By Steve Rabey
After spending the past nine months debating questions of affiliation, members of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, a congregation in the northern suburbs of Colorado Springs, affirmed the recommendations of its pastor and leadership team, voting 82-6 to end their affiliation with the Anglican Mission in the Americas and to become part of PEAR USA (the North American Missionary District of Province de L’Eglise Anglicane au Rwanda).
The July 22 vote followed a lively, hour-long discussion involving dozens of parishioners. The discussion reflected the parishioners’ backgrounds in the Episcopal Church (about half), evangelical, and Protestant churches. One member supported his arguments with references to apostolic succession and the restoration of Charles I to the English throne, while another plainly said, “I didn’t grow up Episcopalian, or Anglican, so I don’t have a background in church hierarchy.”
Ultimately the vote hinged on the distinction between church and parachurch organizations, a subject that is familiar for many here in this headquarters city for dozens of major international Christian ministries such as Compassion International, Focus on the Family and Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society).
“It’s a choice between aligning with a parachurch organization or with a historical, ecclesiastical group,” Burnett said before the vote. “Making this choice is good for us, in a way. It makes us decide who we really are and how God has put us together.”
It has been a long journey for Burnett, a former Episcopal priest, and for Holy Trinity, a congregation originally formed around a family dinner table in late 2003. The congregation merged in 2009 with Christ the King Anglican Church, founded in 2000 as one of the earlier AMiA congregations in the nation.
Burnett was ordained in 2002 and served as assistant to the rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church for 18 months. He resigned from St. Michael’s and the Episcopal Church after the 2003 consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. For Burnett, Robinson’s consecration represented an official embrace of worrisome changes in faith, discipline and the authority of Scripture that had been occurring in the denomination for many years.
The founders of Holy Trinity initially attended services during early 2004 with members off the International Anglican Church.
“We intentionally, and at their very generous invitation, ‘incubated’ with IAC and started public services after we had prayed, talked, and felt like it was time to begin public worship as Holy Trinity Anglican Church,” Burnett said.
Holy Trinity held its first service on Trinity Sunday in June 2004 at a local school. At that time, there were three AMiA congregations in Colorado Springs. Following Holy Trinity’s vote, there are now none.
Burnett was not an alarmist about the choice Holy Trinity faced. “Either vision could have brought us new energy and new opportunities for moving forward,” he said.
But he does regret the time, energy and turmoil the issue caused during the past nine months. “At times I have been angry that our agenda has been dominated by this,” he said. “It certainly kept me from being able to give as much attention as I would have liked towards some outreach and discipleship possibilities. We will also have a few people leave our congregation, which is very hard. But the Holy Spirit is capable of leading us during turmoil.”
The debate was complicated one week before the vote when the Rev. Bob Grant, former rector of Christ the King, and now director of clergy formation for the AMiA, asked Holy Trinity members to postpone their vote.
“For us church/parachurch was the watershed issue and when, having asked, there didn’t seem any possibility that new information would substantively affect that core issue, then we decided to proceed as scheduled,” Burnett said.
During the debate over the affiliation options, Holy Trinity’s leaders kept members informed by hosting regular Saturday morning information and discussion sessions and flooding them with documents describing the options they faced. “No matter how imperfectly we have done it, our team has tried to work in a spirit of equity, fairness and transparency to be sure we would make the best and most informed choice for our whole community,” Burnett said before the vote.
“This has been a time of mixed emotions,” he said. “We have been faced with a series of events, and interpretations of those events have varied widely, with members of both sides feeling hurt and put upon. But now, our affiliation with PEAR USA looks like the original picture we had for Holy Trinity when we were founded nine years ago, and it allows us to continue our relationship with Rwanda.”