October 22nd—We began the morning with Holy Eucharist at All Saints’ Cathedral led by the Nigerian delegation and according to the Church of Nigeria’s Prayer Book. The Anglican Church of Nigeria has the largest delegation at this convention, which is, I suppose, fitting given that it is the largest Province in the Anglican Communion. The worship was stately and joyous—with hymns such as “O Worship the King, all glorious above,” “Let all the world in every corner sing,” “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus,” “Faith of our Fathers living still” and others. It was a stirring way to begin our first full day.
After morning tea we gathered in Plenary Session to hear the Chairman of GAFCON, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya give his Address—“Global Challenge.” A few memorable statements I jotted down in my moleskin journal were:
- “Biblical Anglicanism,” he noted,” is global not just because of history but because it has spread to all nations.”
- “GAFCON is for the sake of our children. There are well-funded organizations committed to bringing the values that are disrupting the West to Africa.”
- “The Communion needs new wineskins to fulfill the Great Commission. But focusing on organizational change alone is not enough.”
This was followed by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali leading a multi-speaker presentation on the three challenges in the world that we as Christians cannot ignore:
- Aggressive Secularism
- Militant Islamism
- Seductive Syncretism
“Aggressive secularism has created a vacuum,,,,.” He noted. “What was once filled in society by religion…that is Christianity, is now only a vacuum. Since nature abhors a vacuum. What will fill it?”
The first presenter for this session on the triple jeopardy facing the world-wide Church was Dr. Michael Ovey from Oak Hill Theological College in London. His presentation entitled “The Grace of God or the World of the West” was a tour de force and well worth every priest and layperson interested in engaging the secular culture of the 21st Century America and Europe reading. I strongly commend it to you.
After lunch we heard various presentations on the Suffering and Persecuted Church. When Archbishop Ben Kawashi of Jos was asked by Archbishop Peter Jensen if persecution made evangelism difficult he responded by saying, “Persecution does not make evangelism difficult it makes life difficult.” Though he has had his house and all his belongings burned to ashes; his wife beaten; and many of his congregations ravaged by radical Islamists, yesterday when he was speaking to some of the bishops in the mini-conference on Episcopal Ministry he said:
- “Not all suffering comes from knives and machetes.”
- “Whether we follow Jesus or not, we will suffer…. So we might as well preach the gospel and live with vigor.”
I am usually strengthened in my faith when I hear of the perseverance of fellow believers who endure such hardships. And this was no exception.
October 23rd and 24th—There were a variety of Mini-Conferences these days which we could choose between for the next three days but you stayed with the one chosen throughout the entire time. They included
- The Challenge of Islam: The Gospel, Islam and Freedom—Presented by The Rt Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali.
- The Work of the Holy Spirit: The Spirit of truth in the life of the Church. Allison attended this elective.
- Gospel and Culture: How can we re-evangelize the West. Frs. Greg Snyder and Bob Lawrence attended this conference.
- Episcopal Ministry: Priorities for a Bishop’s Leadership— which I attended.
Other options included Marriage and Family, Children and Youth, Being Women of God, Aid and Development, and Theological Education.
I found the Mini-Conference I attended to be wonderfully renewing, practically helpful, and personally challenging.
On Thursday late afternoon and early evening we did have the one African cultural outing of the convention. Boarding buses we made our way to the nearby Nairobi National Park and Animal Preserve. I must say I didn’t expect we’d see all that many animals. I could not have been more wrong. Gazelles, giraffes, water buffaloes, white rhinos—one ran along beside our bus, herds of zebras, one mother zebra nursing her young. Some of the group on other buses even saw lions chasing a giraffe. We did not see any lions but we have our own encounters. Twice the bus was unable to negotiate a hill with all of us on it. The first time we all unloaded while the bus was on a precarious angle. We got out and watched the sun set over the African savannah. Then on our way out of the park just as dusk was falling we again were having trouble negotiating a steep incline. With the bus driver struggling to keep the bus from rolling backwards several African women, having experienced, I suppose, such problems before, began to scream, “Let us off! Let us off! We want to get off!” Allison said to me afterwards—“If they want off, I want off!” Anyway we all climbed out and walked up the steep hill. Then up grinded the bus. While we were milling around rather leisurely re-boarding, a park ranger came up urgently telling us, “It is dark. There are lions here—hurry, get back on bus!” I didn’t know whether the ranger was exaggerating or not until I heard that the others had seen them. An English barrister I was talking with later informed me that two Japanese tourist were recently jumped by lions and dragged off. We then had an African dinner replete with traditional Kenyan dancers and music at a restaurant with the descriptive name—The Carnivore.
Allison and my adventures were not over however. Dusty from our bus ride in the un-airconditioned bus with windows open and the dust swirling about from the bus in front of us, and tired from a long day with less than full night’s sleep the last several days, we arrived at the hotel around 10:00 p.m. ready to shower and get to bed. We boarded the elevator with Dr. Ashley Null (a frequent speaker at Mere Anglicanism Conferences here in Charleston and renown scholar on Archbishop Thomas Cranmer), four other conference delegates and a hotel employee. I should tell you our room is on the 15th floor. We were all crowded in with precious little room to move. The elevator stopped on the 6th or was it 8th floor (I don’t remember) to let someone off. The doors closed and the lift then proceeded to move—but not up. It drifted slowly down… and down. Soon we stopped with no movement whatsoever. The lights went out. It jolted down farther. A young seminarian from Trinity School for Ministry and I were closest to the elevator doors so we tried to pry the doors open. As we opened them several inches we could see the first floor lobby and feel the cool air rushing in which only made me realize how hot the elevator had become. But then the elevator jolted down again so we were now two feet or so below the first floor. We had already called the main desk and by now workmen were out but soon there was an outer door that was shut immovably in front of the inner elevator doors so now we could no longer get fresh, cool air and our claustrophobic little box was getting hotter by the minute. We could no longer even open the inner doors. Then once again the elevator began to slowly descend. Soon the seminarian and I were once again able to pry the doors open a couple of inches but now we could see we had descended into the elevator shaft and could only peer out to a concrete wall. Minutes ticked away and concern among the group began to develop. Finally Allison said, “You’d think being in here with a bunch of priests someone would suggest we pray. I am going to pray!” So she said a prayer. After awhile the elevator moved slowly up and we were once again back to the lobby floor. We could hear the workmen outside. And since I’m writing this blog on the evening of October 25th obviously they eventually got the doors open.
There’s some disagreement among us about how long we were in trapped inside. I thought it was about ten minutes. The others said it was at least twenty. They could be right. After all the seminarian and I, squeezed as we were up in the front, could at least spend our time trying to pry open the doors and push the useless elevator buttons. The other five inside could only stand or lean up against the wall and wait, worry, or pray. As we piled out several hotel personnel were there to take down our room numbers. It was somewhere around midnight that a knock on the door of our room awakened Allison. It was a hotel waiter with a fine bottle of South African Merlot to console us, I suppose. I half consciously heard her say something about a bottle of wine and went back to sleep. We’ll be taking it home for a souvenir. I’m writing this to let you know that’s just one of the reasons why I haven’t written another blog sooner!
Tomorrow the conference concludes and Allison and I head into the remote bush Diocese of Marsabit in a Land Rover with Bishop Robert Martin and his wife, Sue. Every Kenyan that Allison has told where we are going opens his or her eyes wide and says—“You’re going to Marsabit?” “Well,” she says, “at least there’s probably no elevators there!” This is to let you know it may be a while before I get a chance to report any further on GAFCON II developments. I suggest you get your information elsewhere if you want it before late next week. We’ll be flying back to Nairobi on Tuesday afternoon, October 29 in some kind of small plane that only flies on Tuesdays or Fridays—that is, if weather permits. We then fly back to Charleston on Wednesday morning arriving home in the wee hours of Thursday morning—God willing.