What has happened since NEAC4 in Blackpool? The Chair of CEEC then, and of that Congress, Paul Gardner, has become a Presbyterian minister in the USA. The two networks which were launched there have developed their web sites: Anglican Mainstream (conservative and focused on homosexuality) and Fulcrum (open and aiming to renew the evangelical centre). Though both are conservative on issues of sexuality, they have differed on ecclesiology.

Anglican Mainstream has pioneered the ‘Federal Conservative’ line, in that it does not accept the warnings in The Windsor Report concerning transprovincial interventions. (See the ‘quadrant’ in my Fulcrum Newsletter for June this year, ‘Reading and Reshaping the Anglican Communion’). With others, it has set up GAFCON, lost faith in the Windsor Process and (with CEEC backing) discouraged Evangelical attendance at the Lambeth Conference. Fulcrum has developed the ‘Communion Conservative’ line, backing the Windsor Process, the Anglican Covenant and encouraging attendance at Lambeth.

In the charismatic stream, Alpha and New Wine networks have continued to grow significantly through their courses, summer conferences and leadership training sessions. They are less inclined to be involved in ecclesial discussions, though are conservative on issues of sexuality.

The passing of the integrative leadership of John Stott is much lamented. Who would be the internationally-known, iconic leaders of these three streams? Conservatives seem to have chosen Peter Jensen, the ‘Archbishop over the Water’ in Sydney – there not being a leader of his stature in England; open evangelicals look to Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, and charismatics appreciate Nicky Gumbel, the vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, and founder of Alpha.

Who can bring together for discussion these three streams – eg represented by Reform, Fulcrum and New Wine? This is historically the role of CEEC, but at the moment, for various reasons, that is not happening. Perhaps the Evangelical Bishops’ Group in the House of Bishops, which was not consulted about the date of NEAC 2008, should take the lead in working with CEEC? What is needed is a reform of its constitution, to take into account the development of new groups, leading to elections which are transparent and representation which is authentic. Now that really would be nourishing for unity.


Graham Kings

Graham Kings

Wood panel

A bronze

Wood panel