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Anglican Bishop T.J. Johnston answers questions about AMIA and his role in ACNA

Anglican Bishop T.J. Johnston answers questions about AMIA and his role in ACNA
Chuck Murphy will give his last chairman's address as chairman of the Mission at next Winter Conference

Edited & Posted By David W. Virtue
July 31, 2012

The following is an interview with Bishop T.J. Johnston conducted by a six-person Communications Team from All Saints Pawleys Island, SC.

Johnston has taken the unusual step of remaining an AMiA bishop supervising AMiA churches, while placing his canonical residency with The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) - specifically with ACNA's Diocese of the South under Bishop Foley Beach.

The Communications Team is not a decision making body, but is seeking to bring timely and comprehensive information of interest to the All Saints community. It has been edited by VOL. The initial interview ran for 21 pages.

Question: So how did you come about deciding to put your residence in ACNA?

TJ: That's not answered easily. The Anglican tribe or family, right now, is complex. It's not very clean in terms of this group does this or this group does that. There's a lot of crossover; there's a lot of all kinds of things.

In 1996, when I was hired to be an assistant at All Saints Church, my first conversation with Chuck Murphy - and John Shuler was sitting in the room - they asked me, "Well, what do you want to do while you're here? What are your goals?"

I said, "I want to serve here two years, then I want to go start a church." I served at All Saints two years to the day and left for Little Rock, Arkansas to start a church. That church became the very first church with a connection to Rwanda. This was before there was an Anglican Mission, two - three years before the Anglican Mission was formed.

I got connected with these people over time and began to move out of the Episcopal world [regardless of] whether they ended up in ACNA, as ACNA's now constituted, which it wasn't back then. Back then it used to be a part of a round table of all of us...we all just sat around and talked. And there was Forward in Faith and there was ACNA. Not one ACNA but multiple groups. There was a whole other alphabet soup then.

If Rwanda hadn't stepped in, I'd have been in trouble. I'd have been an independent little church going nowhere. I am Anglican in the sense that the worship, the history, the tradition, is just something that works with me, and it's essential to how I see myself. I started with Rwanda in '98, before there was any other relationship to be had. That is the only way that I was Anglican. Ed Salmon, the bishop of South Carolina, voluntarily took my license and sent it to Rwanda. I was the first that ever had that done. And the national church passed a canon immediately blocking that kind of action from taking place again.

My call is to be Anglican on mission. Now, I'm not a purist. I don't need blueblood Anglican credentials. If I needed blueblood Anglican credentials, then I would have to be connected to one of the existing provinces. ACNA does not give you blueblood Anglican credentials. It's connected to, kind of relationally, but not formally with the [Anglican] Communion. It's actually connected to the core communion. I could still do the Anglican thing connected to ACNA. But what ACNA gave me and why I have chosen at this moment to be connected to ACNA, is the North American piece or the Americas piece, which is my primary call.

I dropped that into a context of a friend Foley Beach. We've been partnering in ministry no matter what label we've had. When he was in TEC when I was in the Mission, when he was with Bolivia I was in the Mission. Now he's a bishop, and I was his co-consecrator with [Archbishop] Bob Duncan and Frank Lyons.

And for the future I want to leave a healthy Orthodox Anglican Church.

And as a part of that - to be healthy, Orthodox and Anglican is to have a wedge that is just out on the edge doing mission. Jurisdictions don't think or operate like that -- big macro jurisdictions. It's like any company. You have a research and development wing or something that's pushing you to the edge, exploring new technology. I'm an entrepreneur.

The first call is to Christ. The second call is to be a leader in the church, bishop, priest or deacon. But I've taken a third call into a missionary society - the Anglican Mission - that wants to focus on just one aspect or a slice of the overall work of the church. When I think of the overall work of the church, I think of ACNA right now.

Now, something else may emerge, that's ACNA's character, that's their gift. That's what Bob Duncan does. He looks at the whole thing. He wants to look at the structures. The only way that both can be healthy is if there's a healthy relationship between the two of them, where when this missionary society starts acting more and more like a jurisdiction and like the Mother Church, the Mother Church yanks its chains and says, "No, no, no. Your focus is dead.

And when the Mother Church refuses to really own the Mission piece and they start settling into life as usual, let's just baptize and marry and bury, the missionary says, "No, no, no, no, no. We need to be out on the edge. There's always a harvest that is greater than the laborers. Come on, let's keep focused out here." So that's what we're longing to create.

Question: I hear what you're saying. What is it about being in the Anglican Mission that would not enable you to fulfill your entrepreneurial spirit, focus on mission, focus on North America and being Anglican?

TJ:Nothing at the moment. And that's where both organizations have given some ground. We're trying to create a picture of the future. I've gotten a complete blessing from all the Anglican Mission bishops. I have that from the pieces in ACNA that matter right now, because the way it's set with ACNA is I'm an assisting bishop. That's very specific language. I'm not a suffragan; I'm not an assistant. All of that would require me to sit in the House of Bishops in ACNA, and I do not sit in the House of Bishops in ACNA. I am simply an assisting bishop to the Anglican Diocese of the South.

Todd Hunter is simply an assisting bishop to wherever Bob Duncan has parked him, whether that's under Bob or Pittsburgh. John Miller is going to be an assisting Bishop to Neil Lebahr in the Central Gulf Coast Diocese. So Foley Beach's mandate for my life is to function fully in the Anglican Mission. So there's nothing that inhibits or keeps me from living that out.

Question: So this really is why you're canonically resident in ACNA as opposed to the Congo?

TJ: For me, it goes to my heart and it points to the future. I think in the emerging generation of leaders, and that is two generations down below me in their 20s, they don't get it. They haven't had the histories. They didn't come out of The Episcopal Church. They are coming to Anglicanism and not coming out of something that was broken in Anglicanism. That's who I primarily work with, very young, very gifted leaders from all over the United States. They don't get it. It's also the preservation of those relationships that I care deeply about and that I oversee. If I went straight to the Congo, they would say, "No. We came because you painted a picture of a healthy North American Anglicanism."

We can't see, now that the Rwanda thing has come to an end, why would we commit to oversight in a sense, or a jurisdictional connection 8,000 miles away when the end game is here. I'm trying, under the Lord's leading to be creative in addressing it.

Question: Let me come back to the churches that are under your jurisdiction, are they AMIA churches or are the ACNA churches?

TJ:They're all AMIA churches. They could be ACNA churches if they wanted to. None of them have chosen to do that. By August 31st, if the clergy do not want to remain in Rwanda or connect in some way through Rwanda, they have to make a jurisdictional decision. What they decide to do is that Foley Beach has created this in the Anglican Diocese of the South, he'll hold their letters. He'll turn all of them immediately over to the Anglican Mission's care through me.

I do their oversight or the Anglican Mission does. And because this is temporary in the sense we're building this thing, they have the freedom to do this. If it doesn't work, they can go to the Congo or to ACNA or whatever.

Let me go back over this thing again one more time.

First of all, the Anglican piece - the jurisdictional issue for me and for most people is secondary and serves whatever the mission of the local church is. Let's say All Saints Church now has determined at its core values that they wish to remain Anglican, right. So the first thing you have to do is you have to be aligned with an Anglican entity.

And if you have a priest, the priest needs to be jurisdictionally settled somewhere in the Anglican world. Let's say that your church owns the values of the Anglican Mission. It wants to be about producing next generation kingdom leaders who are planting churches and who are innovating.

You have two options right now. You can jurisdictionally connect your priests to the Congo that has a relationship with the Mission. That would get your Anglican piece. Or you can connect with ACNA through the Anglican Diocese of the South or through the Diocese of Central Gulf Coast. That would get your Anglican piece in play.

We're not looking for a third option. The first decision is, "Do we want to dance with those values and direction of the Mission?" Don't start with the jurisdiction question. The jurisdiction question serves the missional - or value - question.

Question: What we're seeing when we talk to Archbishop Duncan, when we talk to Steve Breedlove or when we talk to Chuck Murphy, [is that] we're hearing the same thing. "We are all church planting - it's really missions. So between the three of them, there's really no difference in mission?

TJ: There's actually a significant difference. But the difference is not in what we say. You know that. People will watch what you do long before they listen to what you say. But it's what you do, what the culture is.

For the first eight years of the Anglican Mission - when you had winter conferences - we would have archbishops from all over the world there. At one time, 15 archbishops were there. Now, why would we do that? We were trying to establish ourselves on the Anglican question, that was a high value for us at that moment, to get established and to be recognized. ACNA was from the Mission.

Theologically, in terms of our hope for the future, there are no differences among these groups. ACNA's primary energy right now is forming dioceses, on putting together the stuff that jurisdictions have to do to be recognized. They want to become a full-on, functioning province in the Anglican world. That's a high value for them.

Question: We understand ACNA has planted 200 churches in three years. If you do the 200 divided by 3, they're doing about 70 a year. Is that the case?

TJ: It would be very similar to the initial hundred churches that we've brought into the Mission. A portion of those we actually started. A large portion of those existed and came in some form or fashion into the midst. Part of those statistics includes the Anglican Mission. Up until six months ago we were a ministry partner. All our numbers are included in their numbers.

In terms of missional groups right now, you have Anglican 1000, which does not plant churches. They encourage leaders. That's their stated goal. And they've just moved from Texas to Pittsburgh. You have Todd Hunter on the West Coast, C4SO. He just came out of the Mission and he's doing his independent thing. You have Steve Breedlove and you have the Anglican Mission.

Question: You said, and I think, of course, Duncan has said that your relationship is temporary at six months. And you started to get into that. Is that because you're not sure what's going to happen and then you'll make another decision or how does - how do you do that?

TJ: My thinking as a negotiator, is to say it is simply impossible, given the mix of relationships and all that entails, to forge a long-term relationship right now that would be mutually encouraging to all people. I can get pretty good agreement on a six-to-nine-month run with the ACNA folks I'm negotiating with, with Todd Hunter, with the guys in the Mission. And then we take a step, internally, in the Mission.

As we move into next year, there's going to be significant transitions. It's going to be a year of transition. This coming winter conference, Chuck Murphy will give his last chairman's address as chairman of the Mission. With his transition out of that role, obviously, there are going to be implications for the Mission. Bob Duncan is not a long timer either. He's a short timer. Question: He says two years?

TJ: Maximum. Some of his own people say 18 months. My point is 24 months from now, the senior leadership of all the organizations you set out there is going to have turned.

Question: Right now - and I think in our minds, and maybe it doesn't come across to you, or maybe it's only in my mind and not in everybody else's - but there's a financial component to all this. And we think that wherever our Rector chooses to hang his shingle, that there would be a financial obligation that went along with that. Maybe that isn't correct. Is it or is it not?

TJ:Money is not a leverage point. It is a tool; it's a resource. So my biggest concern is if you talk money people will use that as a leverage for their position. But the community fractures. Every group, ACNA, Mission, every group has a giving. They want their churches to give a certain level. Foley wants his churches to give a 10 percent. The Mission would love to get 10 percent. ACNA would love to get 10 percent. We all have the exact same thing, but no one group has all their churches adhering to that. There are different - there are people all over that spectrum.

Question: We have people that are withholding their pledges, as you well know, and things are tight financially. And right now, All Saints' tithe, 10 percent tithe, is being split between PEAR USA and the Anglican Mission. And that has - the people that have stopped paying their pledges are upset because of that split between PEAR USA and the Anglican Mission. They say, "We're still an Anglican Mission Church, therefore, paying All Saints' tithe should still all be going to the Mission. What is your church doing?

TJ: Well, temporarily, Foley and I have worked out for the next foreseeable future, any church leader that comes into the Anglican Diocese of the South will not give any money to ACNA short term. We are not basing this on finance. They will give, as they've been giving, to the Mission. And we will trust God in the days ahead, as we build relationships, to work out the financial piece. So Foley doesn't expect anything.

Question: By August 31 Rob (rector of All Saints) has to advise Archbishop Rwage of Rwanda where he wants to be canonically resident. You shared with us how - what - led you to your decision. What would be some other things Rob (rector) would have to consider in making his decision?

TJ: What he does is critical in this sense that the - when I said the jurisdiction is secondary, it's not unimportant because whatever he does ought to be for the strategic reason of serving the mission - the values, purpose and vision - and the ministry of All Saints.

Question: So do you have any concerns about being canonically resident in ACNA but having AMiA churches?

TJ: But that's the risk that I'm personally taking with my own ministry 'cause I believe that the future will be that the Mission will remain a mission, doing the kinds of very good things that it does that I think has actually been a catalyst for a lot of what you see in North America.

I'm one of the bishops, but so far they didn't do anything other than affirm me at the last meeting. I believe that this is pointing towards the future, and there will be no distinction as you're talking about. That the Mission will be connected to an Anglican presence in North America that is recognized, may be involved, completely successful, recognized by the Communion, in spite of or parallel to the Episcopal Church.

I think the future is this - that, once again, there will be like the early days what we called the First Promise Roundtable, where we had - where Chuck Murphy, at that point, invited all these various groups together and painted a picture for the future. The Missions will be leading a First Promise-type roundtable, but it will be the groups like - and you can name them right now - there's about five of them Anglican 1000, C4SO, etc. We're all doing this, and what we need to say is, "You know, it is a big continent. We need way more people than even all these groups represent." And we would begin to have a best practices coordinated, but we would all be connected to this Mother Church. Now, that's the future. We are not there yet.


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