GALCON (Global Anglican Liberals Conference) are starting a movement for Anglican liberals. It is going to be for those who can use elements of Anglican liturgy, but would from time to time want to read from a Buddhist Sutra or the Bhagavad Gita instead of the set Bible readings. There are no promises to uphold anything, so the leadership says the movement could evolve. In any affiliated parish church there might be one sermon on Buddha for Mattins or another on Gandhi at Evensong. They may mention the historical Jesus or Christ of faith from time to time. "There could well be Fresh Expressions, such as saying prayers while skydiving," said one leader, the one time Bishop of Edinburgh.
A spokesperson said, for example, that one week clergy may want to wear seasonal colours, but another week they might put on druid dress instead. "Let's face it, the Archbishop of Canterbury did." He continued, "We don't want to get personal about the Archbishop, and it's these Instruments of Communion that keep telling us what to do that get in the way. So we will have our own structure."
Hardliners wanted to start a new Church but moderates won a key battle. Instead this will be a "Church within a Church". It will sign priests, parishes and laypeople up, and those who are members of different religions and none, and a few retired bishops will form a committee so that those that sign up can give allegiance and receive oversight from them and tell their own bishops what they can do. "It was like Ganesh shifting a huge logistical problem," said one blogging bishop. However, the retired bishops, whose names have not yet been released, are to give no directions about spiritual content, only a requirement that members should be serious on occasions.
So the moderates have won in key negotiations. Our group of reporters - and how keen I am on the Hindu lass who learns quickly and is more accurate and measured than me - have watched keenly who has been coming and going, or not doing so. No one saw Don Cupitt or Bishop Spong, so we took it that the moderates were winning. They may be shy, of course, or plotting, or doing some gardening.
There were tense negotiations lasting all week, and we journalists know this because we have been sat outside and heard nothing. No one let us in to the workshops nor told us what key decisions had already been made. We attended all the press conferences, but these were hard to follow and much had to be filled in by our imaginations. We noticed how incomprehensible theologians were quickly replaced by the straight-talking ex-Bishop of Edinburgh, and how his status has risen. One reporter cheekily asked him if his morality was Godless.
Anyway this moderate victory will start a "new reformation", consistent with the interviews earlier on, where one interviewee said, "It's fantastic this, we are going to do what we like. I fancy a doing a naturist liturgy using free downloaded music on an MP3 player."
The group plans its own bishops, clergy and theological colleges, and eventually its own structures, within the obvious legal constraints of existing Anglican institutions (where evangelical, traditional and moderate bishops and some college principals will be told to "go and get stuffed", according to one moderate voice). Students will be put through Westcott House and Queens College Birmingham, once they have been completely captured, and also Harris Manchester College in Oxford might be a good place to do some liberal arts.
The GALCON meeting was prompted by the “failure”, as these liberals see it, of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by writing the Advent Letter of 2007 and trying to push a Covenant to match. GALCON liberals would still like to see the failure of the Covenant, which is why some of its bishops are still going to Lambeth. There is also some resentment about the Bishop of Durham, because he is seen as nowhere as good as David Jenkins was in the 1980s (though David Jenkins told leaders of this movement that he would stay a loyal Canterbury Anglican).
Anglicanism has simply failed to take sufficient account of postmodern culture, said the resource paper, called The Church as a Universal Body, and Anglicanism presents itself as far too formally dogmatic. There are too many rules, it claims. 'We should not have to licence Readers and even people who serve.' A passage in a later chapter states, 'It should be possible to have Buddhas and Krishnas on the altar table.' During the worship one priest taking the sermon announced to applause that he had changed his name to Harry Krishna so that members of the parish would keep chanting Harry Krishna. The Rev. Krishna said he had changed his name from Sidney Arthur Budder the same day that he had arrived at the conference.
More than 100 GALCON retired bishops will be unable to present their case at the Lambeth Conference in Kent because retired bishops are not invited, but as there is to be no outcome they don't care. Those few that will attend suggest that they will use the opportunity to train up and become better bishops, whilst having a good argument with those who start an argument with them.
Certain people, like Chris Sugden, Martyn Minns and Wallace Benn have been banned from the GALCON gathering, with a WANTED poster put up, and should they have come in delegates were to raise the alarm by singing:
This little Lib'ral light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little Lib'ral light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little Lib'ral light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, all the time.
Leaders said that GALCON was nothing to do with polyamorous relationships and this was why journalists slept in their own hotels, presumably together.
This, the last day, the movement said it would announce a new name. It will be called Global Anglican Liberals.
This report was not written by Ruth Gledhill, but could have been.