Note from CM: Perhaps you’ve read stories in recent days about the separation of the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) from its majority-world leadership in the Church of Rwanda. The AMiA (founded in 2000) is based in South Carolina, and has been under the oversight of the Rwandan province. It has grown impressively, having now some 156 churches and missions in the U.S. and Canada.
I have asked our friend and Liturgical Gangsta, the Rev. Dr. Joe Boysel, to give us perspective from one who serves in AMiA. I hope this will be informative and helpful to those who have wondered about what happened, what issues this situation raises, and what the future may hold.
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The AMiA Leaves Rwanda: What Happened?
By the Rev. Dr. Joe Boysel
When Charles (Chuck) Murphy and John Rodgers were consecrated bishops by the archbishops of Rwanda and Southeast Asia in January 2000, many people believed it was the beginning of what might become a new way of being Anglican in North America. Indeed, many people in the Anglican family presumed that foreign oversight offered a means by which we could maintain an ecclesiastical requisite (i.e., connection to the worldwide Anglican Communion) without having to be attached to what we saw as the sick, dying, and apostate Episcopal Church (TEC). The Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA), as we came to be known, thus offered a novel – yet authentic – alternative to TEC. The AMiA was a lifeboat for Anglicans in a rough and inhospitable sea of apostasy.
Surprisingly, however, things weren’t always so pleasant in those early days for the newly rescued Anglicans. Bishop Murphy was called “arrogant” and a “schismatic,” not just by those who were adversarial to orthodox Anglicanism, but by people who not only shared an orthodox theology but who would also, in very short order, pursue the very same path themselves, seeking overseas episcopal covering as they too jettisoned TEC.
For nearly 11 years the AMiA’s life with the Anglican Church of Rwanda (PEAR) was not only fruitful it was bountiful. The AMiA’s church planting strategies were blessed and we watched our tribe grow and grow. Our relationship with PEAR was such a blessing on both sides of the Atlantic. What grew out of that relationship, however, was an awareness of a unique missional vocation in the AMiA. Bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people all shared a passion to reach the continent for Christ. Not many of us cared about ecclesiastical politics or structures, we had a home in Rwanda and we had a job to do. Many people willingly sacrificed personal comforts for the sake of the mission. AMiA folk began to see ourselves as missionaries in our own culture in ways that mirrored what one would think of in cross-cultural missions. We began to realize that we were not a lifeboat for disaffected Episcopalians, we were a Mission.
In 2008 a Conference of Orthodox Anglicans, led by archbishops and bishops, particularly from the Global South, met in Jerusalem (this same year many of these bishops also boycotted the Lambeth Conference in London). The rationale for the conference was to determine the future of the Anglican Communion in the world, especially as that related to the areas of the world where the Gospel was under attack from what it saw as rogue churches like TEC. The consensus of the conference was that new provinces were needed to operate in areas of great apostasy. While this may seem like no big deal to American Evangelicals, I assure you it was a very big deal to Anglicans! Essentially then, what the Global South bishops were communicating was that they no longer recognized TEC as an Anglican Church and thus saw the need for a new province in North America. The new province they envisioned would become known as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Not coincidentally, then, the following spring saw the birth of the ACNA as an orthodox alternative to TEC.
At first, many in the AMiA assumed – like everyone – that we would “fold in” as it were to this new province and gradually unfurl our ties to Rwanda; that is until the ACNA actually began to develop. Almost immediately, the leadership of the AMiA saw that the aspirations of the ACNA were not the same as ours. We were a Mission, ACNA was a province (a structured church). We wanted to do mission – only, the ACNA wanted (and needed) to build structures (diocese, canons, hierarchy, etc.). The AMiA wanted loose structures, the ACNA needed tight structures. So, the AMiA decided to take a step back from the ACNA. When we did this, we assured the ACNA leadership (and the world) that we had no break in fellowship with our ACNA friends, but that we felt we had a particular vocation in North America and it was not to build a province. “Provinces are good and necessary,” we agreed. “We just don’t want to go about doing that work. We only want to do mission.” In other words, the AMiA began to see our distinctive role in North America becoming clearer and clearer: “We are a Mission; nothing more, nothing less.”
Unfortunately, the AMiA’s course correction caused people to misunderstand its motives, and particularly the motives of its chairman, Bishop Murphy. The bloggers criticized the AMiA and Bp. Murphy, but most of the people in the AMiA never felt insecure because we knew we had the support of our family in Rwanda. Of course, anyone watching Anglican news of the past few weeks will know straightaway that that luxury no longer exists. The question, then, is how did this break with PEAR occur?
It all began with a perfect storm. Archbishop Kolini (who oversaw the AMiA for ten years) retired and a near complete turnover took place in PEAR’s House of Bishops. Concurrent with this turnover in leadership, Bishop Murphy and the Counsel of Bishops in the AMiA began to believe that it was time for the AMiA to alter how it related to PEAR in a canonical way (i.e., as a matter of Church Law). Instead of the informal structure which we had for 11 years with +Kolini, +Murphy et al believed it was time to clarify who we were in America and how it was we understood the divine hand of Providence to be leading us. AMiA was not a church, nor was it heading in that direction, it was a Mission (“nothing more, and nothing less”). Although not a perfect analogy, try to imagine the way the Jesuits relate to Roman Catholicism. No one questions whether a Jesuit is Catholic, likewise no one should doubt that AMiA is Anglican. Nevertheless, the Jesuits have a distinct mission within the Church, and so too the AMiA’s leadership saw the distinct mission it has within North American Anglicanism.
So, in the summer of this year, 2011, Bishop Murphy began to discuss the manner in which we would clarify this new structure PEAR through the development of a “Missionary Society.” We promised to continue to remain under the Constitution and canons of PEAR, but the new structure would no longer require us to be under the direct authority of the PEAR House of Bishops or the Archbishop. As I understand it, the archbishop of Rwanda, the Most Rev Onesphore Rwaje, consented to the plan and even wrote a public letter affirming his relationship and confidence in the AMiA and its leadership.
The next step in the process, then, was for Bishop Murphy to gather counsel from the various levels of responsibility. First, there were meetings with the bishops. As I understand it, one bishop rejected the plan to form a Missionary Society, another bishop refrained from taking a position, and the remaining 9 bishops agreed this was the best way forward. After the bishops’ meeting, a meeting with Network Leaders was called. I was present at that meeting, and while there was some push-back and attempts at clarity, in the end most of the Network Leaders appeared amenable to the plan of forming a Missionary Society. Third, a meeting was held in Pawleys Island for all AMiA priests to outline and discuss the plan. It was at this meeting that a few priests offered considerable resistance, but their voices were a small minority to the nearly 70 who were present. Bishop Murphy concluded the meeting by explaining that the Missionary Society concept was still very much in its infancy and that it would be detrimental to relationships for anyone to begin to talk about their thoughts to the news media. We were having a “family discussion,” as I would call it, before we began to have a public one.
In what has been the most unfortunate and precipitous event in the entire saga leading to the AMiA’s departure from PEAR, a few priests in the Washington D.C. area released a statement just days after the Pawleys Island retreat, called The Washington Statement (WS), wherein they conspicuously did what Bishop Murphy had expressly requested they not do: discuss their thoughts publically. The WS raised concerns without providing context, it created adversarial relationships where there had been trust, and it exploited uncertainty in order to cause division. I found this action by my Washington brothers deplorable and inexcusable.
Nevertheless, after the release of the WS, Bishop Murphy met with Archbishop Rwaje in a face-to-face meeting in Washington D.C. to explain himself and to explain, more fully, the details of the plan for a Missionary Society. According to the minutes of the meeting and the testimony of people present, it concluded with unequivocal assurances from +Rwaje that the AMiA’s relationship with PEAR was strong as was the personal relationship between himself and +Murphy. Everyone smiled and warmly embraced everyone else.
And that’s when the shoe dropped.
Immediately upon returning to Rwanda a letter was sent from +Rwaje to Bishop Murphy (with simultaneous copies sent to the press) replete with adversarial language. In the letter, ideas that had been previously agreed upon were now caricatured as rebellious and defiant and a demand for repentance and recantation was issued by +Rwaje. In response, Bishop Murphy did apologize and then together with the entire AMiA Counsel of Bishops, save for one, submitted their resignations from PEAR (Bp Terrell Glenn had already resigned from the AMiA while retaining his relationship with PEAR).
Today the AMiA lives in what some might call “canonical limbo.” Some parishes see themselves as Rwandan and have viewed +Murphy’s resignation as the end of their relationship to AMiA. Although, to be clear, I think these churches represent a small minority in the AMiA. Most of the parishes see themselves as AMiA churches and they understand +Murphy’s resignation as the end of their relationship with PEAR. I suppose there are still other parishes who see the crumbling relationship between AMiA and PEAR as an opportunity to reassess all affiliations. It’s a mess.
Sadly, these events I have detailed are not the ones you likely read on any of the Anglican blogs. The reason for this is that most of us did as our bishop asked: we avoided talking to the press. But not all did. The ones who talked were those most disenchanted with +Murphy, personally, or with the AMiA in general. It seemed to me that they told their stories so that the events could be interpreted in ways that were most unflattering to +Murphy. Indeed, I felt that they used the Anglican blogosphere to supply misinformation, conjecture, and speculation, which only led to misrepresentations and damaged relationships. One blogger (not affiliated with Rwanda or AMiA) called Bishop Murphy an “arrogant schismatic,” despite only knowing part of the story. Indeed, what has bothered me most of all, throughout these past few weeks, is that I was seated in meetings which were later described on blogs by people who were not present and in ways that were fundamentally contrary to what actually happened. The whole thing made me feel like I was watching Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter! Anything for a story, even if the truth be damned.
How do I see the future, then?
I think the AMiA will continue its plan to restructure itself as a Mission Society, likely under the constitution and canons of the ACNA (although it is possible that another province could also provide the needed oversight).
Is the AMiA doing this because +Murphy is an arrogant schismatic? I suppose my answer would go something like: If you think Francis of Assisi was an arrogant schismatic for forming the Franciscans, or Ignatius of Loyola was an arrogant schismatic for forming the Jesuits, or that the Wesleys of England were arrogant schismatics for establishing the Methodist Societies, then, yes, the AMiA is doing all this in order to feed the ego of its chairman. But if you believe that God raises up, not just individual missioners but entire societies to promote mission in the world, then perhaps the AMiA is just following the path of Providence. Only time will tell.
Finally, thank you for your time in reading this essay which offers my perspective on how this division between the AMiA and PEAR took place. I pray that people use it for clarity, not to exacerbate further divisions. Most of all, I thank you for your prayers for healing and reconciliation.
The Rev Dr Joseph Boysel
Rector, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Hudson, Ohio
Network Leader, CrossRoads Network