Very Positive Developments in the ACNA!
Officials of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which launched a year ago as an alternative to the Episcopal Church, are reporting significant progress in their efforts to share Eucharist with other churches and to do evangelism alongside messianic Jews.
In a report delivered at the ACNA’s annual meeting in Amesbury, Mass., on June 9, ecumenism task force chairman Ray Sutton listed a series of recent milestones that show how the ACNA is forging connections outside mainline Protestantism.
Dialogues with the Orthodox Church in America have reportedly knocked down one of the centuries-old barriers that have kept Anglican and Orthodox Christians from sharing Eucharist. The big concession: when sharing Eucharist, the ACNA would confess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and not add the phrase and the Son, as Western Christians traditionally do in a formulation called the Filioque.
RWF: When I appeared before the Commission on Ministry to receive final approval to be ordained a priest the chairman asked me if I believed everything in the Nicene Creed. (It is good that they ask that question around here multiple times during the ordination process!) I told him I believed every single word of it with all my heart. But, I added, if the price of unity was the Orthodox Churches was our jettisoning the Filioque clause I would do it in a heartbeat as the West really had no business adding it unilaterally in the first place. So I consider this a great step in the right direction. May God hasten their efforts!
What’s more, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has lined up four meetings with ACNA representatives at seminaries later this year as the two denominations explore potential for Eucharistic sharing.
RWF: After I came to know Christ our Savior in my twenty-third year among the first works of theology I read were Luther's three great essays of 1521. Brother Martin's thought has deeply marked my own. (I will wager that I am the only clergyman in the diocese of Fort Worth who has taken a four-week "Footsteps of Luther" study tour in Germany.) I would be absolutely delighted if this dialogue with the Missouri Synod bore fruit.
The ACNA is also inviting 17 messianic Jewish groups to a September summit to explore “how we can do ministry together,” Sutton said.
“We could get their congregations together with our congregations to fellowship, to pray and to seek ways that we be able to evangelize together among Jews and Gentiles,” said Sutton, rector of the Church of the Holy Communion in Dallas. “I think it will be a powerful witness for Jew and Gentile to stand together and proclaim Christ to our constituencies. It’s what happened in the New Testament.”
RWF: Interesting. May many people of all backgrounds coming to saving faith through this initiative.
Sutton’s report, which delegates received with rousing applause, comes as former Episcopal congregations now affiliated with the ACNA seek to establish a distinct, non-Episcopal identity. In addition to building bridges with other Christian communities, the ACNA aspires to define itself as a dynamic movement by planting 1,000 new churches within its first five years.
The ACNA is growing, albeit not as fast as some would like. Archbishop Robert Duncan, in his state-of-the-church address to about 100 delegates and bishops from across North America, noted that the church has swelled from 703 congregations a year ago to 811 now.
RWF: And now the bombshell:
Prospects for further growth, Sutton said, include welcoming as many as 150 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations that are considering a move to the ACNA.
RWF: WOW! I wonder how this affects plans for the North American Lutheran Church.
The theologically conservative ACNA continues to tread in controversial waters as it carves a niche. Evangelizing Jews, for example, would put the ACNA at odds with most mainstream Jewish groups, which oppose the practice as an affront to Jewish identity. Also, whether to ordain women to the priesthood remains “an issue that divides us,” Duncan acknowledged in his address. Women’s ordination was on the agenda for panel discussion at the June 10-11 College of Bishops meeting, which was closed to lay delegates and press.
For now, the ACNA shows little appetite for internal conflict. Content to tolerate diversity of practice on women’s ordination, delegates to the Provincial Council avoided the issue and characterized their movement as more about unification, rather than fragmentation, within Anglicanism.
“We’re coming together, not splitting apart,” said the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, founding missionary bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a mission of the Province of Nigeria. “The Reformed Episcopal Church is now here after having been apart for 130 years. So we’re actually seeing the reversal of the fragmentation thing.”
Preserving certain strong relationships within the Anglican Communion proved to be a priority at All Saints Anglican Church, Amesbury, as the ACNA marked its first anniversary. The Rev. Lynne L. Ashmead, a deacon and the ACNA’s registrar, cautioned that dioceses need to follow specific record-keeping protocol in conformity with Communion-wide standards. Delegates likewise signaled deference to the Province of Rwanda when they affirmed the Anglican Mission in the Americas as a “ministry partner” that would remain under Rwandan jurisdiction rather than the ACNA’s.