‘It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer is Jesus’, so goes the punchline of the well known joke where the Sunday School teacher describes a grey, tree climbing animal with a long bushy tale, and the kids are so used to the answer being ‘Jesus’ that they can’t bring themselves to respond ‘squirrel’ – it has to be Jesus.

Jay Behan, bishop in the church of confessing Anglicans New Zealand gave a moving opening bible address on how we can always be looking behind the ‘next door for something more’ but when you’ve found Jesus you’ve already found everything. In Colossians Jesus is supreme in ALL creation and supreme in ALL the new creation and church. Indeed Jesus is all you need – not structures, not gafcon, not bishops, not anything. They can be useful but only to the degree that they bow the knee to him.

Yet, he pointed out, it is so easy for us to find that ‘thankfulness slides inevitably into discontent.’ When we are chasing after the next great thing it doesn’t satisfy. We have to remember that the glory of Jesus cannot be surpassed. He is the One to whom we turn. The answer is Jesus even if the question seems to be about a grey furry animal with a fluffy tail, new provinces, breaking with Canterbury or providing structural solutions. Jesus is everything and we can’t afford to get out of focus.

I’ll return to the main morning sessions focused on the history of Gafcon including a moving address from our own Keith Sinclair that culminated in a standing ovation. But I want to first point to the many inspirational stories I heard from around the Communion today (anonymised for obvious reasons).

There were many stories of hope from around the world.

One former Muslim who persecuted Christians is now ordained and has been baptising other Muslim background believers in the most extraordinary places around the world. He had to visit his ‘grave’ after his parents declared him dead and buried an empty coffin following his conversion. Others spoke of persecution in other contexts, some having seen hundreds killed around them. Then there was (in the CMS phrase) a ‘from everywhere to everywhere’ moment heartwarming to all of us in world missions. A Brazilian bishop told of a mission in a Muslim majority nation which led to a conversion, marriage (Brazilian missioner to new convert), baby and a brand new church as the Muslim king there decided this impressive convert should be given land to build and start a church. They then received backup and ongoing oversight from Anglican African bishops from neighbouring countries who understood their culture more instinctively.

‘There is no Christianity where you have not faced a cost’ was the compelling final comment of one of those who had paid a huge cost and yet counter it a privilege to do so. The westerners on stage who’d maybe lost a job/building/felt culture was overtaking them could have (and probably did) pale besides them. Yet the challenge went out that we are all actually in it together. A former Muslim who had experienced huge persecution drew us all into his experiences reminding is that when one is suffering we are all there with them. I couldn’t have summed up the SOMA prophetic calling better: ‘to tend to the nervous system of the body of Christ’. It was wonderful to hear these and many other stories of God on the move over the numerous food/coffee breaks.

And so to the politics, as despite the Colossians injunction to focus on Christ and stories of faithful confessing Anglicans on a mission this gathering including several new faces from the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans has only come about due to ruptures in the Communion – initially from the USA / Canada exacerbated by an inability within Anglicanism to hold together (discipline) divergent provinces if they depart from historical norms.

One flawed, analogy is that it is a bit like if the USA football (soccer) federation announced that they were going to introduce goals twice the size, chop the game into quarters and allow you to pick up the ball and run if you couldn’t control it on your feet any longer in order to get a ‘get a higher scoring more commercial product’ and FIFA just sat back and said ‘well that’s up to them’. Gafcon is a gathering of federations from around the world saying to the USA (and ‘FIFA’ and anywhere where this new form has spread) ‘we need to get back to the beautiful game’.

Except now the focus is not on a breakaway USA group anymore but on the homeland of the beautiful game, the UK. Imagine if Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool began adopting these new rules. That’s what it feels like when the Church of England does just that. The CoE is mother church of the Anglican Communion and the Communion’s now redundant focal points of unity hinge around the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The ‘first among equals’ ABC convenes the Primates (senior archbishops) meetings, hosts the Lambeth Conference and is a well travelled advocate for the communion in troubled places. Justin Welby personably is someone who has visited more and been to more dangerous places than anyone could have possibly expected, and yet has now, in the view of the GSFA and Gafcon bishops here simply let that communion down. The ABC cannot be a focal point of unity any longer. His speech in Feb Synod and the shutting down of Archbishop Samy from Alexandria’s moderate call to listen to the communion by the Archbishop of York, combined with the votes of Synod to be the final nails of broken trust hammered into the coffin of the ‘old Canterbury Communion’. It’s hard to overestimate how let down by Canterbury and indeed by York so many bishops and clergy around the communion feel, including many, who have been moderates and peacekeepers up to now.

Keith Sinclair, gave a moving address, calling everyone back to Lambeth 1:10, and reminding us that this involves each province standing up to the prevailing culture around them even if that means resisting government backed homophobia or other sexual sins. He pointed to Archbishop Samy’s moving address at the General Synod and said, he couldn’t understand why that call from the GSFA didn’t lead to an immediate postponement of the synod proposals. But the concern in the room is not just about England. A lay woman from an African province reminded me in conversation that the challenge is very close to home. Her big concern was for the morality of her own bishops and archbishops after an enormous scandal had recently broken out where a former GAFCON primate had been found to be having an affair and a baby with his mistress and his successor has had to bring this into the light. All feet here are of clay.

Keith Sinclair appreciated by the conference for all he has gone through.

Ultimately, the challenge here is ‘How can two walk together if they are not agreed.’ When the mother church of the mother diocese of the mother province has abandoned the gospel then the mother has abandoned her children. At times this does seem to have Oedipal tones – from the Greek myth where the son is doomed to ‘kill his father and marry his mother’. In a post-colonial age there are a few who might relish getting rid of their father in faith (the historic ABC role) to gain the hand of mother church, but for every schemer there are 25-100 just confounded that this could/should have gone so wrong. How could the last ABCs allow their wayward western children to relocate the church in a spiritual pigsty, not require them to come home?

As to any emerging way forward, I think it’s fair to say the way is still not at all clear for delegates from the Church of England. It remains true, that there is a significant divide between those who have felt themselves at the fringes of the established church for some decades now, and those who have had proximity to power who have got used to structural influence. Chatting to young leaders in Re:New and elsewhere it’s clear they have far less to lose and more to gain than e.g. HTB/ CRT / New Wine churches in any structural split. And for the Gafcon primates who have already established ‘missions in Europe’ (however tiny they may currently be – and they clearly are tiny from the reports last night), it remains to be seen how they can work with those ‘compelled to resist’ within the structures of the CoE, including those orthodox bishops who have voted or will vote against the ABC and ABY and break collegial responsibility as their trust has too been stretched to breaking point. The GSFA statement earlier this year seemed to many in the UK an easier group to identify with than Gafcon. Fortunately those primates are now talking and hopefully wisdom will prevail – but it’s a difficult jigsaw to complete.

It has to be said that there is significant frustration among the UK delegates here with those back home who feel that they will somehow win this argument over a generation of exponential church growth, leading to a return to orthodoxy, or who feel they have a privileged conversation partner in Justin Welby which will somehow enable them to save the day before the summer or November votes. For them these charismatics in New Wine and HTB have their heads buried in the sand. Time will tell, but it’s hard to ignore the logic, especially when the person you’re talking to is adept at saying one thing in one room and another in another. They want to know why charismatic brothers and sisters (including bishops and network leaders) aren’t standing more closely with them in a last chance saloon. When I hear myself explaining it’s because we have more to lose – having been groomed for preferment and power for a generation – it sounds a bit silly in the light of the stories from around the world shared earlier where ‘compelled to resist’ meant visiting your own grave, as your parents had disowned you. What will we do when our ecclesial parents disown us?

But to finish on a different note – that story had a phenomenal ending. The new convert from Islam was staring at the empty grave that his parents dug for him when he felt a tap on the shoulder. A man spoke to him. ‘Why are you looking in an empty tomb? My tomb is empty as well. Come follow me’.

Resurrection became a theme as the conference also faced a crisis today. Tragically the host Archbishop was rushed away to the USA to visit his 31-year-old son who died in his sleep.

Yet as we sang Amazing Grace after prayer and some weeping we were reminded that whatever deaths we may be called to over the coming weeks, months and years for us as Christians there is always resurrection hope.