The College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America met via Zoom January 5-7, 2021 for prayer, conversation, and fellowship. In addition to consenting to the election of two new bishops-elect, we engaged in important dialogue on topics of particular urgency in contemporary society: racial reconciliation, sexuality and identity, and ministry in the midst of a pandemic.
As events unfolded in the United States Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, the words of Archbishop Beach’s address from the previous day were a prophetic encouragement to continue to work for the unity of the Church in the midst of a polarized society:
“We are beginning to suffer from a serious lack of theological, Biblical, and historical understanding in the Church. We have often quoted Meldenius: ‘In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.’ Yes, we can differ on the nonessentials, but the Faith is not up for grabs. So, let’s not be afraid to say the hard thing regarding the essentials of the Faith and remain true to the teaching of Holy Scripture, the Bible. But remembering, in all things, charity! The mentality which writes people off and breaks fellowship with those who disagree is creeping its way into the Church. We must fight to maintain the unity of the Spirit in our Church.”
During our time together, we also looked at concrete proposals for addressing clergy wellness, received an update from the Liturgy and Music Task Forces, and began looking ahead to 2030.
Racism and Racial Reconciliation
In 2015, the Anglican Church in North America began a conversation at the provincial level on the topics of race and mission. In the summer of 2020, the College of Bishops continued this important dialogue. The conversation had three driving motivations. First, we are convicted that racism is a strategy of the evil one, creating a climate that nurtures disdain, hatred, and violence, intended to “steal, kill, and destroy” people created and loved by God (John 10:10). We recognize the pain that many people of color and other minorities have experienced. Therefore, we denounce racism wherever it is found, and we are committed to addressing it with courage, compassion, and healing through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Second, we want our clergy and churches to be strengthened with both the doctrinal tools and the spiritual motivation for addressing and alleviating real racial suffering. Third, we are resolved to “share the transforming love of Jesus Christ to North America” without partiality, and celebrate the diversity of people in the Kingdom of God in North America.
To these ends, a working group on Race, Racism, and Reconciliation was convened by Bishop John Guernsey. Bishop John brought together a 16-member working group under the leadership of Bishops Al Gadsden and Keith Andrews. It was multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-generational, and included men and women, lay and ordained. The group’s hard work of building relationships and seeking consensus around Biblical truths was encouraging and fruitful.
The working group reported to the College of Bishops, gesturing toward the foundational elements of this ongoing discussion. These include: establishing a clear biblical lens through which to view issues of race, discerning social contexts in which the pursuit of biblical justice can and should be pursued, reminding the church of her calling to be agents of redemption in healing, and identifying points of disagreement and difficulty in this discussion that requires ongoing and prayerful consideration.
Both individually and as a College of Bishops, we look forward to working together to research and learn, discuss and pray, and develop and implement effective ways to minister as agents of God’s kingdom along these four paths. In the future, we hope to provide resources to support the conversations that need to happen across the province at every level. We do so with great hope and confidence that God can enlighten, reconcile, heal, restore, and ultimately bring us to the completion of the vision of the Church in Revelation 7:9, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the Lamb…”
While there will certainly be challenges—both in the church and in the culture—regarding these issues, we must remember that the kingdom of God is never in doubt, never at risk. The vision of Revelation 7:9 will come to pass. Our prayer is to be both recipients of and participants in its fulfillment.
Sexuality and Identity
Twelve months ago, Archbishop Foley Beach asked Bishop Stewart Ruch III to chair a task force to develop a pastoral statement on same-sex attraction and identity, with a focus on the theological language that might be employed regarding this attraction within our provincial ministries.
The archbishop’s request came in response to good faith efforts by various leaders who have been employing different venues within the Anglican Church in North America to address these critical issues. Our College desires greater clarity be given to our leaders and clergy and, especially, our brothers and sisters who personally struggle with same-sex attraction.
Over the past 12 months, in addition to the episcopal voices of the Province, 20 additional contributors and editors have been involved in the formation of a pastoral statement. These contributors include a diverse platform of men and women, theological scholars, ministry practitioners, laypeople, deacons, and priests. We engaged in conversations with two published evangelical psychologists with particular expertise in the area of sexuality. Finally, we were intentional to listen carefully to Next Gen Leaders in our movement who do not all agree with one another on the complex issues pertaining to same-sex attraction and identity.
The pastoral statement is completed and was enthusiastically received and approved by the College. More on this topic can be read here.
Two New Bishops-elect
Two dioceses recently elected bishops. We prayerfully met with the Rev. Mark Engel, Bishop-elect of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, and the Rev. Steven Tighe, Bishop-elect of the Anglican Diocese of the Southwest. We consented to both elections and look forward to welcoming them into the College following their upcoming consecrations. You can learn more about the bishops-elect here.
Traditional Language BCP and Proposed Hymnal
The College received a combined report from the Liturgy Task Force and the Music Task Force detailing several ongoing projects:
- Traditional Language Edition (TLE) of the Book of Common Prayer: The College approved a resolution appointing a Review Panel to finalize the TLE edition of the 2019 prayerbook. We look forward to considering a final version at our next meeting. Those liturgies are available under the “Resources” tab at bcp2019.anglicanchurch.net and we encourage their use and continued feedback to the Liturgy Task Force in anticipation of a printed volume later this year.
- Magnify the Lord hymnal: The Music Task Force has worked closely with the bishops of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) to produce a new hymnal based on the REC’s excellent Book of Common Praise hymnal with a selection of service music appropriate for the 2019 BCP. The College has approved a Review Panel for this work, and we look forward to considering at our next meeting a final version to be offered as a resource for the province.
- Other projects in the works:
- The Altar Book
- The Book of Gospels
- A Book of Occasional Services
- A new book for feast days and calendar of saints
We thank the Music and Liturgy Task Forces for their hard work on behalf of the Province.
Clergy Care Groups
Concern for the emotional and spiritual health of our clergy has been a focus of the last several College of Bishops meetings. During this meeting, we received a report from Canon Phil Ashey on clergy wellness and the resources the American Anglican Council (AAC) is offering to help our clergy throughout the church to lead during this time of the pandemic. We were pleased to hear the testimony from a young leader participating in one of these clergy care groups, and specifically how this group has enabled him to flourish personally, spiritually, and in his leadership of the local church. These care groups are now serving over 120 of our clergy, with more to come. We look forward to partnering with the AAC and others, such as Bishop Thad Barnum and the Call2Disciple team, in their support of clergy, providing comprehensive care and resources for leadership in the days to come.
The Digital Transformation of Church and Society
Like many periods of social upheaval in times past, the COVID-19 pandemic has afforded the Church an opportunity to remember fundamental biblical truths and to reflect in fresh ways on the far-reaching implications of the gospel. In the spring of 2020, a task force, chaired by Bishop Steve Breedlove, was formed to reflect on the implications of digital ministry in a pandemic. As we have considered the challenges and opportunities that have arisen during this time, several theological truths have been pressed upon us with particular poignancy.
First, this time has reminded us of the frailty, but also of the inherent goodness, of the human body. Our present bodies are not prisons to be escaped or raw material to be engineered as we see fit, but are rather gifts to be received with gratitude, humility, and hope. The call to love one another is a call to love and care for one another’s bodies.
Second, while this time has disrupted our experience of worship and continues to present obstacles that keep some of us from meeting together, it has also reinforced our conviction of the central importance of gathered worship to the life of the Church. Conditions may prevent us from meeting in person for a time, but abstaining from locally gathered worship should never become an accepted norm for the Christian community.
Third, this year has drawn our attention in a new way to ongoing social injustices and social divisions and has reminded us of our call as the people of God to bear witness to the Gospel in both word and deed. We are aware of the ways in which online platforms have contributed to the polarization of our culture. We may not all agree on the best strategies for addressing the conflicts that divide our society, but we are all of one mind in recognizing our duty to bear witness by the way that we love one another.
Fourth, this year has amplified our use of and dependence upon various forms of digital technologies. While we give thanks for the great benefits that these technological tools provide, we also recognize their deeply formative influence and therefore advise that churches utilize technology with due attention to the ways in which it may benefit, but may also impede Christian maturation.
We offer these reflections in a spirit of humility and hope. These theological truths do not answer all of our questions, nor do they solve the many dilemmas that bishops and clergy, and laity continue to face. But we hope and pray that, as we continue to deliberate and make decisions, these reflections will enable us to do so with greater wisdom.
ACNA 2030 Task Force
Archbishop Foley Beach invited the College to ask, “what kind of province does God want us to be in ten years and how do we get there from here?” His Grace felt led by the Holy Spirit to pray for guidance on this matter during his fall prayer retreat. What emerged from this time is the Archbishop’s vision and goal setting project called “ACNA 2030.” Bishop Kevin Bond Allen, who was appointed to head up the ACNA 2030 Task Force, made a presentation to our Bishops which began with the Archbishop words:
Bishop Kevin began the first step by inviting all the Bishops to fill out a survey on their hopes and dreams for the Anglican Church in North America. The next step will be a highly collaborative process with the Archbishop and a team representative of the Province which will prayerfully discern a vision for ACNA 2030 and which will then guide a goal-setting process for our leaders in all areas of our Provincial work. We hope to have this completed and presented to the June 2022 Provincial Council.
“This is an exciting and timely project,” said Bishop Kevin. “Our prayer is that in our ‘new normal’ coming out of the pandemic we will be setting our eyes on Christ and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the future God is calling us to.”
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, your faithful witness and conduct, both within your local community and online, is of eternal significance. Join us in praying for divine wisdom, planning for the future, and seeking always to safeguard the unity of the Church so that together we might reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.