By Kirk Petersen
Two seminaries have been making conscious efforts to recruit future priests affiliated with both the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and the Episcopal Church (TEC). After arriving on campus, seminarians of differing convictions find mutual suspicions weakening while they study, worship, and dine together every day. Friendships begin.
Both churches are well represented in traditional three-year, residential master of divinity (M.Div.) programs at Nashotah House in Wisconsin and at the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies (AEHS) at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina. Both seminaries also offer “hybrid” degrees — mostly online instruction, with a few intensive weeks on campus. Hybrid programs have the salutary effect of broadening the pool of potential priests, but the immersive residential model is a key element of this story.
Duke, an ecumenical seminary founded by the United Methodist Church, has 46 residential M.Div. students pursing certificates in Anglican studies through AEHS. Roughly two-thirds are from TEC and one-third from the ACNA, said the Rev. Joe Ananias, interim director of AEHS.
Nashotah, one of nine seminaries recognized by the Episcopal Church, has 38 residential M.Div. students. Half of them are from TEC, close to a third from the ACNA, and the remainder are from other Anglican or non-Anglican affiliations, according to Lauren Cripps, communications and marketing manager.
To appreciate the size of the ACNA cohorts, it helps to know that nationally, there are about 14 Episcopalians for every member of the ACNA, based on self-reported data.
The leaders of both programs tell similar stories about camaraderie in the student body. “Because we get to know one another, and the stories that we’ve lived so far, there’s quite a bit of mutual support and understanding and empathy,” said Dr. Garwood Anderson, president and dean of Nashotah House.
“There’s a communal gathering space down the hall from my office where students congregate, and it’s not uncommon to hear either hearty laughter or thoughtful conversation,” Ananias told TLC by email. “It’s often students from both TEC and ACNA, across the theological spectrum, clearly enjoying each other’s company.”
But the most eloquent testimony comes from seminarians and alumni who have forged friendships despite fundamental disagreements — participating in what the Episcopal Church has come to call “communion across difference.” TLC interviewed eight current or former seminarians, representing both churches at both schools. Here is some of their witness.
The Power of Friendship
The seminarians and alumni told story after story of treasured friendships formed “across the aisle.”
The Very Rev. Noah Lawson graduated from Nashotah way back in 2014, so has spent more time in a collar than the others. He is dean of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin’s Emmanuel Cathedral in Fresno, California. “I take an annual retreat with three other guys from Nashotah House, two of which are Episcopal priests and one of which is a priest in the Roman Catholic Ordinariate,” he said.
The four friends made that commitment when they graduated “for the purpose of encouragement and accountability for the building up of one another’s faith. Three of the four of us are fairly conservative, one is probably more progressive,” Lawson said.
The Rev. Julie Hendrix, Nashotah Class of 2021 and rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal in Waupaca, Wisconsin, said she meets by Zoom every week with a former classmate in the ACNA. Why? “Because we’re friends,” she said simply. “We talk about the struggles that we have, and it’s like any ecumenical group getting together. I’m sorry, but all ministers have the same issues. We all have parishioners. We all have buildings that go kerflooey in the middle of Holy Week. We’re all dealing with church politics in our own churches in different ways.”
Her friend is the Rev. Jonathan Mohler, curate of St. Vincent’s Cathedral (ACNA) in Bedford, Texas. “Julie and I have very, very deep, significant theological differences, but we’ve learned to love one another and be good friends in spite of that,” he said.
“I believe the Bible is saying that marriage is between a man and a woman. And sexual intimacy is intended for marriage. So that’s where I stand,” said Hannah Howland, a third-year ACNA student at Duke. And yet, “one of my closest friends is a man married to a man. And I look forward to seeing his ministry unfold. He’s a dear brother in Christ. And we pray together.”
“I was privileged to preach at the ordination to the priesthood of a friend of mine in the Episcopal Church,” said the Rev. Micah Hogan, an ACNA priest who is pursuing a doctorate in historical theology at Marquette University. “To me, it was quite significant that both of our bishops agreed, and that he was kind enough to invite me. And I’ll be the best man in his wedding, and I was just at the weddings of two other [Episcopal] classmates of mine.”
Hogan preached at the ordination of the Rev. Danté Anglin, a classmate in the Nashotah Class of 2022. Anglin is now priest in charge at St. Barnabas Episcopal in Havana, Illinois. He describes himself as a conservative Episcopalian, and said that may have made it easier to form a friendship across the aisle.
“I’m friends with liberal Episcopalians who I vehemently disagree with,” Anglin said. “But I think, ‘You’re a good Christian who feels led this way.’ And I can’t see you as the devil, I can’t see you as a heretic, I can’t see you as the enemy.”
The leaders of both seminaries are very purposeful about setting an ecumenical tone. The Rev. Sam Bush, Duke Class of 2022, is associate rector at Christ Church Episcopal in Charlottesville, Virginia. He said current seminarians tell him Ananias named the elephant in the room last fall on the first day. “He said, ‘There are people here who are affirming of gay marriage, there are people who are not affirming of gay marriage. … Every single one of you is welcome.’”
Ananias has been interim director of AEHS only since August 2022, but was part of the leadership team for years before that. AEHS has announced that the Very Rev. Timothy Kimbrough, dean of Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral in Nashville since 2009, has been hired as director.
TLC reached Kimbrough at the airport for a quick question: Does he intend to continue recruiting from both TEC and the ACNA? “The answer to your question is a resounding ‘yes’ — TEC, ACNA, and from around the Anglican Communion,” he said by email.
Hope Anderson is a first-year TEC student at Duke. “I’ve never met a student in my program who would say, ‘The thing I’m looking forward to most, in the three short precious years I have in seminary, is fighting about one critical social issue,’” she said. “This is not the hill anybody wants to die on.”
The immersive environment fosters candor. “We’re learning how to risk these vulnerable, intimate conversations, and then keep coming back to the table again and again and again,” she said.
At Nashotah, “I like to call it rubbing elbows literally and figuratively,” Hendrix said. “Because when you’re sitting in the choir stalls, you are literally sitting on top of everybody’s surplices, and you’re literally rubbing elbows. The ethos of Nashotah itself forces us to come to grips with our own prejudices.”
“Nashotah House is an intense community environment, it’s a crucible experience in many respects,” Lawson said. “You can’t hide from people, you can’t hide from conflict. It was an environment that taught us how to love one another, how to forgive one another, how to show mercy and grace to one another.”
“There’s a Rowan Williams essay on making moral decisions, where he talks about discerning a grammar of obedience,” Hogan said, adding that the essay is assigned reading in the moral theology class at Nashotah. “There are reasons why I couldn’t in good conscience be in the Episcopal Church, but I learned to discern a grammar of obedience in colleagues of mine. We disagree on important things, but we can actually talk about them, because we’re trying to follow the same Lord.”
The Outside World Intrudes
None of the people interviewed were dismissive of the very real differences between TEC and the ACNA, and there were a few flashes of conflict.
“I hold very little hope for future relations of the two provinces. I think the connection between students in seminary is an anomaly,” said the ACNA’s Mohler.
“The only thing that I could see changing that would be time, and generational transfer of leadership,” he said. “All of the senior priests in my diocese, they all lived through the split, they all lived through getting letters from the presiding bishop telling them that she was defrocking them and deposing them.
“There’s a lot of hurt there. I don’t see a willingness on my side of the fence to come back to the table,” he said.
“Schism is not the answer,” declared Anglin, the conservative Episcopalian. “My ecclesiology says, you don’t leave the church unless you’re forcibly removed. I’ll hear my ACNA friends say, ‘Wow, the Episcopal Church is going crazy!’ And I’m like, ‘It’s almost as if all the conservatives left.’ And then there’s just this awkward silence.”
Still, even deeply held convictions can be reexamined.
“I went into Wheaton College not believing in women’s ordination,” Howland said. “After seeing women function in ministry, and hearing the voice of God in my own life and my own call over and over again, I just had to let the Lord change things a bit. And now I’m in the ordination process,” she said.
“That journey has definitely made me more humble about my theological positions. I’ve grown and been challenged by all my queer friends in ways that are wonderful and beautiful. And I hope the same for them,” she added.
“I hold some hope that an Episcopalian would look at me and not see me as a threat, but as a brother in Christ, who is catering to a different segment of the community than he or she is,” Mohler said. “And then where we can find areas of agreement and shared heritage, we can work together, and where we have disagreements, we disagree.”
“I’m doing my best with the theology that I know, and practicing daily to be a good Christian,” said Hendrix, Mohler’s Episcopal friend. “And I know all the ACNA priests are doing so too. I could be wrong. And they could be wrong. We don’t know who’s right, but we’re trying our best.”
“I don’t think any of us can fulfill our Christian call unless we’re being trained in getting beyond our silos,” Anderson said.
“I would be hesitant to suggest many litmus tests for the gospel being actually present at work in a person,” said the ACNA’s Lawson. “But I think one of them is that you look at ‘the other’ and see yourself, and know that you’ve been there, or you are there, or you could be there.”
“Being angry is exhausting,” Anglin said. “Let’s actually love God and do the work he has given us to do, in the ways that we can, as clergy or lay people in Christ.”
For an extended discussion on how discernment differs for young priests, subscribe to The Living Church Podcast at livingchurch.org/podcast. A May podcast will feature two brothers, the Rev. David Beadle (TEC) and the Rev. Jonathan Beadle (ACNA).