Unless the Lord builds the House, their labor is in vain who build it. [Ps 127.1]
It was fifty weeks ago that we gathered to constitute the Anglican Church in North America.
At that time we understood the mission God had for us: “To reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.“ Knowing what you are sent to do is a great starting point, indeed, it is the necessary starting point for the Christian.
Fifty weeks ago we also understood that it was time for orthodox Anglicanism to come together in North America. One hundred forty years of splintering and dividing – forty years in earnest – needed mending, for Christ’s sake, for the kingdom’s sake, and for our own souls’ sake. The coming together formalized at Bedford, Texas, was no less than a sovereign act of God (done in a people who were willing) for which we ought continually to give thanks and for the strengthening of which we must continually labor.
Along the way other understandings have been clarified for us. We have learned to describe our method for achieving this transformation in Christ Jesus as “converted individuals, in multiplying congregations, fueled by the Holy Spirit.” Moreover, we have been able to articulate a threefold accountability without which any congregation falls short of being reliably Anglican: accountable to the Holy Scriptures, accountable to the Great Tradition, accountable for the transformation of society. These understandings are, in themselves, remarkable achievements.
We did not do these things. The Lord did them in a cooperating people. The Lord has built this House. It is marvelous in our eyes.
When we gathered at Bedford fifty weeks ago we were 17 dioceses (or dioceses in formation) plus representatives of the 22 networks of the Anglican Mission. As we gather here in Amesbury we will, God willing, emerge as 20 dioceses, plus our Ministry Partners. We totaled 703 congregations at Bedford. We are 811 congregations at Amesbury, not yet including all the congregations of the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas (a Ministry Partner) that are now requesting inclusion in our church data base and online Church Finder. (Up to date information on our Average Sunday Attendance is not available for this meeting of Provincial Council but is promised by our Anglican Records Task Force for the next Annual Council.)
Systems and relationships continue to “shake-out.” The rosters and reports presented to this Annual Council point to a Church whose functions and life are developing appropriately. The transition from the Common Cause (Lead Bishops) Executive Committee to the six clergy/six laity ACNA Executive Committee takes place with this meeting. There are substantive reports on Prayer Book, Catechumenate, and Ecumenical Relations. The presentation of a balanced budget and the confidence exhibited by our staff in raising the half-million dollars for our Founders Fund to match the nearly half-million dollars now flowing from our dioceses is another sign – a mighty sign – of the Lord’s favor.
The jurisdictional approach to the integration of the Anglican Mission (a missionary outreach of Rwanda) into the Anglican Church in North America has been found to be “a bridge too far” and this meeting sees the petition of the Anglican Mission to be a Ministry Partner as a more appropriate approach to our life together in this season. At the same time this meeting heralds the ending of many important oversight relationships with foreign partners. Not least among these is the conclusion of Recife’s episcopal role. We are delighted that Bp. Robinson Cavalcanti is with us to mark this change. Here as elsewhere, oversight may end but our deep partnership in the gospel continues.
As archbishop I have articulated four areas that I believe need to become our distinctives:
1) that we know ourselves to be the beloved of Jesus;
2) that we become a people committed to personal holiness
3) that we understand our work as fore-runners of Jesus; and
4) that we are those who sacrifice for the sake of others.
Among other things, such distinctives would form us into a different people than we presently are. They would direct us in everything from our engagement with Islam to our embrace of the tithe. Seeing these distinctives is a great beginning. Embrace must follow.
The ordination of women to the presbyterate remains a matter that divides us. Despite the deep theological and ecclesiological divide we have remained committed to each other, and have honored each other as our Constitution envisions. The College of Bishops will have a morning (Friday) aimed at deeper understanding of the grounds of our divergent practice. Moreover, the GAFCON/FCA Primates Council has agreed to appointment of a theological task force to consider both the theological and structural issues that not only divide us, but also them. A healthy Church does not run away from its difficulties, nor does it act independently.
Global relationships among Anglican Provinces have also seen increasing regularization. The Anglican Church in North America is now recognized as the North American Province by the GAFCON/FCA Provinces and I, as archbishop and primate, am now seated on the Primates Council. More broadly, the representatives of twenty Provinces of the Global South, meeting at Singapore, declared the Anglican Church in North America to be “a faithful expression of Anglicanism,” to be their “gospel partners,” and expressed the hope that “all provinces will be in full communion with the clergy and people of the ACNA and Communion Partners.” The privilege of being celebrant of one of the eucharists of South-South Encounter IV was a sign of global affirmation of who we are and of the shared Faith and Order for which we have stood together. Even the General Synod of the Church of England has considered right relationship.
Ecumenical recognitions and conversations have developed far beyond those first signs given to us at Bedford by Metropolitan Jonah and Pastor Rick Warren fifty weeks ago. Our commitments to what Anglicans have always been committed to has translated into a general ecumenical assessment that we look like what Anglicans have always looked like, and doors are consequently opening everywhere.
All of this is the Lord’s work. He has built this House. We have cooperated, even in the hard things…perhaps especially in the hard things. May His grace for this never be absent from us.
Two symbols of all that we are becoming are symbols with which I would draw this “State of the Church” address to a close. These two symbols are also further evidence that it is the Lord who is building this House in these last fifty weeks.
One symbol is the place where we are meeting: All Saints Pro-Cathedral and Ministry Center, Amesbury, Massachusetts. As is obvious to all who are here this is a former Roman Catholic campus: church, school, convent, rectory. The old Episcopal parish lost its old Episcopal buildings, but this is so much bigger, and there is so much more possibility here. The Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, like so many ecumenical allies, moved heaven and earth (as they say) to make this place available for homeless Anglicans. Similarly, that the mayor came here to welcome us should be lost on no one. The whole town is abuzz with what is happening at the new cathedral. This is also center for the Anglican Diocese in New England, not of New England. There has just been a big laudatory spread in the Boston Globe. Accountable to the Scriptures. Accountable to the Tradition. Accountable for Social Transformation. Boundless vision. All things new. This is the Anglican Church in North America.
The other symbol is Anglican 1000. A leader, David Roseberry, came forward after my investiture sermon fifty weeks ago, saying he would do whatever it takes to work with me to make the planting of 1000 new congregations in five years a reality. Christ Church Plano funded the first season of operation: website, conferences, administration, energy – more than $100,000 of investment by one congregation on behalf of all the rest of us. The Founders Fund goal for the year ahead is for the Province to fund Anglican 1000 at three times that cost. Vision, response, generosity, action. Anglican 1000 has turned out to be catalytic. Everybody is imaging congregational multiplication: little parishes, big parishes, young people, old people, Black people, White People, First Nation People, Asian People. It’s catalyzing our existing congregations. It’s catalyzing undergraduates on countless campuses. Fifty weeks ago I asked the Lord: “What should I say?” He said “1000 congregations.” The Lord is building the House. It is marvelous in our eyes. Let’s keep cooperating in His agenda. I’ll do my part. I know you will do yours.
Thanks for entrusting the mantle of leadership to me. Please be ceaseless in prayer.
All Saints Pro-Cathedral and Ministry Center
8th June 2010