ACNA '09: Archbishop Duncan's Opening Address to Provincial Assembly
June 22, 2009
Given by the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Archbishop-designate, at the Inaugural Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America during the Holy Eucharist on 22 June, A.D. 2009, the Feast of St. Alban, Anglican Proto-Martyr (First English Martyr).
The Lord has a way of timing things. How remarkable that we should begin our Inaugural Provincial Assembly on St. Alban's Day (June 22nd), and that the Assembly's great Eucharist should fall on the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24th). We chose these dates because they fit into schedules. God chose these days because He had a message to deliver. It's about the mission. It's about our part in that mission. It's about being witnesses (the Greek word is martyrs) to Jesus and about being fore-runners of Jesus.
St. Alban was a layman who heard the gospel and gave his life to it and for it. He was a pagan householder in the Roman settlement at Verulamium, which today is the English city called St. Albans. Alban took in a fugitive Christian priest who was fleeing the Diocletian persecution. The year was 304 A.D. While in hiding, the priest shared his faith in Jesus Christ with his host, Alban, and Alban was converted. Then the most extraordinary thing happened: as word came that the authorities were searching house to house, Alban asked to put on the priest's clothes. So it was Alban that was arrested and Alban that was executed. Like Maxmillian Kolbe at Auschwitz centuries later, Alban sacrificed himself to save someone else, someone he had only just met. He lay down his life because he himself had been transformed by the love of Jesus. Some sources say Alban was a soldier, likely enough in a Roman garrison town. Certainly he was a soldier of Christ, the first recorded "anglican" [from the Latin meaning English] martyr.
Many of us have sacrificed a great deal to follow Jesus to this place. Many of us have lost properties and sacred treasures and incomes and pensions and standing and friends Yet, remembering the challenge of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, few of us have suffered [Heb.12.4] to the point of shedding blood (though some here, especially among our global émigrés, actually have.) Alban, a new convert, shows us the way. Jesus isn't finished with his asking and we aren't finished with our giving. Are we? Alban was the consummate Christian convert, willing to follow his Savior even into a death for others. Are we ready, if more still is asked? Are we ready? Are we willing?
As we begin - as we gather to re-constitute a faithful Anglican Church here in North America - this drawing together of so many fragments from so many places - the Lord just wanted to remind us about conversion and witness and sacrifice, and about our part in each, for the transformation of others. The work is not over yet, in fact, for us, only just beginning. The giving is not complete yet. The Kingdom has not fully come yet. Like Alban (and the unnamed priest who dared to tell Alban about Jesus) we actually stand at the beginning of something, something that will come to be called Anglican. And, like Alban, we will prove agents of the loving transformation of the world around us, if we will daily choose Jesus and his cross. Our God is reminding us what life in Christ is all about, and of the pure joy that comes from costly faithfulness to Him, both for us and for others. Some here will remember the dictims (dare I call them "battle-cries"?) of that muscular Christianity that once reigned in these lands - in Canada and in the US: "No cross, no crown." "No pain, no gain." The fugitive priest was ready. The layman Alban was ready. Are we ready? Are we willing?
On Wednesday night - when the lessons tell us about God's incredible love for us in sending his Son, and tell us about that extraordinary detail of the Incarnation that is the birth of the fore-runner cousin, John the Baptist - I will focus on our Good Father's plan for us that we, too, run before his Son our Savior, in the power of His Holy Spirit, in every place where (to turn the phrase as St. Luke does [Lk 10.1] He, Jesus, is about to come. But I will save that till Wednesday... These feast days are our Father's timing and our Father's messages. Are we ready? Are we willing?
The New Day
There is no one here who would go back. I hear it over and over. "There has been suffering and loss, some of it very wounding indeed, but we are so much better off than we were before." I hear it over and over. "God has been so good. God has been so faithful. So many miracles of provision. So many kindnesses and graces." The stories abound: from the smallest remnants to the great congregations. "God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness." We have also come out of bondage to all kinds of idols and lesser gods. Though the journey took its toll, we know that we have been delivered, and have found that deliverance very sweet, indeed.
St. Paul's exhortation is intended for this moment precisely: "For freedom, Christ has set you free. Stand fast then, and do not return again to a yoke of slavery." [Gal.5.1] This Assembly will be a test for us, as will our Church life in the months and years ahead. Escaping Egypt is sometimes easier than escaping Egypt's patterns. Let us live in this new day. Let us remember our dependence on the One who got us here and who has provisioned us in the wilderness, whose new day this is. Would any here go back? Are we ready? Are we willing?
How We Got Here
How is it that a once great tradition somehow got cut from its moorings? Most of us were part of the fraying of the lines that had held us to the shore, and to its Rock. We compromised. We were silent. We looked away. No longer.
We fractured into many pieces. Like St. Luke's telling of the shipwreck in Acts 27, we swam on our own, or floated on pieces of the wreckage. Now we are re-assembling on the shore, and there is the wonder of reflecting on surviving the storm and of making it to shore and of our leaders not succumbing to the serpent's venom, but we actually know that it is what is ahead of us that really counts. Because the will of our Father is to save not just us, but as the Letter to Titus [2.11] tells us to save all, it is the present witness to the islanders among whom we have suddenly found ourselves and our future witness to everyone with whom we will come into contact that really counts for us now. Are we ready? Are we willing?
The Present Reformation of the Christian Church
There is a great Reformation of the Christian Church underway. We North American Anglicans are very much in the midst of it. While much of mainline Protestantism is finding itself adrift from its moorings (submission to the Word of God), just like Western Anglicanism, there is an ever-growing stream of North American Protestantism that has re-embraced Scripture's authority (just as we have). At the same time, these Protestant and Pentecostal brothers and sisters are also being drawn to come to terms with something we classic Anglicans know very well, what the late Robert Webber of Wheaton College described so aptly as "the Great Tradition.". What this means is that Our God is up to something very big, both with us and with others. The Father truly is drawing His children together again in a surprising and sovereign move of the Holy Spirit. He is again Re-Forming His Church. This also explains why there is such keen interest in what is happening here in these days among our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters. The whole of the Christian Church senses re-alignment in the air. Many even wonder: Is it that our God is bringing about some confluence of the three great streams that are the Evangelical, the Catholic and the Pentecostal? Daring to recover what Anglicanism at its best has always been about, is it any wonder that the whole world is looking here to Bedford at this moment? Are we ready? Are we willing?
Our Adversary, the devil, Satan, the deceiver, that old serpent, is also very interested in what is happening here. Count on that. As St. Peter reminds us, this Adversary is a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. We are to resist him, firm in our Faith. [I Pet.5.8,9] I believe that the re-gathering of a faithful Anglican Church in North America is among the enemy's greatest concerns. So we should not be surprised if he tries to break in here. He will attempt to lure us back to old ways and old hurts and old fights. It is essential that we rally around the Fundamental Declarations of the Province in Article One of our Constitution. It is essential that we stand together as confessional Anglicans. The Theological Statement of the Common Cause Partnership which is embedded verbatim in the Constitution is the miracle that God used to bring us all back together. It is evangelical and catholic and charismatic. It allows for those who believe the ordination of women to be a grave error, and for those who believe it scripturally justifiable - reflecting Global Anglicanism - to be in mission together until God sorts us out. It is not perfect, but it is enough. In the flow of things in this Provincial Assembly, it will principally be in our afternoon ratification sessions that temptations to return again to the yoke of slavery will come, but watch out for them everywhere, for "we fight here not just against flesh and blood." [Eph.6.12] Anyway, fore-warned is fore-armed. And there are companies of intercessors - both here and around the globe - upholding this meeting and its work. So we need not fear, only be watchful. Are we ready? Are we willing?
What We Are Here To Do
We are here - in the words of that eminent authority on life Casey Stengel - to live the simple truth that "the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." Jesus is the main thing. The sharing of his gospel is the main thing. Being agents of his transforming love is the main thing. The Faith once for all delivered to the saints is the main thing. The authority of the Word of God for living our lives and structuring our witness is the main thing.
So we begin in worship and end in worship, and there is much doxology in every part of these days together. And we are here to learn and to be stretched and to be re-committed. That's what our plenaries are all about.
We are here to grow in fellowship and trust, to deepen in love and respect for one another, and to receive healing and forgiveness, all the while acknowledging our differences in Christ.
We are also here to prove that a Christian Assembly - at least one that wants to reach the cultures and the peoples of its increasingly lapsed and unconverted continent - does not have to focus on resolutions and legislation, nor does it have to be overwhelmingly gray-headed. [More than 20% of the voting delegates of the Provincial Assembly are 25 years of age or younger.] Even in organizing this emerging Anglican Province - a Province in the mainstream of both global Anglicanism and biblical Christianity - we are here to illustrate that a system of ratifying or sending-back is an alternative to spending disproportionate amounts of time on things that are, in fact, not the "main thing."
We are also here to show what God's people have always known: just how much Godly business can be done in a tent (especially a tent) or a gym or a school or in simple accommodations.
We are here, above all, to proclaim to the world what our God has done among us, among us sinners... Remembering those early efforts in the late '90s at Anglican Congresses among the Anglican Diaspora... Remembering those heady days in the American Anglican Council and the First Promise Movement within the Episcopal Church... Remembering Plano 2003 and Hope and A Future 2005... Remembering the giving of the vision of "a biblical, missionary and united Anglicanism in North America" to the Anglican Communion Network, and then to the whole movement... Remembering the first coming together of lead bishops of Common Cause in the spring of 2004... Remembering the coming together of the US and Canada... Remembering the missionary interventions of Rwanda and Uganda and Kenya and Nigeria and Southern Cone and the call of the Primates of the Global South to form a "recognizably Anglican" Province here... Considering the miracle which is the constituting of the Anglican Church in North America in these days here and now at Bedford and at Plano... Turning us back toward one another and toward the global mainstream has been God's great and sovereign work. Our part has been cooperation in what only God could have brought about... Gratitude and thanksgiving must be hallmarks of our time here. Are we ready? Are we willing?
The End of the Beginning
So we begin. We begin this Inaugural Provincial Assembly, which is the end of the beginning, the end of the process of coming apart and coming together that puts us in such a good place to commence what God always intended for North American Anglicanism.
We also begin at the end, the end that is the Holy Eucharist, the future present, the foretaste of where everything is headed in Jesus Christ. All that is ahead is to be seen through this lens of Christ's atoning death and his glorious resurrection and ascension, and of the imparting of the Holy Spirit. All that is here in these days at Bedford and Plano, and all that follows in all the days God will give us until His Son comes again, all of it is wrapped up in these Holy Mysteries by which we too live and die and live again. We begin with this vision of our ending.
The work is before us. The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is the mission of Jesus Christ, carried forward by the likes of us, who are loved by our Father, and empowered by the Holy Spirit - all for those who do not yet know Him, have not yet been saved by Him, who are helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. Are you ready? Are you willing? Shall we, with God's grace, begin?
God bless you all: in this Cathedral, in the tent outside, and on line across this continent and around the globe. You are welcome and well come, everyone of you. .
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