I hesitated to write this post, since I am new to Anglicanism and have so little knowledge, compared to others, of the history and dynamics of the movement. But I needed to write it, to help me process my growing concerns about the Anglican church and the movement within Anglicanism of which I find myself a member. Because I am no spokesperson for the church of which I am a part or of the larger AMiA movement, I ask that you please not link to, refer to, or quote any part of this post unless you ask my permission first.
With that in mind, I would love to hear feedback from my other Anglican readers or anyone who has wise things to say looking in from the outside. If you are outside of this whole argument looking in, please keep your criticism of the church to a minimum. I promise I have heard it all before, and it won't convince me. I can say from experience that the church is a messy place with broken people who often make mistakes and hurt others. But I am convinced that it is no worse than the world outside of the church and that those of us within it are thankful to have the grace of God to forgive ourselves and one another and to try again.
When my husband and I were first married and looking for a church, we stumbled across this crazy church in the Chicago suburbs that used the Anglican Book of Common Prayer but was not yet part of the Anglican Communion. Having never been part of a liturgical church before, we both found the service intriguing but perhaps a bit too Catholic feeling for our Protestant tastes. But the more we attended, the more we fell in love, with the liturgy, the rhythm of the church calendar, and the ways in which each service engaged all of our senses in worship of the Creator God. Before we knew it, we were becoming members.
Not long after we joined the church, the church leadership began looking for a larger tradition to join. In their search for accountability and communion, they decided to join the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA), under the leadership of Rwanda. Having not been part of an Anglican tradition in the past, I knew little about the movement. I did have some notion of its being a reaction to the Episcopal church's increasingly unorthodox theology, but I didn't give too much thought to the politics of it all. Mostly, I was excited about being connected to the church in Africa in such a real way. Being a student of InterCultural Studies at the time, I was excited to be a part of a church whose leadership was Rwandan, as it made real the upside-down nature of God's kingdom. Besides, I was in love with my church and the Anglican tradition by then.
When we moved back South, it seemed natural to my husband and I to join another AMiA church. Now here I am, six years into being Anglican and definitely committed to my local church body, but with many questions and concerns about the movement in which I am now involved.
It is not my intention to delve too much into the theological divide in Anglicanism, but I think it is necessary to explain where my beliefs lie. I understand and affirm the need of Episcopalians to leave their churches and find new leadership in a desire to maintain the truths of the faith. I have heard stories from many former Episcopalians of churches where the life, death and literal resurrection of Jesus are no longer preached and where the uniqueness of Christianity is denied. If the central truths of the faith are not taught, I would not want to be a part of that local church body either. On the issue of ordaining practicing homosexuals, I also disagree with the Episcopal hierarchy. I'm not going to try to defend my view here, just present it. But I will say that I know homosexuals who have accepted a call to ministry and therefore committed themselves to celibacy in order to stay within the teachings of scripture. I know the issue is complicated, and I usually try to stay out of it and just love the people around me. Maybe another post, another time. (I'm intentionally avoiding the issue of ordaining women here, as I see it as one on which believing Christians can have differing and valid opinions, and for which scripture offers objections that are specific to a particular audience.)
Why, you may ask, if I seem to side with the beliefs found within the AMiA movement, do I have concerns about where I am? I think my concerns have been growing for a while, but the recent GAFCON statement, from the leaders of my movement and others like it, as well as the controversy surrounding Lambeth, have brought things to a head. I have read the GAFCON statement, as well as Archbishop Williams' response to it, which I found to be very thoughtful and wise in it's criticisms and affirmations. I also appreciated N.T. Wright's response to the situation in the Anglican communion.
I love our local church, and I have been impressed with the spiritual vitality and genuine community I have found at every AMiA church I have visited. There are many godly and wise people involved in this movement, and I have great respect for them. I am also thankful for our leaders in Rwanda, men who have seen great evil and are working to bring healing and reconciliation to a troubled nation while still offering pastoral support to their much wealthier brothers and sisters in America. Our local church has had a lot of contact with the church in Rwanda, being instrumental in beginning a sister-parish network for the AMiA churches and Rwandan parishes. In fact, my in-laws just returned from a trip to visit our sister parish with a team from our church. I am excited about the new paradigm that is developing, in which we partner with the African church and serve one another. I think it has a great potential to heal some of the scars of colonialism and to empower the African leadership.
But while I love the people of the AMiA movement and agree that their theological stance is an orthodox one, I fear that we are making a great mistake that may do more harm than good to the Anglican Communion. There is an immediate need for pastoral oversight for those who have left the Episcopal church as a matter of conscience, and the African leadership has done a good job of fulfilling that need. But it is not a long-term solution. As Archbishop Williams suggests, Anglican leadership has historically been local, and in the long run, we cannot have two Anglicanisms in America. By holding a meeting in protest of Lambeth and issuing a statement, I fear that those involved in GAFCON have unecissarily drawn a line in the sand. While it may not be their intention, they seem to be saying that other Anglicans need to join with them or deny the historical truths of Christianity. I don't think such a push in necessary.
So what should we do? It seems to me that those of us who are part of the AMiA movement and others like it would do best to focus on building a vital and genuine community of faith among ourselves while maintaining communion with the Anglican body. If we truly believe that ours is the historical and orthodox representation of Anglicanism in American, then we should trust that it will endure. Eventually, the greater Anglican Communion will have to address the issues that are dividing the Episcopal church. Until they do and a decision is made, pressure to choose sides will only create a rift that could split a tradition I have come to love. There may come a time when the majority of Anglicans decide that the Episcopal movement is correct, and at that time, a stand may be needed. In the meantime, I fear we are pushing too hard and too soon. I pray that as we continue to work out what it means to be orthodox, Anglican, and American, we will learn greater caution and the value of keeping silent, praying and seeking wisdom over the long term in a desire to unite and not divide the communion.
Of course, this is only my opinion, as I wrestle with and pray through this issue. And I realize that those who have come out of the Episcopal movement and who remain in it have a lot of pain from a difficult history that I have not experienced. I would love to hear your thoughts, especially those of you who love the Anglican Communion.