I am still elated from yesterday’s investiture of the second Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, the Right Rev. Dr. Foley Thomas Beach. It is always a joy at these gatherings of our Church to see so many old friends from across North America– it really does have the joy of a family reunion. I was so blessed to see the number of archbishops, bishops, clergy, laity and friends from all across the Anglican Communion with us (at substantial cost, I might add!) simply to rejoice with us in this milestone in the growth of our Anglican Church, and to reaffirm our communion with them and the vast majority of practicing Anglicans across the globe.
Here are just some of the high points for me:
–The Communion anthem by the combined choirs on the Holy Spirit– it lifted me out of my seat and into the throne room of the Lord in worship, reminding me of our continuing need for a new Pentecost
— The presence of youth and adults, Americans, Canadians, Burmese, Nigerians (a Nigerian female deacon read the Gospel), all highlighting Archbishop ++Foley’s observation that we are indeed a “diverse lot”
— The greetings brought from The Rev. Preb. Charles Marnham, St Mark’s Chester Square London, on behalf of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in the UK, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, the Church of England Evangelical Council, Church Society, Reform, and the Anglican Mission in England– with the heartfelt reminder that we should never forgot “how many friends we have in the Church of England.”
But especially the Primates gathering around our new Archbishop, laying hands on him and praying together out loud the blessing, and adding in this significant sentence NOT in the original worship bulletin:
“Foley Beach, We receive you as an Archbishop and a Primate in the Anglican Communion.”
That they went out of their way, together, to pray this before the gathered people of God is a clear reaffirmation of the Primates’ authority to decide who is Anglican, and their confirmation of our Anglican identity on behalf of the vast majority of practicing Anglicans within the Communion.
Whether or not the Archbishop of Canterbury respects this, we will move on with the distinct mission to which our new Archbishop has called us– to be a repenting, reconciling, reproducing and relentlessly compassionate Anglican Church reaching North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ!
I do think the diversity represented last night, and the unity in that diversity around a common confession of the faith “once delivered” to the saints, also demonstrates one of the charisms of Anglicanism. And that charism is nothing less than a reformed catholicism, anointed by the Holy Spirit, that draws people from a variety of spiritual backgrounds into a Church that addresses the yearnings of the hearts.
I am reminded of a point in one of our church revitalization workshops several weeks ago when we were talking about leadership challenges in reaching out to our unchurched and de-churched friends and neighbors. We were looking at the demographic profiles of the people within a fifteen mile radius of the church who do not yet know Jesus Christ or attend any church. As we looked at the characteristics of the majority segment of the population, their spiritual interests and preferences, we started to pull together a description of the people we need to sensitively reach with the love of Jesus. As I recall, the description went something like this: “A middle aged empty nester couple, with one or two kids “boomeranging” back home after college, relatively affluent, but once churched and now de-churched, one of them from a protestant background, and the other from a liturgical/sacramental background, deeply rooted in and concerned for their community.”
And as soon as we said this, a couple new to the church, in the second row, raised their hand and said “You have just described us!”
I’m convinced more than ever that the Anglican Church in North America provides a wonderful “middle-ground” of reformed and anointed catholicism that offers inspiring Biblical preaching, a relentless focus on the Great Commission, deepening discipleship, sacraments and habits of the heart that enable us to go ever deeper in living our lives as Jesus would, and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us change from the inside out. What’s not to like?!
At the same time, this gift of Anglicanism calls us to unite with other Christians who share the same essentials of the faith, the same or similar confessions and creeds, and the same Great Commission values. We can and ought to find common ground in mission together within our communities. I was deeply blessed several weeks ago at the Diocese of Cascadia Synod where I spoke on Church Re-Vitalization and remissioning. We met in a Baptist church in Edmonds, WA (in the Seattle area) whose pastor decided that Edmonds needs an Anglican Church! Pastor Barry contacted Bishop Todd Hunter of “Churches for the Sake of Others” and Bishop Kevin Allen of Cascadia to see how they might work together to make that happen. The end result is a Baptist church planting a new Anglican Church in its building, helping to fund it, and working with Anglican bishops in the area to make this as seamless as possible.
This is the real deal– a real, feet on the ground realization of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 of unity within the body of Christ– bringing all Christians together around Great Commission ministry and mission!
Next week, October 13-14, Bishop David Anderson, myself and another AAC board member will be attending the meeting of the Common Ground Christian Network that we helped launch two years ago. This is a coalition of Anglican, Methodist, Reformed, Lutheran and Presbyterian mainline churches whose common confession, “Jesus Christ, Our Common Ground” has been the basis for working together across denominational lines in Gospel mission. We’ll be meeting here in Atlanta to explore some ways to do that– and with some focus on how we can equip all Christians in our Churches to live with integrity and Gospel witness in a collapsing culture. Please pray the Holy Spirit will be as present in our discussions as he was last night!
With love in Christ,
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is CEO of the American Anglican Council.