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Why Can’t We Be Friends? On Anglicans in America

By Hannah King

I am a latecomer to the Anglican conversation. Born and raised in a strongly evangelical corner of Christendom, my church experience was almost exclusively baptistic until halfway through seminary. In 2012, my husband and I began worshiping in an Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) church, and in 2017 we were ordained by an Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) bishop. My relative lack of experience — and institutional memory — thus limits the scope of my perspective on what many have called “the Anglican wars,” and it necessitates a degree of humility in any conversation about the way forward for Anglicans in America.

However, I have also come to realize that my lack of institutional memory can be a gift to a divided church. Because my generation was not in leadership during the time of the schism, we are freer to study it as a fact of church history as opposed to a personal trauma from which to recover. And, made possible by the godly example of older leaders, we have the opportunity to appreciate the complexity of the situation and the sincerity of Christians on both sides of the divide.

This has been my experience. When my husband and I were first exploring ministry in the Anglican world, we were very fortunate to participate in a number of events in Dallas that were co-hosted by Anglicans in the ACNA and Episcopalians. These were opportunities for young future leaders to learn about Anglicanism and become oriented to the current climate of the Church. They did not feel like competitive rallies or theological debates, but like collaborative ministry.  It was actually a gracious Episcopal priest there who encouraged us to pursue ministry in the ACNA, about which I have written elsewhere.

These formative conversations created a plausibility structure for me that I have only begun to articulate. They gave me an appreciation for the personal discernment and strategy that led (and still lead) some to the Episcopal Church and some to the ACNA. They made me hopeful about the future of the Anglican Communion, and optimistic about positive relationships between the Episcopal Church and the ACNA. I am in fact the product of such relationships, and I aspire to cultivate them in my own life and ministry.

And while I certainly do not speak for all young Anglicans, I believe that I am not alone. A number of my colleagues and friends have expressed openness to — and even interest in — cross-jurisdictional friendship and collaboration. It would be naïve to suggest that such activity is a simple road to reunification; but it would be jaded to deny that it could be a starting point.

Perhaps this collaboration could begin with shared lament. Most Anglicans, whether old or young, theologically conservative or progressive, acknowledge that schism is nobody’s victory. Historic and global union is part of what defines us. We might have different opinions about the nature or extent of the Church’s problems, or about the best course of action — in fact this is precisely the issue! — but we can agree that the Church is currently in a sad state, and that we are in desperate need of God’s help.  As we name our shared pain in the presence of God and ask for his intervention, we can trust that his kindness will lead us to a fitting repentance.

Another important practice for me personally in this endeavor is to resist the echo-chamber effect. Many of us know the standard narratives existing in Episcopalian and ACNA spaces. We know the ease with which complex human beings and faith communities can be reduced to foils for our righteousness: how easy it is to dehumanize the other. When we continually circle our respective wagons, the “us and them” narratives are free to grow unchecked and we begin to believe the caricatures that keep us apart.

As Americans, this politics of polarization is in our bones. We sort and divide and sensationalize without even realizing there is another way. One only needs to follow the news for a few days to realize that our respective political parties no longer speak to each other; instead, they speak about each other. Yet as Christians, as those who adhere to a different polis — one not of this world — we must search and pray for another way. Even if it seems mysterious or impossible to us, we can ask God, for whom all things are possible. We can pray for the prophetic imagination to participate with him in the healing of his Church.

What would it look like for us to cultivate spaces where multiple (and opposing) perspectives on worldwide Anglicanism are represented, where civil discourse can occur but also, and perhaps more importantly, where cross-jurisdictional friendships can grow? How can we support Jesus followers along the Anglican way in their distinct callings within the divided Church, praying for each other and supporting each other and perhaps even creating networks that connect young leaders to any church ready to welcome faithful ministers?

I am sure this is happening in more corners of the country than any of us realize. And I am sure that to cultivate more of the same — or perhaps even to raise the profile of this kind of project where it currently exists — would be fraught with challenges. But I think those very challenges might help reorient us toward the larger Kingdom project that is the Church of Jesus Christ. We are not in a zero-sum game. Any gain for Christ’s church is a gain for the whole Church; and wherever faithful ministry exists we can nurture it in faith that all of us will reap the harvest.

I believe God called me to be a priest in the ACNA. But that doesn’t mean I disparage the Episcopal Church. I am less interested in who is “right” and who is “wrong” than I am in where God is asking us to go from here. None of us has the road map for this; but we do know the Guide. He has given himself to us fully and freely. Indeed, his body was broken for us — and it remains broken while his Church is broken. He has absorbed our separation in his own flesh, holding us together at his expense. As we feed on him and follow him, nourished by his very life, may we find ourselves put back together: reconciled to God and each other, one Body on earth and in Heaven.

The Rev. Hannah King and her husband, the Rev. Michael King, share the role of associate rector at Village Church in Greenville, South Carolina.

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