22nd February, A.D. 2012
Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. [Joel 2:13]
So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God. [I Cor.5:20]
TO ALL WHO SHARE IN THE LIFE OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN NORTH AMERICA:
Beloved in the Lord,
We have come again to the awesome season of Lent. The name of the season comes from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning spring. Our English word lengthen comes from the same root, for this is the season when days lengthen in the Northern Hemisphere. This is the season when we, too, are lengthened or stretched because we are invited to get our relationship with our God and our relationships with each other restored and renewed. Getting things right is hard work, often painful work, but from the effort comes the immense fruitfulness of an Easter and Pentecost - a summertime, if you will - of our souls. Lent is when I must prune my roses - and when I need to allow my Lord to prune me - so that a riot of color and beauty and fragrance can occur in a couple months' time.
As I have said my prayers in recent days, I have had a very strong sense that it was time to write you again, both to invite you into the opportunity of Lenten discipline and devotion and to share with you the results of some of the corporate pruning our God has already been engaged in.
Self-examination and confession are foundational to the Christian life. Whether it is the "sinner's prayer" that invites the Lord Jesus in the very first time, or the penitential opening of daily morning and evening prayer, or the regular accountability of the sacrament of reconciliation, we cannot make progress without personal repentance and conversion. Because we are sinners, the need to restore right relationship - with God, with our spouse, with our parents, our children, our friends, with our priest (or our people), with fellow-workers and fellow-worshippers, with neighbors, with the poor and needy - is as constant as our need to breathe and our need to give thanks. "I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a Holy Lent."
Immersion in God's Word and contemplation on the mighty acts of our Savior in his Incarnation, Passion and Death-on-the-Cross are also means by which our lives - both individually and corporately - are anchored in Christ. There is no substitute for them, and there is no exercise more central to our discipleship than these twin enterprises.
I wrote to the Church twice in December, once in preparation for Christmas and a few days later about the crisis in one of our founding jurisdictions, the Anglican Mission in the Americas. Much hard work has been done with (and within) all three groups - the Province of Rwanda, P.E.A.R./North America, and the Anglican Mission - where relationships were fractured. That work continues, but I can honestly say that there has been much progress. As Archbishop, I, together with many other Anglican Church leaders and people, have poured much prayer and energy into healing of the wounds and the re-building of our future together. Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop of Kenya and Chairman of the GAFCON/FCA Primates Council, has also poured himself into reconciliation and restoration of Communion order. Many of us are now encouraged and hopeful.
I continue to find young people drawn to the Anglican Way, and particularly on college campuses and in urban settings. Many will have seen the Christian Broadcasting Network's six-minute story entitled "Anglican Fever: Youth Flock to New Denomination." I think there is a direct tie between our "joyful acceptance of the confiscation of our property" [Heb.10:34] and young people seeing in us those willing to follow Jesus whatever the cost. It seems to me that what so many of us found to be painful pruning in the loss of properties and possessions has produced abundant new fruit in a generation looking for something (someone) worth living for. What is more, among the generation that is experiencing the "loss," I see very little bitterness or anger, but an abundance of the fruit of the spirit [Gal.5:22-23] and amazing hopefulness about the future.
What is also worth commenting on in this season of legal losses is the David and Goliath story emerging from one of our smallest and poorest dioceses, Quincy: a "win" on summary judgment by those who characterized themselves as "hayseed lawyers, working on a shoestring." Whatever the general losses, it remains true that our God loves to show His power by lifting up the lowly.
The Executive Committee of the Province and the Archbishop's Cabinet met together recently at St. Peter's Church, Tallahassee. (What a great company of Christian witness!) On the minds of most were that we are now half-way through the first five-year term of an archbishop. Once again there was extraordinary evidence of how far the Lord had brought us. All the difficulties and challenges we have faced because of our stand for "the Faith once for all delivered to the saints," have generated remarkable developments.
Anglican 1000 has changed us profoundly. We passed our 200th plant just before the Tallahassee meeting. We have a long way to go, but church planting increases exponentially. The catalytic work, led from Christ Church Plano, that turned an archbishop's call into church-wide reality is first and foremost something for which we are thanking God. The subject has changed. We are not looking in the rearview mirror any more. We are all about reaching North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ through ever-increasing numbers of missionary congregations.
The Anglican Relief and Development Fund (whose Board also met during our days at Tallahassee) has also reached a new stage of growth and maturity. The notion of objective philanthropy and measurable change has so caught on that we changed our bylaws to allow for an ARDF-Australia, an ARDF-Canada, and an ARDF-US.
10-10-10 stewardship has also grown significantly, as has extra-mile and founders fund giving. More and more of our people are embracing the biblical tithe as their own personal basis for giving. At the same time congregations are committing ten percent to their dioceses and an ever-increasing number of dioceses are making a ten percent gift to our Province.
Congregations (like individuals) that have not been Anglican are also considering whether Anglicanism might be for them. Our three streams - evangelical, catholic and pentecostal - like our three accountabilities - to the Word, to the Tradition and to the transformation of society - are proving an attractive blend of faithful Christian expression. By the time of our annual meetings in June we may well have some "covenanted associations" to consider, with groups of congregations not heretofore identified as Anglican, coming especially from African-American and Latino cultures.
Our "first gathering of the whole Church since Bedford/Plano" (2009) will rally at Ridgecrest, North Carolina, June 7-9, 2012. The themes for Assembly 2012 are "captivating disciples, multiplying churches, and transforming communities." The faithful will gather from all over the United States and Canada, and from all over the world. Everyone is welcome. The task force laboring on the Prayer Book will have more work to share. There will be great worship, inspiration, learning, fellowship and recreation. Anglicans of every age will come together.
UP FROM EGYPT
I return to the Lenten theme. "It is often easier to take the people out of Egypt than it is to take Egypt out of the people." We have come a very long way, but it would be easy to fall back. There are lots of stresses. It would be easy for us to regress from the new life which is our call. And we are sinners. The best way to keep the Enemy from breaking in and sowing division or discouragement is to embrace what Lent has to offer us. Remember our partners around the world who are suffering so much - in Northern Nigeria and Syria, in Sudan and Ethiopia and Myanmar, and here at home too. Give thanks for all that God has done for us, and don't fall back.
Faithfully in Christ,