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ACNA’s New Archbishop: Passionate for Evangelism

By Jeff Walton

New Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) Archbishop Steve Wood remembers texting Bible verses in March 2020 with the Rev. Geoff Chapman of St. Stephen’s Church, Sewickley, Pennsylvania, as he was about to be placed on a ventilator. Among the earliest U.S. cases of COVID-19, Wood would be sedated for 10 days and hospitalized far longer with an arduous recovery.

It wasn’t the first serious challenge that the rector of St. Andrew’s Church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, had experienced: less than two years before, most of the 48,000-square-foot church building had caught fire and burned, displacing one of the largest congregations in the ACNA.

Wood still experiences tinnitus in his left ear from his COVID infection, but he recovered and St. Andrew’s was rebuilt after a season spent meeting in a school cafeteria and lawn. That season prompted the congregation’s theme of “Beauty from the Ashes”: that God is working to redeem brokenness.

“The College of Bishops I know are the people who dropped everything to spend an hour in prayer” as he was in the hospital, Wood told a June 27 press conference at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, during the Anglican Church in North America’s Provincial Assembly.

Elected June 22 at a conclave of ACNA bishops, Wood assumes leadership of a small but growing denomination (the ACNA reported 12 percent growth in attendance in 2023).

“I did not come here with any expectation that this would be a possibility and was as surprised as anyone as the vote unfolded,” Wood said. The new archbishop, raised in a charismatic and evangelical church, was not among the names publicly rumored ahead of the conclave as a potential successor to Archbishop Foley Beach, who is stepping down after 10 years of leadership.

“This announcement will be as surprising to you as it was to me,” Wood wrote in an email to parishioners at St. Andrew’s Church, minutes before the public announcement of his election was made by ACNA officials. “Please keep us in your prayers as we pray for you.”

Delegates had the opportunity to hear from the new archbishop, who joined his wife, Jacqui, in speaking at a plenary session before the ACNA Assembly on June 28, as well as taking questions from media with departing Archbishop Foley Beach at the press conference. Wood also preached during the Assembly closing Eucharist at St. Vincent Basilica.

“Roughly 130 million people in America do not know Jesus Christ,” Wood told the press conference. “That is the most animated aspect of who I am: I want everyone to come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.”

Beach emphasized that Wood has a “proven track record” and that “this guy is bearing fruit.”

When the Diocese of the Carolinas, which spans North and South Carolina, was formed in 2012, only four congregations had a prior identity within the Episcopal Church. Today, it lists 40 congregations, 36 of which were begun as church plants. The diocese in 2023 reported 10,049 members and 5,823 attendees, placing it among the larger dioceses within ACNA. It is also among the fastest growing, adding 953 attendees in 2023, an increase of nearly 20 percent above the prior year.

Wood assumes office with more power than his predecessor had, as Assembly delegates voted to ratify canonical changes substantially accelerating the process for inhibiting a bishop. During Archbishop Foley Beach’s time in office, two ACNA bishops were deposed from ministry. An ACNA bishop can now be inhibited from ministry quickly by the archbishop after review and consent of a seated panel of three diocesan bishops.

The changes are significant for a denomination that has been cautious about investing power in centralized authority and operated functionally as a loose confederation of jurisdictions for its early history.

“We are a different denomination today,” said the Rev. Andrew Rowell, ACNA Governance Task Force vice chair, noting now-ratified canons requiring diocesan bishops to develop processes and procedures to report misconduct by priests, deacons, and even laity.

Wood also inherits leadership of a denomination deeply divided over the ordination of women (most ACNA dioceses do not ordain women to the priesthood, but nearly all of the largest, including the Diocese of the Carolinas, do). The ACNA also has overlapping diocesan lines, with some regions, such as South Carolina, having churches from up to five different dioceses.

“I believe that geographic dioceses are the norm within Anglicanism,” Wood said in response to a question about non-geographic, or “affinity” dioceses in the ACNA. The new archbishop has served on an Anglican unity task force that seeks to iron out issues among dioceses that overlap. “I don’t think it will be solved immediately. Those conversations will be had with the College [of bishops] itself as we move forward.”

ACNA officials continue to highlight growing relationships with overseas Anglican Communion provinces, several of which sent primates to participate in Anglican Relief & Development Fund trustee meetings, offer greetings at Provincial Council, and tour Trinity School for Ministry, recently renamed Trinity Anglican Seminary, in nearby Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

Among those present were Nigerian Archbishop Henry Chukwudum Ndukuba, Ugandan Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba, Chilean Archbishop Héctor (Tito) Zavala, Indian Ocean Archbishop James Wong, Rwandan Archbishop and GAFCON Chairman Laurent Mbanda, Myanmar Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo, Alexandria (Egypt) Archbishop Samy Shehata and Archbishop Miguel Uchôa of the GAFCON and Global South-recognized Anglican Church in Brazil, which exists separately from the Canterbury-recognized Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil.

Unlike Episcopal General Convention, ACNA Assembly is chiefly a mission conference with daily Bible studies (led by former Singapore Archbishop Rennis Ponniah), preaching by Church of England clergyman Vaughan Edward Roberts, rector of St. Ebbe’s, Oxford, and plenary speakers including ACNA Deacon John Stonestreet of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

A morning business session on June 27 was completed in under 90 minutes, in which delegates ratified constitutional and canonical changes to Title I and Title IV sections on the reporting of abuse allegations and on ecclesiastical discipline. Budget matters were taken up earlier in the week at Provincial Council, a smaller body that meets annually. The ACNA Assembly does not have the extensive committee structure of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, nor does it pass resolutions on political matters.

In departing office, Beach, who will continue, after a sabbatical, as diocesan bishop for the ACNA Diocese of the South, was upbeat. He pointed to publication of ACNA’s 2019 Prayer Book for worship, the Anglican Catechism for teaching, and a budget and financial support for the denomination as key achievements for the church during his period of leadership.

“God has been blessing the work of our hands,” Beach told Assembly delegates. “The Lord has been with the ACNA despite challenges from the secular culture, the world, and even within the church.”

Beach said that the denomination has tried to remain focused on issues “directly related to our life in the ACNA” and that “We are about leading people into this transforming relationship; let us not forget this.”

“We’ve been building the airplane as we’ve been flying it,” Beach said of the Province.

Asked about what new members of the ACNA could pray for, Wood was direct.

“I need wisdom, I need the person of the Holy Spirit,” the new archbishop said at the press conference, requesting prayer for his marriage as the couple take on the demands of more travel and an arduous schedule. “I know the strain of this position.”

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