Report on APA/REC Synod by The Rev. Dr. Lawrence Adams
While the Anglican world's attention was focused on the meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham the week of June 21-25, an event I would propose as more significant in its effect on the church took place in Orlando, Florida.
The first ever unity synod of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) and the Anglican Province of America (APA) brought over 500 clergy and lay delegates together for worship, training, fellowship and constructive work toward the unity of the church for the cause of the gospel of Christ.
Being a veteran of ECUSA councils and conventions, as well as continuing church and AMIA synods and conventions, I can say that this was by far the most encouraging and effective such meeting I have ever participated in. The point of the joint synods was to express visibly the ongoing process of uniting between the two churches, as well as to give voice to the global realignment of orthodox Anglicanism that these groups unhesitatingly join with. Some major impressions:
* the predominant activity and purpose of the joint synods was worship, charitably and gloriously expressing the range of forms found in orthodox Anglicanism.
Services lasted over two hours, and included the very high and solemn missal mass at St. Alban's Cathedral, with a procession of 150 clergy, concelebrated by the APA Presiding Bishop Walter Grundorf and REC Presiding Bishop Leonard Riches; services of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the 1928 and REC Books of Common Prayer; and the 1662 form Holy Communion (from the REC BCP) celebrated on the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, which included the ministry of a rousing gospel choir drawn from the large contingent of predominantly African-American parishes found in the REC Diocese of the Southeast. Bishops in mitres and copes and priests in birettas and lace, joined bishops in rochets and chimeres, clergy in the choir dress of surplice and stole, and some in black gowns and preaching tabs, without judgment, fussiness or refusal to receive together.
Some worshipers raised their hands in joyful praise while others crossed themselves and genuflected; a few even did both.
* the preaching at these services was taken up mainly with challenges to gospel mission, to the global work of evangelism and service, brought in Spirit-filled vigor by Archbishop Greg Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone, and The Rev. Canon Bill Atwood of Ekklesia, courageous men who are leaders in the world renewal of Anglicanism.
The presence of these Anglican leaders at this synod alone indicates the degree to which the two groups are committed not only to their own structures and to their particular unification process, but also to collaboration and fellowship with other global orthodox Anglicans, including those still "in the Communion."
The two groups, for example, committed themselves to support for the Anglican Relief and Development project recently formed by Canon Atwood and others.
* 400 of the participants took part in day long training in evangelism led by the Rev. Tico Rice and other leaders of the "Christianity Explored" seminar series based in All Souls, Langham Place, London. I have never seen a similar emphasis or level of enthusiasm for evangelism in other such meetings. This training, the worship and preaching, and the guidance of the bishops of both groups gave a strong sense of looking outward, of commitment to service and outreach, rather than in on ourselves and our own problems.
This is also expressed in the fact that both groups are growing, rather than shrinking and circling the wagons. They are adding parishes, clergy, and planting missions. For a sense of this, read Bishop Grundorf's Synod report, found at his website: http://www.stalbansfl.com.
* the business meetings were handled with dispatch and grace, and with respect. Very little time, if any, was wasted on trivial pursuits, power plays, or personal displays of vanity.
I represented a small mission parish that was being received into the APA, and felt an enthusiastic welcome. Much of the APA business time was taken up in parish, mission and ministry reports, conveying a strong sense of where the real ministry on the ground of the church is, and a sense of sharing ideas and encouraging one another, rather than any competition for recognition or winning "the numbers game."
* the merger process between the two groups is proceeding appropriately at a measured pace, with full unification a few years off. In the meantime, many agencies and functions (missions, pension, publishing, foundation grants) have been merged, and clergy are fully interchangeable. Some parishes have clergy from each jurisdiction serving side by side. The "from the ground up" process means that through association and cooperation the fact of unity is preceding the formality; and it means that significant real differences are not papered over but are given a substantive and interactive context for expression and perhaps resolution.
In other words, the groups are learning to practice charitable living together, with hopes of steering clear of the tendencies that have tended to break up other Anglican bodies into homogeneous sectarian enclaves.
* the REC/APA association is clearly committed, as often expressed by the bishops, to classical Anglicanism, as represented in the historic "formularies" but which is also alive and responsive to the demands of the gospel. This is embraced without embarrassment or nostalgia. I heard no romantic fantasizing about being adopted by the true Mother church in Rome, nor about flexing the Anglican way into a program perpetrated by some "emerging church" guru, or threats of sectarian schism, all of which have been on the menu of other meetings of recent experience. Those desiring to explore a model of cooperative and theologically profound expression of Anglicanism should begin with the excellent joint "Statement of Anglican Belief and Practice" adopted by both groups, which can be accessed, among other places, at the APA website: www.anglicanprovince.org.
* these groups are also strongly committed to a biblically and theologically educated clergy, who preach and teach the truth, celebrate the sacraments faithfully, and serve as pastors and teachers to local parishes. The preparation, training and examination processes are rigorous and well-supervised. Nowhere does one get even a hint that these groups are training social workers, political activists or liturgical performance artists.
* God has richly blessed these groups with mature, wise and loving leadership. Any faithful Anglican would be privileged to have Bishop Grundorf or Bishop Riches as his Presiding Bishop, and any of the other bishops for diocesans and suffragans. The same can be said for clergy and lay leaders in Standing committees, seminaries, examining chaplains, and other leaders. They are men of faith, learning, who desire to serve and build the church.
This report may seem to some like a naive encomium. I admit I am a newcomer to these groups, and don't know yet all the problems and weaknesses that surely exist. I have had enough of the cynicism and squabbling found in so many groups, and I am not inclined to seek it out.
But I report what was the experience of those that I traveled with to this Synod, and those I spoke with there, as well as my own impressions. It is a privilege to be part of this expression of Anglicanism as it endeavors to serve the purposes of the gospel and the building of the church. It is just a small sliver of the Anglican world, not to speak of the church universal, but it is an important model as we all seek the restoration of faithful Anglicanism in service to the glory of the Lord. All who care about the fidelity and viability of the Anglican way, and even more importantly about the strength and work of God's church, should pray for and encourage the REC and APA as they go forward in grace and faith.
--The Rev. Dr. Lawrence Adams is Vicar of St. Francis Anglican Church Blacksburg, VA
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