By Jeff Walton
More than 900 delegates from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) have gathered this week at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, for a provincial assembly and the handoff of authority to a new leader.
Archbishop Robert Duncan, the church’s first primate, is concluding a five-year term, to be succeeded by Archbishop-elect Foley Beach, bishop of the ACNA’s Atlanta-based Diocese of the South.
“Many critics said we wouldn’t be able to elect a second archbishop and that only I could hold it together,” Duncan said at a press conference after the assembly’s opening Eucharist. “Well, guess what?” Duncan smiled, turning to Beach.
Duncan portrayed Beach as offering the same consensus that he said characterized his time in office, although he acknowledged “vigorous fellowship” in the discussions of a bishops’ conclave that tapped Beach as his successor.
“I count it as a real joy and sacred trust to be elected archbishop of the ACNA,” Beach said, adding that he believes “leadership is stewardship” and “leadership is also temporary.”
“Archbishop Duncan’s shoes are very big and my feet aren’t big enough to fill them,” Beach said, identifying the challenge that millions of people in the United States and Canada do not know Jesus Christ. “I’m counting on Jesus to fill the gap.”
ACNA officials also highlighted three areas of concentration: a new catechism, the continuing work of the Anglican Relief and Development Fund (ARDF), and Anglican 1000, an initiative providing resources to new church planters.
Canon Nancy Norton of ARDF reported that the agency has funded 165 projects in 34 countries since its 2004 founding, while Alan Hawkins of Anglican 1000 touted 488 new congregations planted since the denomination launched in 2009.
Speakers selected to address the Anglican Assembly indicate the direction in which the ACNA is moving: a focus on planting new congregations, advocating for religious freedom, and proclaiming the Gospel to a culture increasingly skeptical of truth claims.
“If the church does not stand boldly for religious liberty, there will be a moment ahead where we cannot do that,” Deitrich Bonhoeffer biographer Eric Metaxas said. “We should argue for every millimeter of religious freedom for the sake of those around the world who can’t.”
Metaxas was the first of a series of plenary speakers to address the assembly, including International Justice Mission founder Gary Haugen, Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria, and Culture Making author Andy Crouch.
Six primates from overseas provinces of the Anglican Communion were present, including Archbishop Tito Zavala of the Iglesia Anglicana del Cono Sur de America, Archbishop Bolly Lapok of Southeast Asia, Presiding Bishop Mouneer Anis of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya, Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo of Burma, Archbishop Henri Isingoma of Congo, and Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda. Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney, Australia, also attended.
The assembly devoted a relatively small portion of time to legislation. Instead, the gathering was primarily a missions and teaching conference, with speakers sharing testimonies and offering workshops on topics ranging from healing prayer to church marketing.
“I couldn’t imagine the Lord knocking on the door of my heart without any response. So I got up,” Archbishop Kwashi said of his decision to follow Christ.
Kwashi and his wife, Gloria, gave a passionate address on the assembly’s opening night in which they told of their decision to embrace Christ and an unexpected prompting that led them to eventually adopt 60 children.
“The Lord was calling me to walk with women and children, but I didn’t know in what direction,” Gloria Kwashi said.
“Whether you are Anglican or not, this is something the Lord has asked us to do,” Kwashi declared. “God gives us each other so that we may have the mind of Christ.”
Based on their experiences in Nigeria’s middle belt, where the Christian-majority population of southern Nigeria meets the Muslim-majority population of the north, the archbishop and his wife testified to the importance of proclaiming the gospel in difficult places.
“Your grandparents did wonders,” Archbishop Kwashi said of early Christian missionaries who came to evangelize west Africa. “Many of them died. Their graves are still in Jos. I visit them. But that is what builds courage.”
Nigeria has witnessed widespread attacks from Islamist groups such as Boko Haram, which seeks to establish the rule of shari‘ah and drive out Christians. Kwashi said two bombings had occurred that day in central Nigeria, killing about 50 people.
“Even after bombs, people are asking to be saved,” Kwashi said about the frequent attacks, many of which are directed at churches. “Even Muslims are coming.”
“You look at how the Lord is embarrassing the devil and you say, ‘Let the persecutions continue!’” Kwashi said. “The gospel is a power of God. When you see it save lives, you count your suffering as nothing.”
Haugen recalled how International Justice Mission, which secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression, was launched from the Falls Church in 1997.
“Freedom is a difficult thing, and when human beings are set free of external bondage they quickly turn to internal bondage that inhibits their freedom,” Haugen said, describing a two-year “freedom school” to help former slaves.
“A slave doesn’t move into immediately thriving and into freedom,” Haugen said, adding that those freed must recover their fundamental ambition and desire for life, as well as relearn responsibility.
People in our world are in deep trouble, he said, and if we stand with them, we will also find ourselves in trouble.
“Church has always inherently been unsafe,” Haugen said. “Poor women and girls are in trouble on this world. Evil, it turns out, fights back. When you rescue the oppressed, free the slave, orphan, and widow, you are leading your church into trouble.”
“We have found ourselves in deep trouble, we have cried out and we have found ourselves in grace,” Haugen said. “We can cry out to him in confidence.”
Image courtesy of ACNA’s Facebook page