Anglo-Catholics as Evangelistic Church Planters
By Canon Lawrence D. Bausch
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
Anglo-Catholics are grateful for the significant role we have played in Anglican history, especially in reminding Anglicans that our church is an organic portion of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that was established by God’s action in the first century. In previous centuries, we have participated mightily in missionary work, church planting and serving those in need, all centered on the glorification of Christ and His presence and action in the Sacraments. We have contributed to enriching our worship, restored the Religious Life to our church, reintroduced Retreats, Sacramental Confession and Spiritual Direction, and the riches of the personal prayer life from all ages of Christian history. We, as members of Forward in Faith North America (FIFNA) rejoice that we have a share in this wonderful heritage. However, we in North America are facing challenges to our continued participation in the fulness of this inheritance, and I would like to address one of these here: Church Planting.
Whether our FIFNA members are in TEC, ACNA, or one of the various continuing Anglican jurisdictions, we all face obstacles which can blind us to a vision of ministry which includes the importance of church planting. This situation is brought about by several reasons, three of which we will consider here. First, those of us who came into church life or ordained ministry a generation or more ago were largely brought into a church in which priests were primarily seen as chaplains to the faithful, whose job was to lead the faithful in worship, teach, and care for those in need. (Think of Fr. Tim in the delightful “Mitford” books, especially the early ones.) Church Planting was largely something determined by Dioceses, as “missions” became less often the work of local parishes. Mission to the unchurched was largely overlooked.
Second, those Anglicans who have been intentional in Church Planting over the last generation or more have most often been from the evangelical/charismatic elements of the church. Indeed, a “model church plant” has come to be perceived in many quarters as something most Anglo-Catholics would hardly recognize as church, most significantly in the use of language which defines worship as music, and where the actual celebration of the Eucharist becomes almost a sidebar to the music (and possibly the preaching). This distortion has led some to simply write off church planting, believing that it only serves to undermine what we believe and practice.
A third factor to consider is the understandable focus on simply preserving what we have. Many of our people are in parishes which perceive themselves to be “too small” to consider Church Planting, and struggle to keep what they have. Some serve in TEC dioceses in which they are permitted to teach and worship in their own tradition, but are essentially limited to their parish. (This number includes some who have been told by bishops that when their rector leaves or retires, things will change.)
In spite of these obstacles, the Gospel is clear that all Christians are called to be evangelistic, including support for Church Planting. Jesus has come out of love for all people, and we are His Body sent to reveal Him (Luke 2:29-32; 24:45-47, etc.). How then can Anglo-Catholics become good evangelists and support Church Planting? My first action upon my election to President of FIFNA was to appoint Fr. Chris Culpepper as Advisor to the President for Church Planting. He has started two congregations in the Diocese of Fort Worth, as well as advising other church planters in the Diocese and in the REC. He has recently formed a task force which will disseminate best practices in Anglo-Catholic Church Planting and provide individual coaching for leaders of future FIFNA congregations; more information is at the task force website at http://bit.ly/FIFNAcp. This ministry in support of the spread of the Gospel and the growth of the Church is crucial not only for Anglo-Catholics, but for the broader Apostolic and Conciliar Church.
One final note: It is a great joy to be able to report that the recent Church Planting leaders appointed for the ACNA by Archbishop Foley Beach, The Rev. Canon Dan Alger and The Rev Alan Hawkins, are incorporating two elements to the basic characteristics of Anglican church plants which FIFNA can heartily endorse: First, church plants need to be connected with the larger church; and second, they need to be sacramentally based. We are delighted that they share these concerns.
The Rev. Canon Lawrence D. Bausch is President, Forward in Faith North America