By Mark Michael
The Rt. Rev. Nicholas Drayson, Bishop of Northern Argentina, was elected as Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Anglican Church of South America at a synod held on March 27. He succeeds the Most Rev. Gregory Venables, who retired from the role last year.
Under Venables’ leadership, the Anglican Church of South America played a significant role in Anglican realignment, and was active in the formation and leadership of the GAFCON network. The provincial synod that elected Drayson also notably reaffirmed its support for Lambeth Resolution 1.10, a which articulates the Church’s traditional doctrine of human sexuality.
Drayson, 63, will continue to serve in Northern Argentina, where he has been bishop since 2011. An English evangelical, he studied at Keble College and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and has served in the South American mission field for most of his ministry, though he has also served in the Church of England and the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain.
His own mission work has been focused on Argentina’s indigenous people, especially the Chorotes of Argentina’s northeastern frontier, who traditionally lived by hunting and gathering along the Pilcomayo River. Drayson translated the New Testament into their language in 1997, working under the auspices of the South American Mission Society, which has played a central role in the spread of Anglicanism in the region.
Since its foundation as the Patagonian Mission by Allen Gardiner, a British sea captain, in 1844, the South American Mission Society has largely focused its work on remote indigenous people who have largely been unreached by the Roman Catholic Church. The society was founded with semi-independent branches in English-speaking provinces. In recent decades, many of these have merged with the venerable evangelical Church Mission Society. SAMS-USA, which like the Anglican Church in North America and Trinity School for Ministry is based in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, retains the society’s historic abbreviation, but now styles itself “the Society for Anglican Missionaries and Senders,” and supports several missionaries working outside of South America.
The Anglican Church of South America unites six dioceses with about 25,000 Anglicans from Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. It was known as “the Province of the Southern Cone of America” from its formation in 1981 until being renamed in 2014. The former title was technically more accurate, as some Anglican churches in South America are part of different provinces. Dioceses in Columbia, Ecuador, and Venezuela are part of the Episcopal Church; the Diocese of Guyana is a member of the Church in the Province of the West Indies; and independent Anglican provinces have been formed in Brazil and Chile. Anglicans in the Falkland Islands form one of the small extra-provincial churches directly under the Archbishop of Canterbury’s oversight.
Due to the practical and financial challenges of such pioneering mission work, the province relies more heavily on church leaders sent out from the U.K. and North America than other Anglican provinces in the Global South. Of the province’s six diocesan bishops, only two, the Rt. Rev. Jorge Luis Aguilar of Peru and the Rt. Rev. Brian Williams of Argentina are native South Americans. The four others include Drayson and another Englishman, a Canadian, and a native of Singapore.
In addition to his evangelistic and pastoral ministry in Argentina, Drayson’s public witness has focused on advocating for communities harmed by climate change, and he is one of the “eco-bishops,” an international group coordinated by the Communion’s Environmental Network. He has also represented the province in the Anglican Consultative Council.
Unlike some provinces in the GAFCON network, the Anglican Church in South America has actively participated in the councils and networks of the Canterbury-focused Anglican Communion. The province did, however, formally sever relationships with the Episcopal Church after the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003, and is in full communion with the Anglican Church in North America. As the Western hemisphere’s only GAFCON-affiliated province, and with leaders well-connected in worldwide evangelical Anglican circles, it has played a significant role in helping conservative dioceses and congregations transition out of progressive-majority churches.
In 2007-2009, when majorities of the Episcopal Dioceses of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, and Quincy voted to leave the Episcopal Church, they were received “on an emergency and temporary basis” as dioceses of what was then the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. A similar arrangement had been used to receive the 72 parishes of the Anglican Network in Canada in 2005. All five groups became founding dioceses of the Anglican Church of North America in 2009. The conservative Diocese of Recife in Northeastern Brazil also affiliated with the Province of the Southern Cone in 2005. It has since expanded into the Anglican Church in Brazil, and is recognized as a province by GAFCON but not by the Anglican Communion, which recognizes the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil as the authorized Anglican presence in that nation.