The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is maturing. Its first ten years of growth have had its ups and downs. As it enters its “teenage years,” it is struggling with the issue most teens struggle with—solidifying its identity. The question of “Who am I?”, posed by a collective group of Anglican believers, can only be answered by the people themselves. Through provincial councils, assemblies, and episcopal meetings, that one voice begins to form if conversations over differing perspectives occur. Our answers may differ from one another, but the Church is on its way towards maturity when it wrestles together with current issues. With the current crisis in the Global Anglican Communion over women’s ordination, collegiality is needed more than ever both at the international level and at the provincial level. Additional concerns such as race relations, sexuality, and other theological issues threaten to divide bishops and dioceses from one another. Although the ACNA is also facing these issues, time and other resource constraints often make it difficult for its leaders to gather.
The American Anglican Council (AAC) is committed to partnering with the ACNA as it journeys towards its full and rich identity. Recently, the AAC provided space for ACNA bishops to meet and receive teaching, prayer, resources, and fellowship through the AAC’s Bishops Leadership Academy (BLA). As the Rev. Canon Phil Ashey, President of the AAC observed, “We designed this gathering as an opportunity for our ACNA Bishops to enjoy deep conversations and reflection on the theological issues and challenges facing Anglicans in our culture. But we also designed this gathering to be a place where those conversations and reflections could take place in the context of a learning community soaked in worship and prayer.”
The BLA met last week from September 20th to September 24th at Glen Eyrie Conference Center in Colorado Springs, CO. This five-day retreat gathered fourteen ACNA bishops who participated in presentations, facilitated conversations, and discussions which introduced new bishops to the issues of the day and refreshed more experienced bishops on those same issues. In addition to these seminars featuring teaching and discussion, the bishops celebrated Holy Communion each morning to give glory to God and to listen for his direction.
The BLA also connected newer bishops with mentor bishops to provide an invaluable asset for them when they become burdened with the intricacies and conflicts of their position and feel isolated from others. Newer bishops were able to ask questions, express concerns, and receive prayer from the other bishops partnered with them in ministry. “The amazing thing is that bishops come into their office and often find only isolation,” reflected the Rt. Rev. Andrew Williams, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese in New England. “We struggle to find others who can share our troubles. Coming here has connected me with those who, like me, are beginning their journey and often feel like they’re on the journey alone. Aside from the ministry resources this [event] provides, that personal connection alone is invaluable.”
Archbishop Foley Beach sent video greetings to the bishops gathered, encouraging them to take the opportunity to dig into their concerns and seek depth of relationship with one another. It is this kind of relationship-building that the leaders of the Province need in order to foster deep conversation and decisive action for the spiritual health of the Church. In the next five years, it is estimated that there will be twelve new bishops coming into the College, and each of these will need deep fellowship with others. It will be a season of growth, change, and deepening maturity.
As the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) walks through its second decade, it will cross through its teenage years into its twenties while strengthening its identity as one united, biblical, and missionary Anglican church seeking to reach our culture with Christ’s transforming love. What is hopeful is that those in their twenties are more able both to understand who they are despite the challenges they face and from that sense of identity in Christ to reach consensus in the midst of conflict. These are the years the Province approaches.
The teenage years are never easy. The Church has suffered through many difficulties and will doubtless suffer through many more, but with ministries like the AAC’s Bishops Leadership Academy, the Church can move towards unity that leads to maturity in its call to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to North America and beyond.