Anglican Polity: The Question of Ultimate Commitments Raised by AMiA’s Upheaval
Anglican polity has been an area of constant reflection these past couple months. This shouldn’t be unsurprising. After all, I’m taking a course in Anglican polity this semester, was a part of AMiA when it broke from PEAR and split, and have now transitioned into PEARUSA.11.Whether this convergence of events has been merely a coincidence or is the Spirit’s leading I won’t speculate. As a student of history now pursuing ordination, what has been interesting is studying the development of polity within the CoE when it broke from Rome as I’ve been personally impacted by AMiA’s separation from Rwanda. Although there are certain parallels between the English Reformation and AMiA’s shift, clearly they’re very different both in circumstances and significance. Yet two things in particular have struck me as being similar. 2.I’m intentionally not providing clear definitions or precise categories. Nor am I offering an argument for or against the validity of any of these options. Also, please keep in mind that these aren’t mutually exclusive. Quite often there remains overlap between at least two or three of the categories.First, many of the same general arguments are being employed. Second, both served to illuminate where people’s ultimate commitments and priorities lie. Where they previously were all conveniently linked together, and thus one in the same, they have now frayed and become distinguishable. Whether in person or online, I’ve now seen laity and clergy alike express commitment to each of the 18 persons or things on this list:2
- Ancient-Future Christianity: It’s about the Church’s ancient worship styles. For some–perhaps many?–Anglicanism has merely been a vehicle for experiencing historic practices within a 21st century context without becoming Catholic or Orthodox.33.They’re now fatigued by all the political garbage. Many are increasingly content to see their local body become a non-denominational, ancient-future church without episcopal oversight.
- Local Church (Unspecified): It’s about loyalty to the people. They love the congregation. That’s where their commitment lies. Come hell or high water, they’re sticking with that group of people no matter what.44.The church could become Lutheran and they’d stick with it. Like the above group, they’re not exactly Anglican loyalists.
- Local Church (Specific): It’s about loyalty to the people… with one condition. So long as the local body reflects an Anglican expression of Christianity, then they’re committed to the church. They see the tradition and the people as co-equal in importance.55.Most of these folks don’t really care if they stick with AMiA or move into another Anglican jurisdiction. They’ll stick with their vestry, priest and/or bishop wherever they’re being led.
- Anglicanism (Pragmatic): It’s about being a part of orthodox Anglicanism. They just want to be part of the tradition without being part of TEC. AMiA had simply been a convenient option. They have no strong sense of loyalty to any jurisdiction.66.They follow the crowd and will end up with the majority whenever things have shaken out.
- Anglicanism (Principled): It’s about being a part of orthodox Anglicanism… with one condition. There’s this felt need and/or principled conviction to be part of something that’s at least recognized by some within the global communion.77.That is, they don’t want to be part of a Continuing Anglican body. AMiA had been a convenient option, but most are now leaving for PEARUSA or ACNA.
- Local priest: It’s about loyalty to their priest. This seems most prevalent among former TEC folks where the priest either led a group in breaking from a parish or led the whole parish out. Either way, the person had kind of been their Moses figure.88.They’ll stick with the priest wherever he leads.
- Episcopal Oversight: It’s about loyalty to an individual bishop. They’ve made a commitment to this person and will remain with/under him regardless of what direction that takes them.99.This is often because of a close personal relationship but sometimes is because of theological convictions. Numerically, most are sticking with AMiA since 3/4 of the bishops remain.
- AMiA Chairman: It’s about loyalty to their leader and/or friend, Bishop Chuck Murphy. They have trusted his leadership from the beginning, believe he is led by the Spirit, and has done nothing to convince them otherwise.1010.Obviously these people are sticking with AMiA.
- Pawleys Island: It’s about loyalty to the organization and its vision. They love the Anglican Mission and will stick with it, whether that’s its old role within Rwanda, a missionary society of ACNA, something else under the retired archbishops, etc.1111.Most of these folks have been with AMiA since its early days and are sticking with it now.
- Province de L’Eglise Anglicane au Rwanda: It’s about honoring one’s commitments. They love that the Rwandans stuck their neck out for them and feel that a personal promise was made that must be kept.1212.Many emphasize submission to authority. They’re sticking with Rwanda.
- Anglican Communion: It’s about being members of the worldwide Communion. They believe it’s vital that they be embedded, i.e. canonically resident, within a recognized province. Being legitimately a part of a global body is the most important thing.1313.They’re leaving AMiA for ACNA, PEARUSA, or both if possible.
- Retired Archbishops: It’s about loyalty to the archbishops who started AMiA. The motives here are particularly varied ranging from growing up under these men while living abroad to simply having trust in their wisdom and intimacy with the Spirit.1414.They’re sticking with AMiA so long as the Archbishops are behind it.
- Tradition Specific: It’s about being supported by like-minded believers. They’re looking to join whoever they have the closest natural affinity with. It’s a tendency toward homogenization.1515.From what I’ve seen, generally speaking the Anglo-Catholics are looking to ACNA, the charismatics are looking to stay with AMiA, and the Reformed are interested in PEARUSA.
- Perceived Integrity: It’s about standing behind those conducting themselves rightly. Fair or unfair, there are those who have varying levels of lingering concern about AMiA’s submission to authority, financial accountability, lack of transparency, and so forth.1616.Those asking these questions are exiting AMiA quickly. Many of them–myself included–are ultra sensitive because of prior hurtful experiences with church leaders.
- Missionary Impulse: It’s about being commissioned for missions. Many see us as living within a post-Christian society, which in their opinion changes everything. They emphasize the necessity of “African DNA” and being sent forth to help build the Kingdom.1717.Many of these folks had been the most staunch supporters of AMiA. Now they’re shifting over to PEARUSA, seeing AMiA as a purely indigenous movement.
- Spirit Led: It’s about obedience to the Holy Spirit. Many feel strongly that the Spirit is for the recent developments within AMiA. Some feel just the opposite. It’s almost a matter of direct revelation from God, so there’s really no reasoning with them either way.1818.Their decision between AMiA, PEARUSA, and ACNA is based almost completely upon this sense of leading.
- Group with Flexibility: It’s about cutting through the red tape. Many are looking to align with the most expedient option, whether that’s for the ordination process or gaining episcopal oversight. Here I’ve seen commendable motives and troublesome motives. It’s a mixed bag.1919.AMiA has long been the most flexible. For better or worse, they make a concerted effort to enable God’s calling upon individuals and communities to be fulfilled. It’s up in the air as to whether these folks are staying with AMiA since it can’t presently ordain people.
- Group with Momentum: It’s about being on the “winning team,” if I may use a crude sports analogy. These are the same sorts of folks who are bandwagon fans of pro sports teams. They tend to act primarily out of emotion.2020.Right or wrong, they want to be with whoever has the most vitality. Right now that seems to be PEARUSA or ACNA, so that’s where they’re headed.
- Group with Stability: It’s about having a long-term home. Whether they’re cradle Episcopalians who have moved over or evangelicals looking for unity, many are tired of ecclesiastical shakeups and fragmentation. They want peace, calm, and unity.2121.Some are headed to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. Most are desperately looking to ACNA as their final source of hope.
- Group with Focus: It’s about avoiding the crap. From what I can tell, most of these folks have been burned by the institutional church. They hate the infighting, politics, and drama. They just want to love Jesus and be the Body of Christ to a lost and dying world.2020.These people tend not to be up on Anglican happenings and don’t care about ecclesiastical minutia. Some are sticking with AMiA by intentionally ignoring all the upheaval. Others are either joining ACNA or leaving Anglicanism altogether
I’d be curious to know whether others are seeing these same trends.