What do bishops of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) perceive to be the greatest issues facing the Church today? How did the recent Bishops Leadership Academy address the principal role of bishops to guard the faith and order of the Church? How can the ACNA hold together amidst differences and divisions? Does this kind of a “learning community” have value for those who have led as ACNA bishops for years?
These are some of the questions six newly elected and/or consecrated bishops, three senior bishops, and three visiting senior bishops addressed together at the AAC Bishops Leadership Academy for new bishops, January 30-February 3, at Epworth-by-the-Sea. (In a recent Anglican Perspective Podcast, you can hear the responses of newly consecrated Bishop Alex Farmer of the Gulf-Atlantic, along with those of the Dean of the ACNA College of Bishops, Bishop Kevin Allen, and Bishop Clark Lowenfield of the Western Gulf-Coast. Visit the podcast webpage to listen!) The week included deep discussion, frequent prayer, fellowship and a discussion of resources at the disposal of every new bishop that comes into the ACNA. There were three main takeaways from this time together.
We are in a time of great transition of leadership in the ACNA.
These newly elected/consecrated bishops represent a 20% turnover in diocesan leadership! The College of Bishops in the near future will look very different from how it looks today. Elections for new bishops in the ACNA dioceses of Cascadia and Western Anglicans are also already in process, and more bishops will be retiring in the next five years. This represents the stability and success of our province with hope for the future! At the same time, it presents an opportunity to move beyond simple transition to deeper community among bishops that is both mutually caring and collaborative in mission.
Bishops need to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Constitution and Canons of the ACNA.
Throughout the week, the bishops engaged with their principal role as those who “guard the good deposit that has been entrusted to [them]…” (2 Timothy 1:14), namely the faith and order of the Church. Time and again, in very sensitive and difficult scenarios they circled back to the question, “How do we order our life together as laity and clergy, as God’s people, so that our Gospel mission can flourish?” and “How do we provide safe places for mission and ministry to flourish?” Robust and candid conversations followed a careful examination of the ACNA Constitution and Canons, their own diocesan canons, and the Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of The Anglican Communion. It was a joy to see answers found in our ACNA Constitution and Canons and to have robust and candid discussion of what we need to do when the answers are not evident. We were especially grateful for those visiting bishops who shared how their dioceses are already developing mechanisms and processes for creating such safe places where mission and ministry can flourish!
The divisions and differences we face are not fatal.
These new bishops have a resolve to work through all of the challenges we face as Anglican followers of Jesus Christ in a culture that is increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. As one bishop put it, “We are in this together; we have burned the ships, and there is no turning back.” All bishops present acknowledged the need to have healthy conversations about our differences moving forward. Our Anglican way of doing this “in council” (conciliarism) enables us to recognize the richness and beauty of the differences we may have on a variety of issues. The variety within the Anglican heritage is like a beautiful tapestry. Like any tapestry, however, there is also a frame around it, and that frame represents the Fundamental Declarations or “essentials of the faith” including the Anglican Formularies (the Bible, the 39 Articles, the BCP 1662 and Ordinal, the Creeds, and the Councils) which we find in Article I of our own Constitution. Within this framework, the bishops expressed genuine conviction that the ACNA will flourish through the transition of leadership in the College of Bishops and beyond.