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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Synod 2014 - the Report

Last year I neglected to report on our first Diocesan Synod, only saving it for a footnote for my end-of-year post.   This year however, I wanted to give it a showcase of its own, as it was a great synod and there was a lot to talk about this year.  So, without further delay, let me jump right into it.

The Diocese of the South, Anglican Catholic Church, held its annual Synod again at St. Stephen Pro-Cathedral in Athens, GA, from April 30 to May 2.   Barb and I were both voting lay delegates this year too, and we attended all the meetings as well as the liturgies and other events hosted by the good people at our Cathedral parish.  Although the turnout was somewhat less this year, it was good to see a lot of old friends from last year, make some new ones, and even had a reunion with a former professor, Patrick Malone, who is now pursuing Holy Orders with our church!  I will have to relate Dr. Malone's (or soon to be Father Malone, as he is currently wrapping up his theological studies at Nashotah House) story later, as I am a little vague on the details, but it was so good to see him after all these years.  Dr. Malone was part of the music faculty at what is now Baptist College of Florida (then it was called Florida Baptist Theological College, formerly Baptist Bible gets really tough keeping up on names of that place!) and Barb originally sang in the choir he directed all those years ago.  I know a few of our old classmates from the BBI days would probably be in shock over this one, but you know something, I believe Dr. Malone is going to make a fine priest, and he is a blessing to have now as part of our Diocese.

Barb and I with Patrick Malone, former music professor from our Graceville days and soon-to-be Anglican Franciscan priest.

I want to now give a brief summary of the information received at the Synod, as referenced by this package of reports I have in front of me.  As of 2013, our total Diocesan parish membership is 1068, which reflects a slight increase in members (of which our own parish, St. Mary in Winter Haven, also reflects).  Fr. Nick Athanaelos, our Diocesan secretary who also serves as rector of St. Stephen Cathedral, noted in his report that baptisms and marriages were up overall, while burials were down (St Mary's had both a wedding and a funeral last year).  Numbers for all services also increased but not substantially for attendance for Mass, Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer services.  However, there was a bit of weakness noted in the area of Christian Education, and to be honest, it is because many parishes in the diocese are rather small and many more (including ours) limit their activities to one weekly service - that is something I feel needs to definitely change in the future, and I want to do my part to see that happen.  Fr. Nick seems to concur with this assessment too, as in his concluding remarks on the report he stated this - "Commitment alone will not cause substantial growth.  We must explore new initiatives in our efforts to evangelize.  The ACC is sometimes known as 'the best-kept secret.' May God give us the grace and wisdom to know how best to release this 'secret' to bless us with many souls."   Well said, Fr. Nick, and I now want to give some commentary on that briefly myself.

The average ACC parish, by looking at the statistics I have in hand here, has maybe about 20 regular attending parishioners.  Many of our churches are tiny, and we have a lot of competition out there.  The feel-good "Gospel" of the megachurches, the postmodernist Emerging Church movement, and even new moderately conservative schisms from the Episcopal Church such as ACNA present a big challenge to us.   These particular groups have a sincerity in supposedly "reaching" the youth and others, but in doing so they often compromise important aspects of faith that people need.  We as traditional Anglo-Catholics need to be the witness these people can see.  I am not going to divulge it in this writing, as it is not the forum, but there are ideas I have which integrate things such as my six-fold ecclesiology into the Anglo-Catholic outreach and evangelism mandates, and at some point I am going to write up something on those things to share.  However, Barb and I  felt challenged by all of this, as our own area here that the parish serves has a myriad of possibilities.  Again, I will save the details of that for another discussion, but the bottom line is that Fr. Nick is spot-on - we do need to explore new initiatives in our efforts to evangelize that are consistent with the historic teaching and witness of the Holy Catholic Church in her Anglican expression, which is what we are.  And, I want to say that I am totally on-board personally with all this, and will offer myself to both our local parish and our diocese as I am able to do so.  

(from l to r) Nancy Barrett, assistant to Archbishop Haverland; Fr. Nick Athanaelos, Diocesan secretary; and Archbishop Mark Haverland conducting Synod business on May 1st.

The other big subject of discussion of this Synod is one we had been reading about in our paper, The Trinitarian, for a couple of months now.   There was included in our registration packets a series of proposed constitutional amendments that would in effect set the stage for establishing a third ACC Province on the continent of Africa, and that is great news.  The exact timing for when the new Province will materialize is still being determined, but the Archbishop in his wisdom felt it best to begin to make preparations for it now, and I agree.  At present the ACC has two Provinces - the Original Province, which is based here in the US and covers most of the planet, and the Second Province, which encompasses the Indian Subcontinent.  The formation of an African Province is actually a very good move on the ACC's part, as in recent decades Africa has actually become a more Christian continent than America and Europe are presently.   Christian denominations of all traditions are on the rise in Africa - the Pentecostals have had explosive growth, and now both the Greek Orthodox and the Coptic Church have major outreaches to many nations on the African continent as well.  And, the ACC in Africa has followed suit as well, so they definitely have the numbers and presence to be considered as a Third Province.  When that day happens - we will know a little more about that at Provincial Synod in Richmond next year - it will be a historical occasion for the ACC, and I would love to be part of it.  Things are happening in Africa, and the future of the Church until Christ's coming will experience its greatest moments in Africa as well, I truly believe.  

Lay and clergy delegates schmoozing between sessions in Lewis Hall (the gentleman standing at the left is Brother Nicholas Lawrence {Chris Davis} who is the superior of the Order of Anglican Franciscans of the Divine Compassion - he is a gem of a human being too.  Behind him with the dark hair and tie is Richard Tarsitano, whose father Fr. Louis Tarsitano was a theological master for traditional Anglicanism)

On a more personal note, at the House of Laity meeting, I found myself elected as Deputy Speaker of the House, thanks in part to Barb nominating me!  That is actually a neat thing though, and I hope I can serve the Diocese well.  I may have been ordered to be in that position by God himself for some purpose, as the ACC is our church now and I love it and want to do what I can to be more involved, and maybe God used Barb to give me the kick in the butt I needed to launch out.  

We also had some beautiful worship services, including a sung High Mass on Thursday morning and a beautiful St. Francis Litany led by Brother Nicholas Lawrence and his order that evening just prior to the banquet.  Hearing that great organ playing in St. Stephen's was an experience too - what a magnificent instrument it is!

Synod was, by some standards, a little boring - we are a close-knit group in the Diocese, and everyone gets along great; of course, they are wonderful people and I count it a privelege to be part of them now.  I am looking forward to next year too, as Synod is fast becoming a yearly tradition for us, and may it continue to be so for a long time.  Blessings to all, especially our ACC family.