GAFCON have officially announced their intention to consecrate a missionary bishop for Europe at a press conference deliberately placed to juxtapose with the Scottish Episcopal Church’s vote to change the definition of marriage.

The full statement, given by Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), is available on the GAFCON website [pdf]:

At our April meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, the Gafcon Primates decided to provide a missionary bishop for Europe with the initial focus on those in Scotland and those faithful Anglicans in England outside the Church of England. Today’s decision by the Scottish Episcopal Church to change the biblical and historic definition of marriage has highlighted the need to respond to the cries and pleas of those Scots who today have been marginalized by their leaders. The attempt to redefine marriage is not one that a faithful Christian can support.

The Gafcon Primates have asked our Province, the Anglican Church in North America, to take on the task of providing a missionary bishop for

Scotland. Our Province was formed at the direction of Gafcon 2008 after many of the Provinces of Gafcon had provided the same kind of oversight for clergy and congregations in North America. They have asked us to consecrate Canon Andy Lines.

Andy Lines (the Mission Director & CEO of Crosslinks, Chairman of the Anglican Mission in England and Chairman of the GAFCON UK taskforce) was considered by every observer I’ve spoken to as the obvious choice for the role and there was no surprise about his appointment. In his statement at the press conference he stressed his affection for and links with Scotland. However, it was clear that this consecration, while catalysed by the actions of the Scottish Episcopal Church (and corresponding inaction of Church of England leadership) is intended to be a broader move to support orthodox congregations and movements throughout the UK and Europe. As one senior GAFCON leader put it to me, “the role of a mission director and the role of a bishop are very similar … or at least they ought to be”.

The press conference also included David McCarthy of the Scottish Anglican Network (pictured above with Archbishop Foley Beach). SAN’s statement is available here [pdf].

We will continue to trust, uphold and contend for the teaching of Jesus Christ in his church in Scotland, and to share the momentous news that he died and rose again so that anyone can come to him for forgiveness and eternal life.

We are thankful for support we have received from many in the Anglican Communion and particularly from the Archbishops who lead the GAFCON1 movement. We are grateful for their support in prayer, their counsel and their practical support, not least in their decision to consecrate a missionary bishop for Europe. We now look forward to building stronger relationships with the leaders and churches of the global Anglican Communion who remain faithful to Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.

The leading role of the Anglican Church in North America is notable for a number of reasons. First, it will be seen as another endorsement of ACNA’s place in GAFCON thinking. Second, it could be understood to be indicating that the formation of ACNA is a possible model for a similar project in the longer-term in the UK or Europe. ACNA have made much of the link [pdf] between the Anglican churches in North America and Scotland. The first bishop consecrated for the newly independent USA was initially refused by the Church of England so Scotland stepped in…

Thus on November 14, 1784 Samuel Seabury was consecrated in Aberdeen, Scotland by Robert Kilgour, Bishop of Aberdeen and Primus of Scotland; Arthur Petrie, Bishop of Ross and Moray; and John Skinner, coadjutor bishop of Aberdeen. This is significant in Anglican history, since no other person had been consecrated Anglican bishop for outside of Great Britain and any work in the New World, and many mark this moment as the birth of the Anglican Communion.

Sources in the ACNA were certainly keen to present this new international consecration as another watershed moment in the history of the Communion.

They have also suggested to me that it places the Archbishop of Canterbury in a little bit of a conundrum: Welby has stated that ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion (although the GAFCON Primates disagree) so technically this cannot be seen by him as “border-crossing”. On the other hand it is an action that has the full endorsement of leaders representing the vast majority of the Anglican Communion, an endorsement that will be emphasised by their presence at the consecration itself on 30 June in Wheaton, Illinois. Lines’ consecration will be viewed as valid and in order; he will truly be an Anglican bishop.

It’s a clear strategy from the GAFCON Primates. They have placed a clear footprint in Scotland that more than spills over in the Church of England. They have once again raised the profile and position of the Anglican Church in North America; not only in terms of its own legitimacy but, perhaps more importantly, as a model for the new form of the Anglican Communion.

What will Welby do?

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