Skip to comments.Phil Ashey: Life after Deposition [Anglican]
Posted on 08/07/2006 6:01:09 PM PDT by sionnsar
On November 13, 2005 the people of South Riding Church voted to end their affiliation with ECUSA and to transfer to the Anglican Church of Uganda, Diocese of Ruwenzori.
On November 14, 2005, I submitted my letter of resignation to the Bishops of Virginia as missioner of South Riding Church, and submitted the faxed letter from the Bishop of Ruwenzori, the Right Rev. Benezeri Kisembo, dated November 13, 2005, receiving me into the Diocese of Ruwenzori.
As a courtesy to the Bishops of Virginia, I appeared at their request before the Standing Committee, and presented my case, for the record, on why the congregation and I found it necessary to leave ECUSA at that time.
The Standing Committee asked no questions whatsoever.
On December 20, 2005, the Bishop of ECUSA in Virginia notified me that he had received my letter of resignation as a voluntary renunciation of ministry under ECUSA Canon III.13. The Declaration of Removal stated, in the face of my reaffirmation of calling to the priesthood and my refusal to sign the statement of renunciation required by Canon III.13, that I was released from the obligations of the ministerial office, deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority of a Minister of the Episcopal Church conferred in ordination, and is removed from the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church. The Declaration, of course, was published to all the authoritiesincluding the Recorder of Ordinations and the Church pension Fund, pursuant to the Canon.
As I read the anguish of my brothers and sisters still in ECUSA, seeking to be enduring ECUSA, and truly enduring the persecution of innovating ECUSA, I feel their pain. The facts I have just recited are a cold reminder of the fate that likely awaits many who can no longer endure the innovations; a fate which one enduring Bishop has characterized as the ecclesiastical equivalent of capital punishment.
More than that, if you have grown up all your life in the Episcopal Church as I had, it is the equivalent of what happens when in some cultures a person converts to Christianity. They are permanently banished from the family. A funeral is held. Their names are removed from the family records and they are never spoken of again.
With almost 100 years of uninterrupted service to ECUSA over three generations, my decision to leave was not taken unadvisedly or lightly, but deliberately, prayerfully, and casting my futureand the future of my family and my churchupon the mercy and grace of God.
Im on the other side of the Red Sea now, and I want to write all of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing the same crossing I had to face almost a year ago I want to say to you right now there is life beyond deposition! There is life, direction, purpose, a refining of our ability to put our whole trust in Christ, and a pillar of cloud and a fire by night to lead you on this side of the Red Sea! True, there are no leeks and onions. You will be at the mercy of God in terms of the resources you need. But isnt his manna healthier for you and me than all the leeks and onions ECUSA could offer?
I am both grieved, and thankful, for the crystal clarity of GC2006 in regards to ECUSAs determination to walk apart from the faith once delivered, and the majority of the Anglican Communion. While I believe that clarity was present in the aftermath of GC2003, now is not the time to cannibalize each other with differences over timing. Now is the time to grasp hands and help each other across the Red Sea by whatever means to the Promised Land God has for us. To that end, let me suggest three principles that ought to guide our discussions and our prayers as we help each other to the Promised Land:
1. Its not about the misuse of Canons and institutional power.
Like any attorney, I love to parse statutes and find loopholes and make creative applications or rebut them. But I am afraid a lot of energy and ink is being wasted in a fruitless attempt to rebut the misuse of canons and institutional power.
Innovating ECUSA has made up its mind. Reappraisers will use the ECUSA Canons to justify and carry out the agenda they have already settled. The facts on the ground dont matter. Thats why the Standing Committee had no questions for me. Nor do the Reappraisers care for the intellectual integrity of a common sense interpretation of the plain language of a Canon. As the Archbishop of Uganda, +Henry Orombi, noted in his letter to the Bishop of Virginia, Even those of us for whom English is a second language understand his plain English to mean that he has resigned from the staff of the Diocese of Virginia, but not from his priestly orders. This kind of re-inventing of the plain meaning of a text is the same problem we are facing today throughout the Anglican Communion with regard to bishops and leaders in ECUSA reinventing the plain meaning of Scripture. The failure of the ECUSA Bishop of Virginia to even address these objections, and the subsequent abandonment of imputed renunciation under Canon III.13 as a strategy of ECUSA Bishops and Standing Committees to deal with the departing orthodox speaks volumes. Having abandoned the fundamentals of the faiththe authority of Holy Scripture, the Uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the 39 Articles, the Chalcedonian Definition of the Divine and Human Nature of Jesus Christthe Reappraisers have become fundamentalists of the Canons, and worshippers of the institution they believe these Canons preserve.
Yes, we need to make a record for the sake of our case to the rest of the Anglican Communion. But lets keep things in perspective. Ultimately the battle isnt legal, it is spiritual.
2. Its not about inclusiveness, civil rights and justice
I met the inclusive ECUSA when I left my home parish in California and attended boarding school in New Hampshire. When I tried to attend the local youth group at the Episcopal Church in Exeter, I shared my faith in Christ. The ensuing uproar introduced me to the face of reappraising theology. The Assistant Rector told me not to come back. I did go to the Rectorasked him if I could serve as an acolyte at the early service, and promised not to attend their youth group. The Rector relented and allowed me to serve at the early servicewhich met my need for the sacrament. Another refugee from that youth group led me to the Baptist Church in town, where I was warmly received by the pastor and people, who really loved on me and encouraged me.
That was 1972; I was 16 years old.
For the next six years while I was away at school I began to attend two churches every Sunday: the Episcopal Church for the early service where I received the sacrament and preaching that was unbiblical, boring and irrelevant (at best) and often heretical, and a vibrant church of some other denomination where I received Biblical, life-transforming preaching and no sacrament.
Over the next thirty years, I held onto the vision of a truly inclusive Anglican Christianity that could hold together Biblical teaching, Catholic order and sacraments, and Spirit-filled life and ministry in Christ. Despite the re-education camps I was sent to (seminary, the ordination process and dialogue groups), despite the political marginalization I experienced in most Dioceses, and despite the hostility and occasional ridicule from fellow clergy, I never gave up on the vision. On mission trips to East Africa, God opened my eyes to see the vision lived out on another fieldand shared by the majority of Anglicans worldwide.
I have no doubt that in the present controversies over sexuality and sexual rights, many Reappraisers are sincerely motivated by a desire for justice and civil rights. I have no doubt. But as St. Augustine wrote, the heart of sin is the substitution of some lesser good for God. And to the extent that the Reappraisers have substituted justice, or civil rights or the Millennium Development Goals for Jesus Christ and Him alone, they have committed the sin of idolatry. Is it any wonder that we are witnessing in the meltdown of ECUSA the same kind of moral and theological deterioration that Paul wrote about in Romans 1:18-25?
And here is the real tragedy: in the interests of political and cultural correctness, Reappraisers have abandoned the very foundation for doing justice. Like pathetic Esau, they have sold their birthright in Holy Scripture for the thin gruel of possessive individualism and sexual rights.
3. Truth is ultimately at stake: the only Gospel that can transform and heal us from the inside out
The people of South Riding Church are not doctrinaire conservatives. More than half of them voted for Kerry in the last presidential election. They are deeply concerned about the environment, the marginalization of the poor in our society, the cuts in social services and ballooning budget deficits that are funding a war that they dislike intensely. They work with people who accept homosexuality as a given; most of them have friends, and some of them have family members who are in the lifestyle.
But among these once-churched and never-really-churched folks who stumbled into this young church plant, there is a hunger for truth. They really want answers to the questions worth asking. They are exhausted from self-help programs, the pace of life that has led them to success, and the emptiness of success without significance. They have discovered the truth that is found in the Bibleand it has become real and life-changing to them as they have been moved to choose to follow Jesus Christ, and to find their identity in him, and in no one or nothing else. They have discovered the power of God, embedded in those living words of Holy Scripturea power beyond themselves, beyond self-help programs, to heal and change and live their lives as Jesus would.
That truth is beginning to change their priorities, their relationships, the ways they are raising their children, their goals in life, and their dreams.
So imagine my surprise when one of the youngest believers at SRC picked up the Bible and told his wife the Book says that all that stuff the Episcopal Church is blessing is wrong How can we be a part of that?! Except for the Sunday after GC2003, I never focused on the issues dividing the church. The focus of the preaching was entirely on how to follow Jesus Christ, the reliability of his words and the words of the Bible, and the power of God to change us and heal us from the inside out.
It wasnt long before another believer opened the Bible and said to me, You know, I was reading this passage from Romans 1 recently, and it just seems to me that all the stuff with homosexuality is at the end of a list of really bad things that people do before they get to this point so if the church is all hung up about sexuality, it must mean that theyve gotten pretty far down the road in being messed up in their thinking.
Out of the mouths of babes comes the stark choice that we face. One side says that the source of truth is the Spirit, teaching us a new thing and carrying us beyond the dead words and history bound constructs of the Bible. The other side says the Bible is the only source of truth, affirming the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. One side defines Jesus as love, and love as affirming all things. The other side says that Jesus is not the great therapist; He is the only mediator between people who are disconnected from God by nature, and the only one who can give them hope and power to truly change. One side is so ashamed of the Holy Scriptures, Creeds and Councils that it labels them as anti-Semitic and tables any affirmation of them for fear of inciting a holocaust. The other side boldly affirms that it is not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16).
There are two churches in ECUSA; two faiths under one roof, two worldviews whose claims are utterly irreconcilable.
That choice was not lost on the people of South Riding Church. Most of them are in the information technology industry. They follow the news on the internet. They read the blogsand they are good and quick at it. So they began to ask a lot of uncomfortable questions about ECUSA, and the leadership of the Diocese of Virginia. In the end, the Bishop came to meet with them and gave them this bottom line: Dont follow the internet. Dont read the blogs or the newspapers. Pay no attention to what is going on in the House of Bishops. Just do your Gospel work here in South Riding, and in fifteen years when the current leadership dies out or retires, you can take your place in the leadership of the church.
At that point, the hostess turned to him and said, Bishop, I have a four year son upstairs in bed. In fifteen years hell be out of the house and my supervision. I cant wait fifteen years while the leadership of the Episcopal Church undercuts the truth of the Bible that I am trying to teach my son. The die was cast and rest is history.
For the thousandth time, lets be clear. It isnt our differences about sexuality that has led us to the edge of the Red Sea. It is our conviction about the nature and origin of truth, the authority of Holy Scripture and the claims of Jesus Christ. Is Jesus whom he says he is in John 14:6? Did he deliberately give his life as a ransom, a substitute, and atonement for your sin and mine? Does he have the power to free us from destructive behaviors, besetting sins and spiritual bondageor did he come simply as the great therapist to affirm us in all that we do, and leave us exactly where we are.
As you face the Red Sea, please remember whats at stake.
Id be fooling myself and everybody else if I said that the passage was smooth. Like the Israelites whom I suspect heard the roar of the waves piled up on either side, and felt the menacing spray, we all experienced some disorientation on the way through.
But may I tell you that almost a year later, there is life after deposition! Weve seen people come to Christ and baptized eight children in the last six monthsincluding one who gave his life to Christ on Easter Sunday during the Childrens Homily.
People are fired up about our core values: authentic relationships and passionate spiritual growth. Weve doubled the number of home groups during the same period, and rejoiced as people have developed an ever increasing hunger to study and apply the Bible together.
People are fired up about our mission: Connecting neighbors to Christ and each other through the Power of the Holy Spirit. We just finished a six week series on relational evangelism, trained people how to share their personal testimony, and asked them to identify and pray for five neighbors to bring to Christ and to church in the fall. We just gave away 30 copies of Conspiracy of Kindness to our key leaders, and challenged individuals and home groups to do free acts of service in South Riding tom demonstrate to our neighbors how God loves them in a practical way. Last Sunday, we commissioned the champion of our Outreach Team to keep the fires hot under our values of introducing people to Christ in creative ways and serving the needs of our community.
Meanwhile, our Young Marrieds Group are planning to offer a series of marriage enrichment seminars in the fall to which they will invite their unchurched friends. In between, they will host Dinner and a tune-up: evangelistic suppers to begin some conversations with their friends on an area of mutual interest conversations that will lead to eternal turning points. Others are already planning to receive some training from Five Talents International on how to help others start businesses in the global south, as they plan for their first-time mission to Uganda in the New Year.
And as for me, Ive never felt more excited, more hopeful, more Gospel-challenged to forget whats behind and strain toward what is ahead than I do today. I cant think of anything Id rather do than what Im doing right now as we seek to become a society of Great Commission followers of Jesus Christ in South Riding.
Recently, I had a discussion with one of our children. He has tremendous gifts and passion for theater arts, and is planning to be an actor on stage and screen. He might just do it, and as a father I fret about that. He loves the theater, but he wants to bring Christ in there too. The culture he is entering is often hostile to Christ followers, and hes already experienced just a bit of that. During this discussion I asked him how he would feel about being marginalized and turned down from roles because some people might resent him for his beliefs and being a Christ-follower. Is that really the kind of life you want to face?
But dad, he said, Ive learned from you that you have to stand up for what you believe, no matter what the cost is. Thats what we did when we left the Episcopal Church.
Now thats a legacy I can live with.
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. Psalm 37:25
The Rev. Phil Ashey is rector of South Riding Church (Anglican) in Virginia
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