18th Provincial Synod (2009)

Richmond, Virginia.  October 14, 2009

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen. 

Imagine please a great nation with over 300,000,000 inhabitants.  Imagine that the dominant culture in place is neither Catholic nor Christian.  Usually that culture is simply indifferent to the Faith.  Sometimes, however, the nation’s bureaucrats and scholars and politicians and other powers are curious about the Faith concerning which for the most part they really have little accurate knowledge.  More often, it seems, the national leadership is sharply hostile to the Faith.
Imagine, further, a small body of clergymen and laymen who have labored for more than 30 years in this great nation.  Finally, consider that at the end of those initial decades there are fewer than 10,000 members of this Church to show as the fruit of the work of the vineyard laborers.

With all of that supposed and held in your minds, I have two questions for you.  First, has the Church which I have described failed or succeeded, or perhaps both failed and succeeded?  Secondly, what Church am I talking about?

I will answer the second question first.  The Church in question is the Roman Catholic Church, and the nation in question is China.  The situation I have described is that of the Jesuit mission to China which began in the 16th century.  As for the matter of success or failure, such things are difficult to judge.  In the end, as we know, only God can judge accurately.  But as I think we may learn some things by considering the possibilities in the China case, so let us tentatively consider this matter of success or failure.

Making for a judgment of failure, consider that the mission in question had standing behind it the Society of Jesus, which in turn could call on all the zeal and resources of the Catholic or Counter Reformation in Europe.  The mission was not lavishly provided for, but it had a stream of willing missionaries and the financial and logistical backing of the kingdom of Portugal, with estates and mission training centers in Goa and Macau.  Fairly early on the mission made inroads in Peking and achieved position in the court as imperial astronomers.  But with all of this backing behind it, after 30 years – in fact after half a century – the Jesuit missions had fewer than 10,000 members.

And yet.  In the following century numbers began to grow fairly quickly.  While the mission was replenished with replacement clergy from Europe, their numbers were always low and they had no bishop in the first period to provide for local ordination.  So the fact that Roman Catholics in China numbered over 100,000 by the end of the 17th century is noteworthy.  A very slow start gave way to considerable success.
 
Now, let us come to our own situation.  The Anglican Catholic Church has been at work in the United States for just over 30 years.  We have grown into an international Church, with numbers elsewhere far exceeding what we have in the U.S.  In the U.S., though, we have established dozens of fairly successful congregations, which have mostly from scratch built buildings and supported priests and faithfully celebrated Sunday by Sunday the Mysteries of our Faith according to the rites of our great tradition.  Our numbers in the U.S. are minuscule, and if we contemplate the length of time since the Denver consecrations and the extent of the population which we have not impressed in the smallest way, our membership total might depress us.  And yet, I invite you to consider the Jesuits in China by way of gaining some historical perspective.

In any case, I do believe we are on the edge of a major period of expansion.  Let me give you some reasons for this belief:

  1. While the ACC may number under 10,000 in the U.S., we are part of a movement which embraces other ecclesial bodies.  Some of these bodies are in full communion with us and others are not.  But I see no reason why in time full communion should not unite most of us.  With that possibility before us, in a sense we begin with a much larger number – something perhaps close to 25,000 formal members and perhaps another 25,000 sympathizers on the edges who contribute or attend without joining the ACC, the APCK, the UEC, and other groups we might name.
  2. Nothing succeeds like success.  As the Jesuit mission grew very quickly after many initial reverses, so we have the potential to grow quite quickly, if we can both keep from shooting ourselves in the feet and also refrain from organizing one of our periodic circular firing squads.  The more we grow and the more we unite or reunite the so-called Continuing Churches, the easier it should be to retain our current members.  At present when faithful members go off to college or move house, they often are lost to the ACC because there is no viable parish nearby for them to attend.  The more we grow, the fewer such losses will occur.  The more we grow, the more parishes we will gain that have achieved the critical mass necessary to attract and instruct newcomers and to maintain a building and priest.  Likewise, the more we grow, the more resources we have at the center to help support new missions, train clergy, provide solid books and instructional material, and otherwise assist the mission of the dioceses and parishes.
  3. Our ecumenical potential and our reputation for credibility and integrity also can improve very quickly as we grow internally and as we unite and reunite with essentially similar folk.  An improved ecumenical position and a good reputation in turn make further growth likely.  Our visibility increases, and more people who want something like what we have can find their way to us. 
  4. I will discuss this point further in my report for the Department of Ecumenical Relations, but for now it is relevant to note that the ACC is benefitting from, to be blunt, deficiencies in alternative religious bodies.  Some self-described traditional Anglican groups are so much the creature of a single individual that they cannot achieve long-term stability.  Others are so doctrinally vague or shifting that they cannot long impress people looking for a safe and Catholic Church home.  The ACC enjoys collegial leadership, a long run of internal stability, and great doctrinal clarity.  While we are filled with failings and shortcomings, we have some great advantages, and that makes us attractive to traditional Anglicans who do not want to be Roman Catholic or to be Sydney-style Protestants or to be merely Episcopalians-without-Gene Robinson.  Our consistent adherence to the Affirmation of Saint Louis and our achievement of sound collegial leadership and of orthodox, episcopally-based synodal government are attractive, I believe.  In this regard I am happy to announce that two weeks ago I received a request from Bishop Rocco Florenza to join the ACC with his parish.  Bishop Florenza joins several other clergymen of note who have come to us in the last year.  I see no reason to doubt that this trend of accessions to our numbers will continue and even grow in the United States.

In brief, I am suggesting that we have good reason to think that we have now entered a virtuous cycle in which a measure of success makes further success both easier and likely.

To this general point I would like to add a few observations about developments since our last Provincial Synod.
The ACC has since 2007 continued to expand overseas.  We admitted the Diocese of Aweil in Sudan in 2007, and it has continued to grow rapidly.  We have been able to provide enough assistance to enable Bishop Garang to provide episcopal ministry to his people and to provide some significant humanitarian aid as well.  Meanwhile we have begun work in Kenya and Rwanda, with prospects for growth in both places.  Already in 2007 we had a Missionary Diocese of Southern Africa, and it has grown and may soon need to subdivide.  We also have received requests to be received from largish groups of Continuing Anglicans in two other central African countries.  Put these facts together, and we can see the outlines of what I suspect will become the Third Province of the ACC in the next five or ten years.  Elsewhere we also have enjoyed growth, though more modest than in Africa.  And I can tell you that hardly a month goes by without a request for oversight from some parish or group in South America, Africa, or elsewhere.  Most of these requests I must put off, because we lack the means to respond to them positively and effectively.  But we are growing nicely.
 
That which we have accomplished internationally has been greatly assisted by the development of the Missionary Society of Saint Paul.  The foundational leadership of Canon Marvin Gardner, the current oversight of Father Donald Lerow, advice from Father Neville Nixon in Australia, and the generosity of our clergy, parishes, and particularly our laity have given us a real missionary society which has sent assistance to clergy and people in many lands.  We are in this regard behaving as a major Church, not struggling merely to survive, but eager to grow and to share the gospel as well as the mercy of Christ.

In the United States already, and quite possibly soon in Canada as well, we are enjoying an influx of able clergy from other bodies.  Those priests coming from other Anglican bodies have often been in two or three other groups before settling into the ACC.  I am consistently hearing a similar tale: ‘We have found what we were looking for...We have come home.’  In most cases these men did not join us earlier for reasons which, while partly mistaken, also were partly real and serious.  We need to listen carefully to such newcomers.  We need to work to improve communications and also to rectify real problems in our midst which gave, and sometimes still give, some basis for complaint about us.  As much as possible let us remove the real stumbling blocks so that we will more readily be believed when we dismiss unreasonable criticisms.

On the ecumenical front, our relations with the UEC and APCK have continued to be good and have manifested themselves in full communion, including participation in one another’s Eucharists and ordinations.  We have made every reasonable approach we could to the TAC, and now wait while they figure out whether or not they want to be Anglican or Roman Catholic.  While we have expressed our concerns about the new ACNA in a polite and direct fashion, we at least recognize that this new group has shaken many people out of a thoroughly corrupt Episcopal Church, and so opened up future possibilities for us.  I will return to these matters in my later report.

The material foundation of our Church remains modest but sound.  Even in the midst of an international economic crisis, we have operated in the black and expanded our missionary efforts.  Regular income and a timely sale of land, thanks to the generous and able work of Alexa Hutchens, have enabled us to meet our normal expenses, to put a significant sum into our endowment, to meet one unexpected missionary need, and still to keep a prudent reserve.  The ACC solicits and needs your bequests and extraordinary gifts.  But we are living within our means and already are building modestly for the future.

As for this synod, I foresee no grave controversies or serious divisions.  Colonel Charles Morris, long the diocesan secretary of my diocese and sometime Provincial Secretary of our Province, used to say at the conclusion of these affairs, ‘Thank God for another boring Synod.’  As a veteran of some distressingly exciting synods, I look forward to saying the same at the conclusion of this affair.  Meanwhile, I invite you to enjoy one another, to enjoy this lovely city and our host parish, and to count with me our many blessings.

We have, indeed, my friends, many causes for thanksgiving.  God has been good to us in the last two years.  Father Clanton said to me a couple of years ago, “I have learned that I cannot out-give God.”  That is true.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.   Amen.