Several weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the annual residential gathering of the Ecclesiastical Law Society (ELS) at Cambridge University. The ELS is a gathering of bishops, clergy, theologians and church lawyers (Chancellors and Canon lawyers) mostly from the UK but from other Anglican Churches as well. The topic of the gathering was “The nature of authority in the Anglican Communion.” I could hardly resist going!
In a workshop, I had an opportunity to share some thoughts about how the Anglican Communion can structure itself to both fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), and at the same time reaffirm the Bible over and against false teaching by Anglican leaders (mostly in the West) who are leading people away from Christ. By looking at the way we come together as Anglican followers of Jesus Christ, all over the world, in “council” or synods to make decisions under the authority of God’s word, we have the very model that the Anglican Communion could use to deal with heresy and schism at the global level. It’s a model that goes all the way back to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and, like that council, is the very means by which God leads his Church to reach out in fresh ways with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
I’ll have much more to say about that in the coming weeks and months as my book on Anglican Conciliarism is to be released.
While at the ELS I was asked to write an article for an Anglican magazine in the Church of England, following the Church of England’s recognition of Anglican Church in North America’s (ACNA) Holy Orders (which means that clergy from ACNA can serve in the Church of England without having to be re-ordained).
As I did some research into the life of our Province from 2009 to the present, I found some very encouraging numbers from the last published Congregational Reports (2015, with 90% of the congregations reporting). Consider these “fast facts”:
- Number of congregations increased from 700 in 2009 to 966 in 2015; the Diocese of South Carolina voted in March 2017 to join the ACNA, bringing an additional 54 congregations;
- Membership increased from 100,000 in 2009 to 111,853 in 2015; the Diocese of South Carolina will add an additional 22,000 members;
- Average Principal Service attendance has grown from 69,197 in 2009 to 78,679 in 2015; the Diocese of South Carolina will add an additional 9,085;
I have been pleased to work with the leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina over the last year, and especially following their vote to join the ACNA, in preparing their formal application for membership at our Provincial Council in June.
But there’s even more encouraging numbers:
- 3,324: the total number of baptisms reported in 2015 (2,333 children aged 15 years and younger, 372 young adults aged 16-30, and 529 adults aged 30+);
- 2,368: the total number of confirmations reported in 2015 (686 children, 584 young adults and 1138 adults);
- 2,705: the total number of known first-time commitments to Jesus Christ through the ministry of the congregation and its members (not necessarily resulting in the person joining the congregation);
- 8,405: the total number of people brought into ACNA congregations through local outreach and evangelism;
- 1,706 people who went on 408 provincial (North American) mission trips;
- 1,317 people who went on 390 global mission trips;
- 362 congregations with overseas mission partnerships;
- 148 congregations made up of non-Caucasians;
- 72 congregations who are primarily first-generation immigrants;
- 64 congregations with services in a language other than English.
You can find the complete 2015 ACNA Congregational Report, which also shows the increase in these numbers since 2011, here.
You see, there’s Good news behind the numbers—quite literally! The Anglican Church in North America has grown because its mission is “to reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.” You can also find this mission in Article III of the ACNA Constitution, which states that ‘The mission of the Province is to extend the Kingdom of God by so presenting Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that people everywhere will come to put their trust in God through Him, know Him as Savior and serve Him as Lord in the fellowship of the Church.’
In 1996, when I was at the founding meetings of The American Anglican Council, I remember one of our earliest statements of mission: To Build a Society of Great Commission Churches. That restatement of Christ’s Great Commission continues to capture my heart, and continues to be the heart of what we do in the AAC! It’s no surprise that it continues to be at the heart of the Church whose formularies we helped to draft, and the Church we continue to serve.
The Anglican Church in North America pursues its mission in a variety of ways. The ACNA planted a net of 200 new churches between 2009-2014 in the “Anglican 1000” movement. It continues to plant churches and, through the Matthew 25 initiative, to fund ministries reaching some of the most vulnerable and under-resourced populations in North America, fulfilling Jesus’ call to love ‘the least of these’ (Matt. 25.40).
But what about the congregations who are small and mid-sized, in recline (plateaued) or decline, some even struggling to survive? That’s where the American Anglican Council comes in. We help revitalize congregations with fresh vision for how God wants to express himself through their congregation, in their community at this time! We help congregations renew their commitment to Christ’s Great Commission by making disciples in their local community, moving from maintenance to mission. We provide coaches for clergy and lay leaders to help them discern what God wants to do through their church, and then the ministry plans to stay in step with God’s leading.
In a few days, the American Anglican Council will be co-hosting with LeaderWorks the second Rectors Summit for Vision and Planning (RSVP)- this time in the Rockies. You can hear some of the results of our first RSVP in the video testimonies here. This purpose of this gathering for the Rectors of larger, multi-staff congregations (as well as younger, rising leaders) is to build a learning community of leaders who can share the joys and challenges of ministry together, and, like “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27:17), share how they are reaching people in their communities with the transforming love of Jesus Christ. Please pray for us that the LORD will pour his Holy Spirit to graciously empower us together to fulfill his Great Commission!
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.