Why I Left the Episcopal Church to Remain an Anglican
One priest's story of (dis)obedience
I serve a 4-year-old church in northern Colorado Springs planted outside The Episcopal Church, and am awaiting the latest word on the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado’s decision to depose me—to officially un-ordain me, even though they willingly transferred me to the Province of Rwanda years ago. Now, that province and its mission organization, the Anglican Mission in America, are part of a move to create a new Anglican province in North America.
This isn’t quite what I had envisioned when I felt a call to ordained ministry as a teenager, nor when I attended seminary as a 41-year-old.
What has happened? And what does the new province mean for my current province of Rwanda, my flock, my family, and myself?
In 2002, after my family and I returned to Colorado from Trinity Episcopal School in Pittsburgh, I accepted a call to St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church as Assistant to the Rector. St. Michael's had a mix of conservative and liberal parishioners, but it was a community focused more on being healthy and growing than on any given issue. But in July of 2003, the Episcopal Church, including Colorado’s bishop, Jerry Winterrowd, knowingly and happily elected to consecrate as bishop an openly homosexual priest living in a same-sex relationship.
At this point, the Episcopal Church in America—which, frankly, had been crumbling—was broken.
It had been under stress for two reasons: the gradual crackup of the authority of Scripture (and hence the Lord of the Scriptures) and the role of bishops. In our tradition and polity, the Scriptures are the lifeblood of the church, and bishops are the foundation extending from the cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Episcopal bishops exercise spiritual authority because of a godly life and their commitment to perpetuate, guard, and defend the Biblical faith.
The role of bishop—one who “guard[s] the faith,” obedient to the Lord in the Scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit—is foundational to Anglican identity.
Before the consecration of Gene Robinson, the most notorious example of a bishop clearly, publically, and happily abandoning his trust to “defend the faith” was Bishop John Shelby Spong. The fact that he went undisciplined by the Episcopal Church is as clear an indication of the church's stress fractures as is Robinson. But once the Robinson consecration occurred, the church broke itself and betrayed her Lord and her people.
At that point, my wife and I knew that we would not retire in The Episcopal Church (TEC), but we did not know what we would do. We were dedicated to follow the Holy Spirit as He led and in His timing. Soon, through a series of conversations with a local AMiA priest and a living-room meeting with a few families we knew who had already left or who had decided to leave (TEC), we decided to plant Holy Trinity Anglican. I requested, and was given, a transfer by the Diocese of Colorado from the province of ECUSA to the province of Rwanda, who also received me as a priest into the AMiA.
The decision to leave TEC was very difficult. Late at night, I'd lay awake wondering, “Am I walking away from my brothers and sisters and leaving them in the trenches? Am I embarrassing my Lord, who fervently prayed for the unity of the Church? Am I rejecting my Lord’s example and command to suffer?”
Over and against that were the thoughts inspired by Ezekiel 34 and John 10: “Am I leading a flock, small though it may be, to graze in toxic fields?”
Many think, and have felt free to tell me, that leaving TEC was easier or more comfortable than staying put. That is incorrect at almost every level—financially, interpersonally, logistically—save one. Once I left, I was better able to rest in Jesus’ presence in prayer and gratitude and obedience to Him who had so transformed my own life. I was able to serve Him within a community that, while far from homogenous, shares a commitment to the authority of the Scriptures and the Lord of those Scriptures, however haltingly we live it out.
Much has taken place since those early days. Now, after many meetings and discussions and papers (and misunderstandings and disagreements and revisited hurts), we have the first steps of a new province that will encompass many orthodox churches and dioceses.
What might this mean for my flock, my family, and myself? What might it mean for my country and 21st-century North American culture?
At a daily level, who knows? Half of Holy Trinity Anglican is not from an Anglican background, and so there is very little urgency around these issues for nearly 50% of us. We are also a small church, at about 100 on a Sunday, so most of our focus goes into working hard at being the Church.
But the new province, it seems to me, is largely an issue of identity, and identity does not always have immediate efficiencies. Still, the new province means, among other things, that 21st-century North American Anglicans will be discipled by and submitted to the global south. By their witness, we'll be learning, as a minimum, courage and suffering and passion for Jesus’ honor and glory, and mission to those who do not know and love Jesus.
The new province also means that an orthodox, biblical witness to Jesus will continue in North America by Anglican believers. Plus, other crumbling North American denominations will have a model for dealing with similar issues. Finally, the new province is a promise that the ineffable yet tangible presence of God that makes a group of believers more than the sum of their parts will be our blessing with the joy and life and fullness of God promised by Jesus.