By Kirk Petersen
The story played out many times — a congregation in the Episcopal Church (TEC) voted to disaffiliate with the denomination because of doctrinal differences, and ultimately joined the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Litigation over property ownership frequently followed, and in some cases has continued for more than a decade.
In a rare instance, a congregation is now crossing the border in the opposite direction — without a lawsuit in sight.
In an October 3 announcement, an Indianapolis church known as The Table wrote: “After a process of discernment lasting more than a year, last week our members voted 44-4 to disaffiliate with the ACNA and pursue affiliation with the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, led by Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows.”
The church cited “resisting patriarchy and empowering women” and a “commitment to social and racial justice” among its reasons for making the move. ACNA does not permit women to be elected as bishops, and some ACNA dioceses do not ordain women as priests. “We sensed there was better alignment for The Table within the Episcopal Church (and especially the Diocese of Indianapolis) than there was within the ACNA,” the announcement said.
The Table’s announcement does not explicitly mention LGBTQ acceptance, the most potent focus of conflict between TEC and ACNA. But in her own October 3 announcement, Bishop Baskerville-Burrows said the leadership of The Table has “committed to being a safe place for LGBTQ people and to joining with us in our work to dismantle systemic racism and discrimination.” She also wrote that she spoke with the Rt. Rev. Todd Hunter, the ACNA bishop with jurisdiction over The Table, “and am assured that he intends for their transition to be peaceful and free of conflict.”
Hunter is Bishop of the Diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others (C4SO), a non-geographic diocese widely considered to be less conservative than ACNA as a whole. Hunter issued a dissent to a January 2021 ACNA House of Bishops’ statement that forbade the usage of the term “gay Christian” and published a guidance urging churches to engage with Critical Race Theory. Hunter and many of the C4SO’s clergy were part of a non-denominational church planting network that joined the ACNA in 2009, and most have never been directly involved with the Episcopal Church.
In a letter to clergy, Hunter wrote: “As the Bishop of C4SO, in a spirit of brotherly love and goodwill, I release this parish into the care of The Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis.” When asked if the central ACNA leadership needed to approve the change, the Rev. Andrew K. Gross, head of communications, said by email: “This is solely a diocesan matter.”
Congregants of The Table worship at a local Methodist church — meaning there are no church buildings over which to litigate. The congregation is not coming “back” to TEC, as it has never been part of the Episcopal Church. It was founded as an ACNA church plant in 2015.
Baskerville-Burrows wrote that The Table “will now begin the process of applying to become a missional community under Canon 20 of the Diocese of Indianapolis.” In 2,400 words, that canon describes a process that begins with a hearing held after 10 days’ notice to the three closest Episcopal Churches to the proposed mission. By the afternoon of October 3, The Table had already changed its website to read: “The Table is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis.”
The church has three co-rectors: The Rev. Spencer Ruark, the Rev. Ben Sternke, and the Rev. Matt Tebbe. All of them are bi-vocational priests who have been ordained by the ACNA. Through a spokesperson, they declined to comment beyond their written announcement.