XXIII PROVINCIAL SYNOD
Original Province Anglican Catholic Church
Atlanta, Georgia. January 15th-17th, 2020
Metropolitan’s Charge to Synod
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
One of the functions of a Synod Charge concerns the Synod itself: to give information or instructions about the business to come before us. In this respect I am happy to say that our business agenda is very light, because we have little legislation to consider. The only items referred to us by the Constitution and Canons Committee are the routine addition of diocesan descriptions. We need to add to the canons the canonical description of the Diocese of Zimbabwe, which the College of Bishops established provisionally in October 2018. At the request of the bishops and people in South Africa, we also need to reconfigure and add to the number of the dioceses there. These are happy matters that reflect the growth of the Anglican Catholic Church in southern Africa. That growth has been sufficient to allow us to consider the establishment of a new Province in 2022. That Province will be called either the ‘Province of Africa’ or, if some of the dioceses in Africa do not yet feel ready to join it, perhaps the ‘Province of Southern and East Africa’. In any case, this year we are mostly free from the need to legislate. Our business will be the reception of reports, the adoption of a budget, the organization of committees, and the appointment of officers for the next two years.
The other main function of my Charge, at least in recent years, has been to give some comments on the general state of the Church.
When I consider the defects in my leadership of our Church, which are many, one of the most important flows from what I tend to think are two relatively good qualities. First, I am usually optimistic. I can and do tend to see the positive side of things and to hope for and expect the best. Secondly, I am, in regard to the Catholic faith in general and its Anglican Catholic form in particular, a true believer: Credo, credo, credo. Some years ago in Cape Town I met with the superior of the Schoenstatt Community, from whom we wanted the use of a chapel. I described the Continuing Church, the loss of buildings, and the need to begin from scratch in many places. The superior said to me, ‘It must be very difficult to be in your Church.’ I said that I had not found it to be difficult. She smiled and said, ‘No; not if you really believe.’ Well I do really believe.
Combine these two tendencies – an optimistic nature and deep conviction – and the result is a tendency to minimize problems and to expect the best.
Whether we are optimistic or not, the 43 years of the Continuing Church’s history have undeniably coincided with a period of deep secularization in North America and Europe. The original depth of American Christianity can be debated, but few of us, I suspect, doubt that all things being equal it is better that people go to church on a Sunday than stay home; better that they profess themselves Christian rather than atheist or agnostic, or for that matter Muslim or Buddhist; and desirable that they give at least that tribute to virtue that is rendered even by hypocrisy. But in our day all indices of Christian faith and practice are in decline in the richer parts of the world. In the midst of this general civilizational shift, which under the best of circumstances would render our task more difficult, we traditional Anglicans have added our own special barriers to success, of which the most damaging have been internal division and the periodic tendency to form circular firing squads.
The Anglican Catholic Church is not an American Church or even a Church of the ‘global north’. Most of our members are in fact in the Global South. And in some ways in that part of the world the ACC is doing well. In October 2018 in our mother parish, Saint Mary’s, Denver, we consecrated a first bishop for the Diocese of Cameroon. One year later in Mhondoro, Zimbabwe, 1200 people joined Bishops Mdunyelwa and Ndegwa and me as we consecrated a first bishop for the Diocese of Zimbabwe, which already has almost two dozen congregations. In many places we are planting parishes and running thoroughly admirable humanitarian ministries.
We might be tempted to think we face virtual apostasy in the rich world and burgeoning faith in the Global South. The facts are more complex. Over Michaelmas last year I participated in a conference in Massachusetts with Bishop Emmanuel Maduwike of the three million member Diocese of Ikeduru in the Anglican Church of Nigeria. Bishop Maduwike said that most young people in his diocese have cellphones and easy access to the music, entertainment, data, and opinions that are available on the internet. That, my friends, means that Nigeria is only a few years behind our neighbors here in Atlanta and yours in California and Texas and Virginia. I am sure our African bishops with us today can confirm this situation in their own countries. The difficulties we face in the United States are coming very rapidly to Africa, Pakistan, the Philippines, Colombia, and everywhere. California may be ten years ahead, Georgia may be five years ahead, but we are all facing or soon will face this new world.
The situation we face in the North American Continuing Church in general is this. We have a few very successful and large – at least large in the context of Continuing Anglicanism – congregations. Saint Barnabas’ here in Dunwoody has perhaps 650 members. My procathedral in nearby Athens has perhaps 250. Saint Matthew’s in Newport Beach has perhaps 350 or 400. But these sizes are relatively rare. We have a larger number of middling sized parishes, hovering around 100 members. Some of these are holding their own, some are in decline. Then we have a significant number of small congregations that are drying up and closing. The overall picture in the U.S. is that the Continuing Church is static, and saying that may be optimistic. The situation is a bit brighter if we see ACNA as a part of our larger context. The fact remains, we are not flourishing in North America. Being doctrinally right, having a lovely Mass, refusing to abandon orthodox Christian moral teaching: none of that, as important as it is, will be of much use to you if your parish closes. Of course we are not the only Church facing this situation. But that fact does not provide much comfort.
This situation must be addressed. If there were a simple answer, we would have found and shared it. There is no silver bullet. I don’t think anyone here can give us that. But I have asked Bishop Scarlett, whose own parish is probably the largest in the ACC in the U.S., to speak to us during the course of this Synod about this issue. If we cannot simply solve the problem, at least as a community we can speak and think about it and agree to continue to address it. I think some of what Bishop Scarlett will tell us is hopeful. We have within our own tradition many resources that give us an advantage as we deal with our new situation. But we have a job before us and need to work and pray harder to deal with it.
That said, we do have some good news. I have already mentioned our relative strength overseas. We also are benefitting from our closer relationship with the other G-4 Churches. As my report for the Department of Ecumenical Relations notes, we are benefitting in a variety of ways from closer cooperation and from larger pool of parishes and clergy to which we can direct our people. The dialogue with the Polish National Catholic Church is also hopeful. Eventually I really do think Anglo-Catholics in ACNA will change their 40 or 50 year old habit of half-surrender and of drawing temporary lines in the sand and will look towards the Continuing Church more seriously. Meanwhile, I do think we are doing the right things: work to unify the Continuing Church, talk with sympathetic folk a bit farther afield, and begin to address our internal need for mission and evangelism.
I am glad I am here, and I’m glad you are too. Let’s enjoy the next couple days. God bless you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.