AMiA 'under construction' during second winter conference

January 30, 2002

The Anglican Mission in America's (AMiA) Second Winter Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas on January 17-21 was held in a hotel that is still very much under construction--much like the AMiA itself.

More than 500 people, from 28 states and seven countries, gathered at the Peabody Hotel and the Statehouse Convention Center for worship, teaching, presentations, and workshops, most of them aimed at answering questions and meeting the needs of start-up congregations. Keynote speaker for the event was Leith Anderson, senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and author of numerous books on church growth and cultural change, including Dying for Change, A Church for the 21st Century, and Leadership That Works.

They also heard from Archbishop Yong Ping Chung, one of two archbishops who participated in the consecrations of four AMiA clergy as bishops last June in Denver. At an opening service that included the ordination of two deacons for AMiA congregations, Yong issued a threefold 'trumpet call for 2002': adoration of God, assurance of their calling, and action on behalf of the gospel. 'God loves you and God has chosen you, not only as a part of AMiA but also as an individual…I believe this is the assurance that God wants to give to our young AMiA today,' Yong told the group. 'I believe God has chosen AMiA at such a time in our history.'

Congregations featured

In between sessions, participants heard from various AMiA congregations about their ministries. The Rev. Phil Lyman, rector of one of the newest AMiA affiliates, St. John's in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, boasted of the parish's commitment to the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life (NOEL), an anti-abortion group on whose board Lyman serves. 'NOEL sees its future with AMiA,' Lyman said to a chorus of 'amens.'

Another featured congregation was Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, Virginia, whose rector, the Rev. Quigg Lawrence, introduced his congregation as one that was 'kicked out, thrown out of ECUSA.' But Lawrence also took time to introduce representatives from a Houston congregation composed mostly of expatriate Nigerians who don't feel the Diocese of Texas is conservative enough. 'You notice that we tend to be pretty vanilla in this crowd?' Lawrence challenged. 'And you notice that the two churches that sponsored us are in Asia and Africa?' He urged them to reach out to traditionalist African and Asian Anglicans who have immigrated to the US.

Pioneers wanted--no settlers

But perhaps the most anticipated event was a pair of back-to-back plenaries held on the conference's first full day. First AMiA senior bishop Charles Murphy and then Murphy and Yong together laid out their vision for the AMiA in the coming year.

Murphy frequently referred to the AMiA movement as 'catching a wave'-a 'wave of God's Spirit,' a 'wave of mission,' a 'global wave of what God is doing' that is 'rolling this way.' Seeding his comments with the latest from church-growth gurus such as Leonard Sweet, Peter Wagner, and Rick Warren, Murphy punctuated his talk with PowerPoint outlines and had assistants to pass out fill-in-the-blanks handouts for which he provided answers. Murphy maintained that 'what we're after is not people who are Anglicans' but those who 'check 'none of the above'' on religious affiliation surveys. He spoke of the necessity to 'crack whips and knock over tables to the glory of God' and proclaimed that AMiA is looking for 'innovators, pioneers, not settlers.'

But Yong reminded them that AMiA was formed in response to a very different group: 'those who want to continue to be Anglicans but cannot stay in ECUSA' because of issues such as General Convention's reluctance to condemn homosexuality. Yet, said Yong, 'we are not propping you up to fight other people. You are to be instruments of God'--planting new churches, attracting new adherents to the AMiA. 'A wild man from Borneo doesn't know how to play politics,' Yong, a native of the Malaysian island, said to laughter from the audience.

More people, more money

In a later news conference, Yong refused comment about an upcoming meeting with the other three members of South East Asia's House of Bishops, who have publicly dissociated themselves from his consecration of new bishops for the AMiA last summer. He also declared it 'inappropriate' to comment on the election for the new Archbishop of Canterbury and what implications it might have for relations between the AMiA and Lambeth Palace. The AMiA's two senior bishops, Murphy and John Rodgers, consecrated by the Archbishops of South East Asia and Rwanda in 2000, and four junior bishops, elevated to the purple in 2001, have yet to be recognized as bishops by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Asked about specific growth plans, Murphy said the group is finalizing an affiliation agreement with a congregation in Vestavia, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham. He also hopes they can move outside the South and West, where most congregations are located, into New England, where there are 'areas we haven't touched yet.' He anticipates between 15 and 20 new churches will be planted this year, but acknowledges that 'finding people and money' is a major obstacle for the AMiA, which needs to raise an additional $1.7 million to meet its $3.5 million budget.

Another 'distraction' is the issue of several ongoing lawsuits involving AMiA congregations seeking to take their former parishes' property with them out of ECUSA. So far, the results have been mixed--'we're 2 for 2,' Murphy says--but he declines the suggestion that any of the congregations, including his own home parish in South Carolina, should give up and attempt to build anew. 'That would be poor stewardship,' he said.

Principles in progress

Even the foundational documents of the AMiA are still works in progress, including the version of the Book of Common Prayer that will be in use. Most of the liturgies used are from the 1979 American book, but the South East Asia and Rwandan orders have been used, too. Rodgers has said that until the group has its own version, the only liturgical requirement will be agreement with the 'classical' Anglican theology of the 1662 English Prayer Book.

At one of the break-out sessions in Little Rock, termed 'trade shows,' Rodgers assured the room that assent to the as-yet-unofficial 'Solemn Declaration of Principles' of the not-yet-constituted Anglican Missionary Province of North America was the sine qua non of membership in the AMiA, not just for clergy but for lay leaders as well. 'If you can't affirm these principles, then we're not well matched,' he said, adding, 'Otherwise, we end up with the same diversity that we had in our previous…' Laughter drowned out his last word, but the allusion to ECUSA was plain.

Rodgers was asked about the inclusion of the 'dogmatic definitions of the first seven general councils' of the undivided Church in Article III, Section 1,'Further Doctrinal Norms and Formularies.' Especially, the questioner wanted to know, did this mean AMiA required of all its leaders an affirmation of the perpetual virginity of Mary, a decision made in 431 A.D. by the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus? 'Well, we were thinking of the great Christological definitions,' a visibly flustered Rodgers answered. 'Gee, it's dangerous to have someone who's read all these things!'

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