PITTSBURGH: Bishop Duncan's opening remarks at Hope and a Future
Welcome! Welcome to Pittsburgh! Welcome to the city as famous for God as it once was for steel. . . . Welcome to Hope and A Future!
Just thirteen days ago, at Ain-El-Suhknah on the Red Sea, I received a tap on the back, and turned around to be embraced by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Within minutes of that embrace Dr. Williams spoke these words to the delegates of South-South Encounter III: "I recognize all the bishops, priests and people of the Networks [of the United States and Canada] as full members of the Anglican Communion." It was a welcome and long-awaited verbal embrace and public recognition for us who gather here today.
What is more significant still is that the plain sense of the Archbishop's words means that someone who stands with us -- even if outside the Episcopal Church USA or the Anglican Church of Canada -- is an Anglican. That is not Hope, or the Future, that is the present! The old exclusive franchises are no more. A new day is dawning. The day has a very long way to run, but the day is begun. Praise God!
The delegates of the entire South-South Encounter III spoke these words two days later:
Global South is committed to provide our recognition, energy, prayers and experience to the Networks in the USA and Canada, the Convocation of Nigerian Anglicans in the USA, those who make Common Cause and the Missionary District that is gathering congregations that circumstances have pressed out of ECUSA. We are heartened by the bold witness of their people . . .
(A Third Trumpet from the South, Trumpet III, para.26)
We who are gathered here -- all of us -- are at one with the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide, and they are at one with us. Our day is dawning, right here, right now. Ain-el-Suhknah, in Arabic, means "the place of the crossing." The reference is to the great Exodus of God's people from their land of bondage. We rejoice in that defining story, and in the emerging outlines of our own. But we must also soberly remember that it is a very long way to the promised land, and that manifold temptations will assault and assail us in the wilderness of this new day dawning. We must not turn to the right or to the left, but keep our eyes, our hearts, our feet, and our actions steady behind the pillar and the cloud which are the Lord's singular leading for this day.
This conference comes at a kairos moment in Anglican development, in Western Civilization and in Christian History . . . And we have gathered here . . . to be encouraged, to be challenged, and to be sent.
This conference came to be because a group of clergy and lay people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh believed that God was calling them to organize a regional gathering. I want to recognize them right here: Steve Brightwell, Geoff Chapman, Paul Cooper, Dan Crawford, Tom Finnie, Greg Malley, Joan Malley, Joseph Martin, Jim Moore, Susan Pollard, Sharon Steinmiller, Stewart Wicker and David Wilson. These were the first planners and organizers, later joined by many, many others. Without their foresight and determination we would not be gathered here today. This conference became much more than they originally envisioned -- now national and international in scope, now far bigger than the Anglican Communion Network alone. Thank God for them, and thank God that He spoke to His servants. Thank God that He had an even greater design in mind than they could see at the beginning.
Early on in the planning -- when the vision was still regional -- God gave that early committee the Scripture verse and the reference out of which the conference title and the conference message spring: Jeremiah 29, verse 11. "I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you hope and a future." It is to this verse that I want to turn as I give one part of the overview for this conference.
Our identity as orthodox Anglican Christians in North America is as exiles, strangers and aliens. The beautiful city of classical Anglicanism, in which we were raised or to which we had found our way, now lies in ruins. We have been taken captive, against our will, to a place we did not wish to go. On our best days, and at our most positive, we might describe ourselves as pilgrims, on a journey from the place we had known to the one we trust God will give us, but we are very far -- very far -- from having arrived. This is a very difficult time for us all, even if we have been among the few who have been able to hold on to much of what we had. No matter what the particulars of the local circumstances from which we have come, every one of us is clear that we are very far from the realization of that united, biblical and missionary Anglicanism that is our vision, at least in penultimate terms. Ultimately, there is not one of us here who yearns for anything less than the heavenly city, but penultimately our sights are set on a united, biblical and missionary Anglicanism, and we are not ashamed to admit it or to admit how far we still have to go. But this conference is a step, corporately for us all and individually for each one who has sacrificed to come and who is prepared to claim our hope and decide for our future.
As I set the stage for the wonderful time that is ahead for us in this Hope and A Future Conference, I want to offer three encouragements, three warnings and three choices that will flow through the substance of these next 48 hours. I believe that these are God's very specific words to us in the context of the Jeremiah verse he spoke to the first planners so many months ago.
There are three great encouragements that run the length and breadth of this conference. They are reflected in the titles given to each day. The first encouragement is that Jesus Christ is our Hope. He is the whole of it. He is the sum and substance of it. One of the two "conference hymns" is "In Christ Alone My Hope is Found." If we keep Jesus before our eyes, we will be able to face any challenge that comes our way.
The second encouragement is that Anglicanism is reforming and re-forming. Global Christianity is also reforming and re-forming. Those who have been divided from one another are being brought together, both within orthodox Anglicanism and within the wider Christian family: just look at the range of tomorrow's speakers. Mission is being reshaped and reinvigorated everywhere and the center of world Christianity is shifting South.
The third encouragement is that the future is the mission. When asked about what we could do in the midst of our present sufferings, our dear brother Archbishop Henry Orombi said, "You can do the mission." Jesus' instructions to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the sick, go to those in prison, clothe the naked -- as well as to proclaim His salvation to all creation -- apply to all seasons, good and bad. If we want Jesus' future to come, the third encouragement is that to focus on the mission -- every last one of us -- is the quickest, happiest and most fulfilling way to get there.
There are three warnings from the prophet Jeremiah and from the wider Biblical witness about exiles and pilgrims. The first warning is about impatience. "When are we going to get there?" The English word patience is built on the Latin verb meaning "to suffer." We in the West are not willing to suffer. Ours is a very sick culture addicted to pain killers. We want to be there now. If God doesn't deliver us from our fears, anxieties, discouragements, losses -- NOW -- then our lips are filled with murmuring. How are we different from the children of Israel in their long-ago wilderness? There is not one of us who does not murmur. The biblical witness is that murmuring -- and the impatience out of which it grows -- only lengthens the purgatory of the wilderness. The first warning is about impatience. Be advised. Be warned.
The second warning is about idolatry. When the impatience becomes unbearable -- when despair overtakes us -- when we reach the point where we just cannot see how our God can be trusted anymore for the outcome -- we turn to false gods. We melt down what we have and make a golden calf. The calf can be accommodation, the calf can be autonomy, the calf can be sullen inaction. What calf have you set up? What calf have I set up? Jeremiah warns the exiles that the time of exile will not pass quickly, and that those who say it will are false prophets. Settle yourselves. Trust God for His plan and His deliverance -- in His time. The second warning is about idolatry. Be advised. Be warned.
The third warning is about self-righteousness. It is not just someone else's sin that got us here. It is our sin, our complicity, our unfaithfulness. It is not about pharaoh anymore. He has been severely punished, and will know eternal separation. But we are God's special people and it is our sin that we must deal with, and that He is dealing with. The call for repentance is a call to us. We have a log in our own eye. We will not get out of this wilderness by blaming others, or setting up false gods, but only by genuine repentance and by return to our first love will we be ready to enter the promised land or be restored to the geography of the land we once knew. The third warning is about self-righteousness. Be advised. Be warned.
This conference is about making a choice. The second of our "conference hymns" is "He who would Valiant be." To be here is to make a choice. To be here is to choose to soldier on. A video that will allow us to take this conference home with us, and be an immediate tool for our work, is entitled "Choose This Day." There are three choices this conference -- and our present exile -- implores.
The first choice is for Truth over accommodation. For everyone in this hall we are continuing to deal with choosing Jesus first: Jesus above culture, Jesus above comfort, Jesus above property, Jesus above family and friends, Jesus above any other security, Jesus above a wayward North American Church. We are here to confirm our choice for Truth above accommodation. This is the evangelical choice.
The second choice is for Accountability over autonomy. There are lots of fragments in this hall: fragments of congregations, fragments of dioceses, fragments of denomination. Freedom, like Truth, is a passion that all of us share. But the vast danger here is that we will get stuck in our freedom Forty years of Anglican splits and splinters tells the story only too well. Autonomy is every bit as much a danger as accommodation. We are here to make a choice for Accountability over autonomy. This is the catholic choice.
The third choice is for the Mission over sullen inaction. Is your congregation a church-planting congregation? Is your congregation partnered with a Global South diocese? Is your congregation functioning in local needs-based evangelism? Are you personally engaged in a Matthew 25 ministry? Have you personally led anyone else to saving faith in Jesus Christ? Have you challenged those around you to "Choose This Day"? Are you trapped in "ain't it awful?" or "what can we possibly do?" or the escape of self-absorption? We are Holy Spirit people: people who have been gifted, "charismed." We are here to elect Mission over sullen inaction. This is the charismatic choice.
Hope and a Future: That is why we are here. To model a united, biblical and missionary way of being Anglicans. That is why we are here. To repent for our impatience, idolatry and self-righteousness. That is why we are here. To choose Truth and Accountability and Mission. That is why we are here. To begin to set a wholesome and reformed DNA in place for a movement that is evangelical and catholic and charismatic, and recognizably Anglican and passionately Christian. That is why we are here. To allow ourselves to admit that a new day is dawning. That is why we are here . . . And it is all these things that will fill the next 48 hours.
Let us pray:
O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you, bring the nations into your fold, pour out your Spirit upon all flesh, and hasten the coming of your kingdom; and grant us, O Lord, in our time to do our part; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
So welcome! Welcome to Pittsburgh! Welcome to the city as famous for God, as it once was for steel. . . . And welcome to Hope and A Future!
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