19th Provincial Synod (2011)

West Palm Beach, Florida.  October 19, 2011

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

Our host parish for this Provincial Synod may in many respects serve as an emblem of the Anglican Catholic Church, at least in the United States, and of the Continuing Church more generally.  Of the the first six bishops in the Denver Succession, two were rectors in this county and a third retired here.  The parish of the Holy Guardian Angels in Lantana is itself an amalgam of three congregations, each of which represents something important to our Church.

First, Holy Guardian Angels represents the reunification of earlier Continuing Church divisions.  The division here never should have occurred, and produced a division of energy and a loss of momentum lasting nearly 25 years.  But Saint Augustine’s ACC and Holy Spirit APCK were able to unite organically and easily.  The ministries of Bishops Knutti and La Cour and Fathers Cotterell, Monroe, Shuman, Bragg, and Bieluch, and also in some degree of Bishops Watterson and Mote and others, now flow on into the future.  We should note particularly that Bishop La Cour’s devoted pastoral care led to benefactions and bequests that, when joined with the assets patiently accumulated through the tithes and gifts of the faithful over decades, have made this all possible.

In addition to the coming together of the old Saint Augustine’s and Holy Spirit, the parish of the Holy Guardian Angels also represents a half century of Anglo-Catholic witness in Lantana, first happily within the Episcopal Church, then as a dissident Episcopalian parish, and finally, and I think happily again, as a parish of the Anglican Catholic Church.  Father Kennedy and the people he brought into the ACC remind us that there are still Episcopalians who may come to us.

We have with us today honored guests from other traditional Anglican groups.  Perhaps our visitors will see in this local case a possible example for wider and future significance.  The reversal of past divisions is possible, and it can come about so that at the end of the everyone benefits.

As this is an ACC synod, let me note a few of what seem to me to be our greatest strengths and challenges.
 
As for our challenges, one major international challenge is the inverted pyramid of our international strength.  Our congregations in the Global South represents the bulk of our membership, while our relatively small number of parishes and people in the wealthier world - particularly in the U.S. and Australia, struggles to assist and fund those ministries in the poor world.

In the wealthy world the ACC like all Churches faces a period of secularization.  The U.S. long resisted this trend, which emptied the churches of Europe since the 1960s.  But the U.S. lag is now over, and religious practice is falling.  Because the ACC is a strong-commitment Church, we can grow even in the midst of general religious decline - but we have to work harder and smarter.  We have thriving and young congregations, but we have too many small and and stagnant ones.  Reunification of the Continuing Church movement may help, but not if we merely pool our weaknesses and replicate habits of failure.  So we need to learn better how to grow in the wealthy world, not least so that we can sustain and then expand our presence in the Global South.  This learning will include listening to our own clergy and members who have succeeded in growing parishes, and also listening to those in other Continuing Churches who have done the same.

That said, at the moment the ACC is the only Continuing Church with a truly international reach.  We operate on every inhabited continent; the majority of our bishops and of our members are not North Americans; and the greater part of our annual Provincial expenditures goes to missions and humanitarian work outside North America.  We are international, mission-oriented, future looking, and growing.

The ACC also is stable.  We have had no significant split or division for 15 years.  Most of our decisions are made by consensus.  We are united in purpose, in action, in doctrine, and in mutual affection.  I see nothing even on the distant horizon to threaten this stability and unity.
 
Our basic constitution and polity have proven themselves time and again.  We have been able to discipline wayward bishops and even archbishops.  We have fulfilled the vision of the Affirmation of Saint Louis by establishing tricameral synods at every level of Church life: the diocese, the Province, and the Church.  Archbishop Falk in the years just before 1991 sought to push the ACC into the Traditional Anglican Communion in order to void our basic constitution and convert the ACC into the ACC (USA).  But the ACC is NOT an American or U.S. or North American Church.  The TAC, which the ACC in the end did not join, lacked synodal government at the international level, leaving the clergy and laity without a voice at the top.  In contrast, our own balanced, episcopally-based, synodal government at all levels and our effective Church courts have proven their value.

Related to our effective synodal government is the fact that the ACC has never been the creature of single, dominating personality.  I am myself not, I think, a weak leader.  But on occasion I see that no consensus of the bishops or of Synod agrees with me, and in such cases I have to let go my own preferences.  Usually in the end I recognize that our system has checked me when I needed to be checked.  My own office is strong enough to slow down overly-hasty developments and to protect particular parishes or clergy or individuals from overly strong episcopal or clerical action.  But our leadership is balanced and collegial.  We have both strong bishops and archbishops and also strong Colleges of Bishops, synods, courts, and laws.  Individual leaders do not overawe our Church.

A final strength, I think, is that the ACC has always resisted the temptation to let temporary and apparent advantage trump important theological or moral principles.  We have often erred, and our leaders have often sinned in a variety of ways.  We have much to be humble and penitent about.  But we have adhered closely to the Affirmation of Saint Louis, and by refusing to compromise its principles and by accepting even its limiting and restrictive implications, we have established a firm foundation which is allowing us to grow in a healthy way.
 
Since our last Provincial Synod the promise of international growth, which was beginning to bear fruit already  in 2009, has continued and accelerated.  Since 2009 we have sustained our work everywhere that we existed in 2009.  Last year we consecrated and enthroned bishops for the dioceses of New Granada, Southern Africa, and the Eastern Cape.  Work that had just begun in 2009 in Kenya and Rwanda has expanded and been sustained.  We have funded beyond our expectations, humanitarian work in some of the poorest places on earth, such as southern Sudan, eastern Congo, and Haiti.

In addition, since 2009 and we have added a missionary diocese in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have received significant numbers of people in Cameroon, and we have added half a dozen congregations in Canada.  Our Second Province, has reestablished work in several more Indian dioceses, consecrated several new bishops, and also has established an archdeaconry in Pakistan.  The result of these international developments is that the Anglican Catholic Church is now certainly the largest Continuing Church.  We work in Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, the U.S., Canada, England, Cameroon, Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Southern Sudan, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Australia, and New Zealand.

We have our challenges and we have much to do.  But we are doing well and we are doing good.  Above all I feel today a profound gratitude to God for his many blessings.  Our faithful bishops, priests, deacons, and laymen in so many ways have responded sacrificially to God’s call upon us.  May God bless you and this Synod, and above all may he continue to bless our beloved Anglican Catholic Church.

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