Skip to comments.Considering AMiA [The Journey of Christ Church, Plano: Part IV]
Posted on 12/23/2006 9:15:45 AM PST by sionnsar
I don't usually tape record conversations, but when I packed my bags for a visit to South Carolina with some of the leadership of the AMiA, I was sure to take my tiny digital recorder. It had been years since I had seen some of these leaders... and I was a little nervous reacquainting myself with them. We used to be in the same church together. But that seemed like a long, long time ago. I brought my tape recorder because unlike CANA, I hadn't a clue about the AMiA. I had a lot of listening and catching up to do.
My flight was easy and my room near the beach outside of Pawley's Island was a perfect 'retreat' setting for the mission I was on. I drove my rent car to the multi-acre campus of All Saints... and I immediately was confused. There were two All Saint's campuses. One was affiliated with the AMiA and the other, across the street, was an ECUSA parish. They used to be one in the same parish... and now they are two... divided by a common street. And therein lies the tale...
I stopped the car in the parking and took in the beautiful scenery of both campuses. But I knew I had to face something within me even before I got out of the car: my own prejudice. The Anglican Mission was not an organization that I was prepared to like. They formed after the Denver Convention in 2000 and, in my opinion, began an ever-flowing tide of Episcopal clergy and laity out of ECUSA churches and into their start-up AMiA organization. I felt as though they had created an exodus that had weakened the witness of the orthodox clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church and had tipped the balance of power within the denomination. Also, I had some encounters with their chief leader/bishop Chuck Murphy and my experience of him was not all positive.
When I had spoken of the AMiA to others in the Episcopal Church, many church leaders had said the same thing to me: "I have few problems with the AMiA... " And then a litany of annoyances would begin. The consecrations were irregular. They betrayed the orthodox. They are stealing faithful Episcopalians. The AMiA stands for "Anglicans Missing in Action." I understood these comments and complaints. In fact, I had felt them myself.
Such was my attitude as I entered the offices at All Saint's Pawley's Island, the flagship church of the AMiA. I would meet with Bishop Chuck Murphy in the afternoon, but in the morning I had a few hours with the Rev. Terrell Glen, the rector of All Saints.
Walking around All Saints and seeing the clergy and staff about their work, I have to admit, it all seemed very "Episcopal." It was. All Saint's was in the Diocese of South Carolina and when their then rector Chuck Murphy was consecrated a missionary bishop of the Province of Rwanda for the Anglican Mission in America, the church morphed into the headquarters parish of the AMiA. That has its challenges, says the current Rector, Terrell Glenn. He told me that for some members of the parish is was just about changing the name on the sign. But it meant so much more: it was a shift in mission priorities. As I learned, the leaders do not call it the AMiA or by its full legal name. It is know as simply, the Anglican Mission. Their leaders do not regard their movement as a church or a province or a denomination. They see it in its simplest terms possible: it is a mission.
Their philosophy of mission is very pragmatic: whatever works. Some churches are planted by leaders who are sent to a place to get something going. Some are supported by a network of other congregations. Some are 'hived off' of mother churches and sent to a neighboring community... or a distant place. But for the most part, the emphasis of the Anglican Mission is to find leaders, support leaders, and send leaders.
To date, they have over well over 100 congregations with about 42 somewhere in the process of affiliation. I was told that they have had a new congregation or mission join or be formed at the rate of one every three weeks. Some of these missionary clergy are ex-ECUSA leaders and some are from other denominational families. Most are new starts!
Most of the churches are Eucharist oriented in terms of their worship. They are under the oversight of only four bishops: one in Colorado, one in the Northeast, and two in South Carolina. All bishops (with the exception of Murphy) have responsibilities in parish ministries or are starting parishes. Of the three streams of Anglicanism, they are most definitely among the evangelical wing: seriously minded about Bible, church ministry, preaching, and evangelism.
Because church planting is their bread and butter they are prepared to put energy, leadership, and resources into the development of these church plants. They have an expectation that all churches will plant churches. Many do. They are called "Antioch Churches." It is not unusual to hear about a church plant that, with only a few hundred on a Sunday, is preparing to launch their first plant. But all the leaders I spoke to mentioned that their number one challenge over the next few years was to supply churches with fresh leaders. To meet this demand they are using distance learning, 'on-the-job' training, and residential seminaries to recruit and train leaders.
Money is available for these plants too. They ask that the members of the church contribute 10% (tithe) to the local parish. The parish is asked to give 10% to AMiA. And AMiA gives 10% to the Province of Rwanda. But with the 10% from the parish, the AMiA gives back to the parish network 50% of what all the parishes give. The purpose of the give-back is to fund mission. For example, if 10 churches give a combined annual gift to the AMiA Center of $500,000. AMiA gives Rwanda $50,000 for their provincial ministry. AMiA gives back to the network of 10 parishes $250,000 for mission!!
This is a exciting part of the Anglican Mission. But I don't think they have always had this kind of mission clarity. The early days and formative years of AMiA were very difficult. They feel they were misunderstood... and they also admit to making a number of unfortunate missteps. But their bishop leader, Chuck Murphy, says that from the 'get-go' AMiA was set up to be an outreach mission from Rwanda... and designed to grow churches and reach the unchurched.
AMiA did not go over well with the mainline ECUSA folks, for obvious reasons. AMiA leaders certainly knew to expect that they would be shunned by the mainstream. But neither did AMiA go over well with the 'conservative members of ECUSA who were still within ECUSA structures. They (the orthodox) felt that the AMiA had abandoned them and absconded with critical leaders, especially after the Denver convention.
One leader pointed out to me that while AMiA did make these missteps, Archbishop Kolini, their sponsoring archbishop on behalf of the Province of Rwanda, held the leadership of AMiA accountable to the AMiA vision of mission. They were reminded that they were NOT to be a new province and NOT to act like a replacement province of ECUSA. They were an outreach mission from Rwanda to the Americas. That is all they were to be. It was a moment to get refocused.
In conversations with the leadership of the AMiA I heard a statement that didn't register at first. But the thought of it wouldn't go away. And, as I thought it through, I realized that it might be the single biggest asset about the AMiA. There are no dioceses in the AMiA. None.
No dioceses? None. Instead, they have organizational clusters called 'Networks' that are grouped by affinity as well as geography (probably size, style of ministry, etc.) These networks are the workhorse of the AMiA. The leadership looks at the Network leader (appointed by the Council of Bishops) to pastor, lead, develop mission planning, building encouragement, and develop joint ministries among the network parishes. Currently there are 14 networks across the country.
The priests in any given Network covenant with each other to meet several times a year for fellowship, prayer, support, and joint program or church planting and planning. I have been to one of the Network meetings and they are everything a priest would want them to be: challenging, inspirational, refreshing, hopeful, fun, and focused on the spiritual life of the minister with a high regard for the spouse and family. In fact, in some Networks, one of the quarterly gatherings is always for clergy and spouse renewal.
Another surprise was their position on women in the ordained priesthood. I had read John Rodger's study on women in ordained ministry (all 160+ pages of excellent and fairly exhaustive research, available at the website). He comes out on the side of ordaining women to the diaconate only. This has been the stated position of the AMiA. While ordained female priests from ECUSA could be 'grandfathered', no new priestly ordination of women had been expected.
However, while Archbishop Kolini approved of the AMiA position on ordaining women only to the deaconate, he clearly wanted AMiA to find an acceptable way of welcoming and ordaining women into his Rwandan outreach. In a case of pure irony, the Province of Rwanda does ordain women to the priesthood and Kolini has indicated that he would like to find a way to expand the umbrella of the Anglican Mission to include women in priestly orders under the purview of the AMiA.
The solution that has now been reached is to have all of his clergy and congregations under one large tent or entity known as the Anglican Mission in the Americas (note the plural). This official corporate name allows the acronym to remain the same but also includes clergy and congregations in Canada (who ordain women to the priesthood), clergy and congregations in America (who ordain women to the priesthood), and the original Anglican Mission congregations and clergy who ordain women to the diaconate only. All three groups are now included as "distinct" but united under the umbrella of the Anglican Mission in the Americas.
In other words, the Anglican Mission has developed a method by which women can be ordained and serve within two of the specific "branches" of the larger Anglican Mission while, at the same time honoring the original decision of the Anglican Mission in America. Most people who read this won't believe me... but this is the position of the AMiA umbrella missionary movement.
I heard several things that helped me understand and appreciate their position.
1. The whole of the Anglican Communion is in a process of 'reception'. That is, women's ordination has not been ruled out in the Communion nor has it been mandated throughout the Communion. Until it is ruled out, it should be permitted. If it is fully welcomed throughout the Communion, it should be allowed.
2. During the period of reception, no one is to have their consciences violated by forcing the ordination issue upon a group. At public AMiA gatherings then, the Eucharist will typically be celebrated by a male priest.
3. Finally, the issue of women's ordination is a matter of "church order" for most. Women can be ordained and serve as priests but generally it is not desired that a woman would have 'headship' over a man. In other words, a woman can serve as deacon and priest, but I would never expect a woman would be elevated to serve as a bishop.
Would this ever change? I can't see how at this point. Without dioceses there are no Standing Committees, no Executive Councils, no Conventions, no jurisdictional boundaries and thus, no political structures to get people elected, no positions of power or influence, no voting, and no wrangling for coalitions and caucuses.
And, as with CANA, the bishops are not elected by a democratic action of constituent bodies. They are selected and confirmed by the House of Bishops alone.
But bishops are essential to the AMiA. They will do confirmations when they visit churches, but generally, they serve as leaders and influencers in the Networks and the Mission. They are overseers and deciders. They take counsel from their priests and laity in the church, but the bishops are the principal leaders of the movement. They are responsible for it and they must act to insure it. They are full members of the House of Bishops of Rwanda and thus part of the Anglican Communion. When Global South coalitions like CAPA or South/South meet, or the House of Bishops in Rwanda, they are there.
But is the AMiA really in the Anglican Communion? That is the question everyone wants to ask. And here we enter the world and structure of church politics and linkages. I feel that I am in over my head here... so I will simply write what I know to be true.
1. All the bishops of the AMiA are in the Province of Rwanda. They attend the House of Bishops meetings and they are expected by Archbishop Kolini to attend Anglican Communion events. The AMiA is supported by the whole of the Province of Rwanda by declaration at their convention. It is not a private mission of Archbishop Kolini. It is fully supported by the whole Province of Rwanda and is linked to their Constitution.
2. AMiA is here to stay and they expect to be invited to Lambeth in 2008. Bishop Murphy tells me that the Archbishop of Canterbury made a statement of general setting while he (Murphy) was clearly in the room and obviously part of the company of the room. The ABC said, "I am in communion with everyone in the room. We are all part of the family."
But leaders say things like this all the time. They are not to be parsed or divined so closely. Such a statement from the leader of the Anglican Communion is probably more of an emotional and pastoral statement than a canonical pronouncement. You are a member of the family... because you are here. Not, you are here because you are a member of the family.
I think this perspective was recently released as a public statement by the ACO office concerning the ministry of CANA. It was specifically stated that CANA "is a 'mission' of the Church of Nigeria. It is not a branch of the Anglican Communion as such but an organisation which relates to a single province of the Anglican Communion." When I was in London recently I had an opportunity to speak with a Lambeth officer who told me that AMiA is regarded in this same way.
I don't think we can look to Lambeth or the Archbishop to bless or affirm mission agencies as being parts or provinces of the Anglican Communion. He simply won't do it now... especially since the Lambeth strategy is still backing the Windsor Report. But it is quite clear now, given the border crossing, overlapping provinces, and other efforts, that hope of any coherent structure of Anglicanism is a nostalgic wish.
A friend of mine from Texas said it in the idiom of the West: the fences are down and the cows are roaming free. Indeed. The Southern Cone is starting a church in the ECUSA Diocese of Dallas. Uganda has affiliated provinces in Florida and Kansas. The fragmentation of the Anglican Communion is taking place right before our eyes... and it will continue for the next many years.
But the AMiA, once thought to be full of renegades and rebels, has produced one of the most coherent structures in North America: four bishops overseeing mission work done by 14 Networks of clergy and parishes. It is simple, clean, and clear.
It sounds like AMiA is a blend of Episcopal and Presbyterian in structure.
Interesting, though. My father's church wanted to join AMiA but was refused -- they had a lower limit to the size they would take in.
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