LETTER FROM AMERICA

AMiA: A Mission in Action

 

THE HOMECOMING CONFERENCE of the Anglican Mission in America in South Carolina between 18 and 23 January exceeded the wildest expectations of its planners. They thought they might get 250 people; over eight hundred came!

This was the first get-together of supporters of bishops John Rogers and Chuck Murphy, consecrated by Archbishops Tay and Kolini in Singapore in January 2000. Faced with the refusal of many ECUSA bishops to set their house in order as Lambeth had urged them, Murphy and Rogers were commissioned as missionary bishops to faithful Anglicans in the USA who have a heterodox bishop in their diocese.

FiFNA

Before the Homecoming proper started there was an important meeting between the Council of FiFNA and the Steering Committee of Anglican Mission in America to allay certain misgivings felt by the former (and other traditionalists) about the Singapore ordinations themselves. Misunderstandings, particularly about their timing, needed addressing before progress could be made. Happily, this resulted in complete agreement between them, and the following Statement was issued:

"Forward in Faith, North America, and the Anglican Mission in America affirm their unity in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, their continuing intercession for the meting of the Primates of the Anglican communion in March 2001, and their mutual commitment to work together for the establishment of an orthodox jurisdiction in North America which is recognized as part of the Anglican Communion."

My brief, besides representing Forward in Faith (UK) was threefold: to observe and discover what sort of movement AMiA is; whether the tension over the consecrations was healed; and, if possible, to talk at length with Bishops Rogers and Murphy about how we can work together in the future.

The second of these had been resolved before I arrived on Thursday, which meant that I could concentrate on the other two.

AMiA, I can assure you, is a theologically-sound, eucharistically-based Anglican body. Their headquarters are in Bishop Murphy's former parish of All Saints', Pawleys Island. Murphy himself has left ECUSA and suffered the customary penalty of de-pensioning. All Saints' presently remains within ECUSA, though legal investigations are already under way to determine who are the rightful owner of the considerable ($8 million-plus) plant. Once this is determined, the parish will decide whether, and how far, to distance itself, like Bishop Murphy, from ECUSA. Precedents exist whereby parishes (like All Saints) which date back to the Colonial Era are its legal owners, not the diocese.

A MISSIONARY MOVEMENT

The "M" in AMiA is critical. Emphasis throughout was on Mission. However, it was made abundantly clear that Mission without orthodoxy is an empty vessel.

The Eucharists had a predictably evangelical flavour, but nothing said or done would have troubled even the most sensitive FiF member; my guess is that some of our more strait-laced colleagues in Reform or the Diocese of Sydney might find them problematical! Stoles were worn; the dead were prayed for; some folks crossed themselves; some raised their hands; some genuflected; the great thing was that it didn't matter in the slightest -- to anyone!

MURPHY ALONE

Sunday evening I had two hours on my own with Bishop Murphy's. I had met John Rogers already at Reform and knew that his orthodoxy was beyond question. It took very little time to convince me that the same was true of Chuck Murphy. We talked at length on the subjects of Women Priests and Lay Presidency. On the latter it was he who was more deeply shocked when I told him just how widespread the practice is throughout Australia, and increasingly in England, despite being illegal. He assured me that the matter had never even come up in AMiA and he thought it most unlikely that it would ever do so.

On women priests, Chuck reminded me that AMiA has declared a complete moratorium for two years during which time the subject will be carefully studied by the Steering Committee. It is Chuck's conviction that the burden of proof lies with those who wish to promote this novelty, not those who are seeking to safeguard the Catholic faith. My impression (and this is entirely personal) is that the innovators are unlikely to prevail.

Towards the end of our conversation I broached one subject about which the conference had been quite silent -- their relationships with the ancient Catholic churches of East and West. To my delight I discovered that Murphy is no victim of Roma-phobia, and he recognizes as well as anyone that the Church Catholic doesn't begin and end at Pawleys Island. The matter is being addressed.

The next step now depends on what happens at the Primates' annual meeting in March at Kanooga, North Carolina. Here they will consider the proposals of Bishop Maurice Sinclair in his book of essays Mending the Net which was published just before the Homecoming. [The proposals from this document are reprinted on pages 17-19 of this edition of New Directions] Sinclair proposes that the Primates' meeting should, in accordance with the resolution at Lambeth '98, be given an enhanced status and "include among its responsibilities positive encouragement to mission, intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within provinces, and giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity, in submission to the sovereign authority of holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies...."

KANOOGA FUTURES

This, especially the final words, are code for DISCIPLINE, especially of those bishops who have chosen to ignore or ridicule resolutions approved at Lambeth. Clearly we must all, including AMiA and FiF, wait and see what Kanooga comes up with in response to this, or we shall have another unhappy repeat of the Kampala situation where some felt that their erstwhile allies had acted prematurely or unilaterally.

However, with that lesson clearly in its mind, AMiA deserves to be congratulated and given every support by all who seek to "uphold the Catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles" for the new wave of hope which their bold, imaginative and personally costly venture has generated.

Francis Gardom is Honorary Chairman of Cost of Conscience. He represented Forward in Faith England and Scotland at the AMiA conference in South Carolina.

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