Charges to Provincial Synod

Athens, Georgia. October 28, 2015

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

Father David Kennedy kindly and with some frequency passes along to me books of Anglican interest.  Most recently thanks to one of his gifts I read a biography of John Freeman Young, the second bishop of Florida.  What I found most interesting in this biography, however, was what happened in Florida prior to Bishop Young.

For a brief period in the 18th century, ending in 1783, England owned Florida.  In that time of English rule several Anglican missions were established, but with the return of Spanish rule ‘practically every vestige of the Anglican order was obliterated’.[1]  Not until 1821 and the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States was there any further Anglican presence in Florida.  That is to say, for about 40 years Anglican mission efforts there were entirely barren, mainly due to external circumstances. 

Between 1823, when missions were established in St. Augustine and Pensacola, and 1851, when the first bishop of Florida was consecrated, there was only miniscule development.  After about 30 years of freedom in mission work, the first bishop found that his diocese had a communicant membership that ‘did not reach more than 260’ (p. 7).  That number was depressingly low despite hard work by many devoted clergymen and laymen, despite visits by bishops from the states north of Florida, and despite some major financial support from the national Church’s missionary societies.  In short, roughly 90 years after the first Anglican mission efforts in Florida, it boasted not even 300 communicants.  And that was before the disaster of the War Between the States, when federal troops occupied all of the coastal towns where missions existed, causing the flight of most churchmen into the interior of the state.  Do the math:  that the Church’s mission in Florida produced three communicants per year.

With this Synod I have been your metropolitan for ten years.  In that time my Charges to this biennial Synod have mostly been rather optimistic, in some cases very strongly so.  If we look at the ACC internationally, we have again had two very good years since our last Synod, and I will come to that in a moment.  However, in the United States this year there is a much more mixed spirit abroad in the Anglican Catholic Church.  I think we need to consider frankly an element of discouragement that some have voiced and more perhaps have felt. 

First, our general circumstances are difficult in that we live in a nation that has now succumbed to the general Western trend towards secularization.  That makes our task much harder.  This is our equivalent to the return of Spanish rule to Florida.  It is an overarching fact which impedes our work or, perhaps more precisely, returns us to something closer to the situation of the pre-Constantinian state of the Church.  We are not established, officially or unofficially, we encounter frequent social disapproval, and there are other religious or irreligious ideas that enjoy much greater favor.  This is not the world into which most of us were born, but it is the world in which we now live and work.

Furthermore, the ACC’s particular circumstances as a traditional Anglican body include difficulties.  The Anglican Church of North America, ACNA, has complicated the task of all Continuing Church bodies and seriously muddied the waters.  The Continuing Church formed in response to the ordination of women and modernist liturgy.  ACNA has both.  Yet ACNA has taken much of the wind from our sails and diverted energy because it has larger numbers and greater means than we have and because it has, for reasons I do not really understand, persuaded people that it is a traditional Anglican Church.  I continue to believe that ACNA will not last, because its internal divisions are in truth very great; much greater than those that divide the Continuing Churches from each other.  ACNA has a kind of institutional unity overlaying radical theological disagreement.  The Continuing Churches have deep theological agreement underlying institutional disunity.  Yet it is undeniable that while it lasts ACNA is siphoning members and energy from all Continuing Churches.

Finally, in regard to the negative factors that we suffer under, let me mention one that is not the fault of larger trends and circumstances.  Too often our parishes and dioceses are simply not doing a very good job.  If every priest in this room could grow his parish 10 or 20 or 30 percent, we would be fine.  But if we minister as chaplains to those already converted, rather than as missionaries working to convert those who know not the gospel in any real way, then we should not be surprised if we do poorly. 

Now, that’s the bad news.  Let me return to my initial historical point.  While Florida was a wilderness in 1763 when Spain first ceded it to England (p. 5), it was hardly a wilderness 90 years later when in 1851 it boasted fewer than 260 communicants.  How depressing.  Yet a century later, in the 1950s and 1960s, the dioceses in Florida were subdividing and were opening a new parish every other month.  There are no permanent victories and there are no permanent defeats.  Things change for better and for worse, and our job is the same in either case.  My own diocese’s membership grew 8% in 2013 and 5% in 2014.  Some of our smaller congregations are closing, but our larger ones are growing enough to bring healthy overall growth.  It is possible to grow even in the face of secularization and the neo-Anglican challenge. 

And so to the good news.  This comes under two main heads.  First, the ecumenical situation of the Continuing Churches is good and getting better.  Secondly, our international work is growing and deepening.  Both are causes for thanksgiving.

First, the ecumenical situation.  A laywoman of the Anglican Province of Christ the King wrote me recently saying she hoped Continuing Anglicans could unite, lest as separate puddles we all dry up.  A lake can survive a drought.  A little puddle may not.  That is a simple image for the challenge I want to meet and that I believe we can meet.  I believe the Continuing Anglican bishops from other Churches who are with us here today agree.  I believe that a substantially more united Continuing Church will find that it is greater than the sum of its current parts.  If we can work much more closely together, I believe we will hold our people better and multiply our influence and present a more attractive option for people tempted to swim the often very murky waters of the Tiber or the Bosphorus or to join the neo-Anglicans.  For this reason I particularly welcome Bishops Walter Grundorf, Brian Marsh, Paul Hewett, and Chad Jones today.  We are glad you are with us.  This is not your first visit, but each such occasion has marked hopeful progress. 

We also welcome the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Bishop Royal Grote.  The REC is part of ACNA, but on the ordination of women and liturgical forms the REC really seems closer to the Continuing Churches than to many in ACNA.  The REC has also in recent years moved strongly in the direction of classical and even Anglo-Catholic theology.  The time is right for the ACC, in consultation with other Continuing Churches, to engage in dialogue those a bit further afield who share important elements of our history and patrimony. 

Since our last Provincial Synod the Validation of Orders Committee of the Department of Ecumenical Relations has unanimously found that the episcopal acts of the Anglican Province of America, the Traditional Anglican Communion in the U.S., and the Diocese of the Holy Cross are generally both valid and also recognizable by our Church.  The College of Bishops has concurred in these findings, and so we have removed the chief obstacle to direct pursuit of full communion.  I will refer to these developments in more detail in my report on the Department of Ecumenical Relations. 

I should note that the establishment of full communio in sacris with these three bodies would put the vast majority of members of Continuing Churches in full communion.  I believe, furthermore, that we can and should move still further.  I believe all of the bishops involved agree that it would be foolish to alienate our existing members and existing kinds of unity in pursuit of new forms of unity with each other.  We do not need to be in a big hurry to establish full organic union.  But I do think that at this point we can achieve more unity without creating new divisions.   Splitting and fussing began barely before the ink was dry on the Affirmation of Saint Louis or before the oil was dry on the Denver bishops.   That process has quietly been in reverse for several years and now it is becoming practical and tangible.

The other really positive development for the ACC – and in this area I think we are leading the Continuing Churches – is in international missions.  Since our last Provincial Synod we have received two large, organized groups in South Africa, and consecrated a third bishop for South Africa, Bishop Dominic Sonwabo Mdunyelwa.  Further legislation at this Synod will provide for additional dioceses in South Africa.  With the retirement of Bishop Alan Kenyon-Hoare, this rapid growth will require more consecrations before our next Synod to assist Bishop Solomzi Mentjies and Bishop Dominic.  At our last Provincial Synod we made major canonical changes in view of the likely establishment of a Third Province within the next few years.  At that time we anticipated that the Third Province would be a Province of Africa.  I now think it more likely that it will be a Province of South Africa, with more than three Dioceses in South Africa alone, and with South Africa being sufficiently developed in terms of economy and internal communications to permit provincial structures without unthinkable expense. 

In Kenya we have grown sufficiently to justify the election and consecration of our newest bishop, Bishop John Ndegwa, who has already proven an effective organizer.  We will be ready soon for an episcopal election in Cameroon.  In Pakistan we finally were able to arrange for the consecration of Bishop Mushtaq Andrew, who was consecrated in South Africa in February along with Bishop Dominic.  We welcome Bishops Andrew, Dominic, and Ndegwa today.  In Congo and South Sudan, both very poor and dangerous places to work, Bishops Steven Ayule-Milenge and Wilson Garang minister, building schools and churches, distributing food and medicine, digging wells, and evangelizing under conditions of war, militia violence, disease, and extreme poverty.  In South Sudan, Rwanda, and in many other places we do not minister in competition with other Churches, but are evangelizing non-Christians or working in poor places where other established Churches have shown little interest.    

We will hear I hope from these men later in this Synod.  Father Alphonse Ndutiye was not able to come to this Synod from Cameroon, but we also will hear from Father Bien-Aime from Haiti and Bishop Orrego from Colombia, both of whom are working in very worthwhile ways that do great credit to the ACC.  Likewise, Bishop Lowe is very encouraged about our expanding work in the Philippines.  We are growing well in these places.  In fact I am pleased to report that the ACC is now larger in Colombia than the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Colombia.  If current trends continue we will be able to say that of an increasing number of places in the coming years. 

Only in India have we suffered a setback.  It is the contention of Archbishop John Augustine there that while the Indian Church is Anglican Catholic it cannot be subordinate to the ACC’s Constitution and Canons without threatening its legal claim to be the legal successor to the quasi-established colonial Church of India, Pakistan, Ceylon, and Burma.  This contention led to a rupture in relations between the Indian Province and the ACC since our last Provincial Synod.  Recently, Archbishop Augustine has proposed a state of full communion between his Church and the ACC.  Our bishops will pursue the proposal seriously.  In any case our relations with India appear to have reached a nadir last year and now are on the uptick.

Most of the business that will come before this Synod is routine.  Some canonical legislation is required to adopt the constitutional amendments given a first reading in 2013 to prepare for establishment of a Third Province.  Some new legislation comes before us to anticipate problems created by the worsening climate faced by morally traditional Christians in many lands.  But I expect our business will take less time than in 2013, and I hope that that in turn will allow us more opportunities to hear from our non-U.S. guests about their work. 

Finally, allow me to conclude this Charge by thanking a few people.  First, our host parish of Saint Stephen and its rector, Father Nick Athanaelos, are working assiduously to make this Synod a logistical, liturgical, and social success.  I am particularly grateful to parish families who are hosting overseas delegates in their homes; and also to Bill and Starr Helms, Frank and LeAnne Berry, Kenny Garbee, and Judith Longyear from Newport Beach who have provided entertainments for our overseas guests and for the bishops.  Secondly, I am grateful to Deborah Weaver, whose organizational nous and attention to detail have handled a multitude of problems for me and for us all and have saved us a great deal of money.  I would also like to thank all of those, particularly the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic States, who have made contributions for the travel costs of our overseas clergy.  And, finally, though off the subject of the Synod strictly speaking, I would like to thank and to congratulate John Omwake, who on October 1st completed 25 years as editor of The TRINITARIAN, and who continues his work by covering this Synod.  This Church only has survived and only now prospers in some measure because of such faithful and generous service.  I am grateful to John and to all of those whom I have just named and many whom time does not permit me to single out.  Thank you all.


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

[1] John Freeman Young:  Second Bishop of Florida.  Edgar Legare Pennington.  Hartford, Conn.:  Church Missions Publishing Co., 1939.  Page 6.