Provincial Assembly Eucharist

A Spirit of Unity: Reflections on the Provincial Assembly

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The 2024 ACNA Provincial Assembly just wrapped up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. As the Assembly only happens every five years, this was my first. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Here at Anglican Compass, we emphasize navigating our tradition with clarity and charity. But I’m well aware that many online Anglican conversations often lack in charity, and I’m also aware of the not-insignificant issues that prompt disturbance and disagreement. I worried: could we actually come together, worship God the Father, celebrate the Gospel of Jesus, receive empowerment by the Spirit, and unite as the Body of Christ that we are?

By God’s grace, the answer was a resounding yes.

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United as Neighbors

There was a poetry to the event taking place at Saint Vincent College. Of course, this was where Foley Beach became Archbishop at the Provincial Assembly of 2014. However, when you walk onto campus, you can’t help but notice a name almost as present and venerated as St. Vincent de Paul himself: Fred Rogers. The Latrobe native’s education center (complete with the trolley and puppets) is homed at the college, a short distance from his resting place in Unity Cemetery.

Rogers, of course, we known for his popular children’s television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran on PBS from 1968 to 2001. In it, Rogers—an ordained Presbyterian minister—taught preschoolers about navigating their emotions and showing kindness and empathy toward others, especially those who are different from them. Although he never spoke directly of Christ on his program, he directly quoted the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Further, the entire ethos of the show and the man himself was an embrace of each person’s bearing of the Imago Dei (Image of God).

I prayed that those present at the assembly would share that same generosity of spirit that Rogers conveyed. We needed it. Social media provides a platform for us to dehumanize each other. We reduce ourselves to hot takes and sound bites. We needed to see each other as the brothers and sisters we are. This required the help only God could provide.

United By Prayer

Fittingly, the first event of the Assembly open to all attendees was Evening Prayer. It followed days of prayer by our bishops, who, during their conclave, elected the Bishop of the Diocese of the Carolinas, the Right Rev. Steve Wood, to be our next Archbishop by supermajority vote. These established a theme of prayer that, no doubt, served to unite us more than any other human action.

The Lord is always with us, but there’s a special blessing that comes when we are attentive to his presence and allow ourselves to be equally present with him. Thus, the intentional recitation of many of the Daily Offices together, fixing our eyes upon him through the words we’ve recited for centuries, strengthened our bond from the outset.

It was then this attentiveness to drawing ourselves away to be with the Lord, as Jesus did periodically during his ministry and taught his apostles to do the same, that formed the heart of the first plenary talk by Sally Breedlove and the Rev. Dr. Sue Curry of the Leadership Transformations Selah – Anglican Cohort. Prayer was an ongoing theme throughout the rest of the time as well. I personally attended a breakout session by the Rev. Dr. Greg Peters, who emphasized both the monastic roots of the Daily Office and the idea that, even when we say the Office alone, we say it together with the Church.

United by Fellowship

Interestingly, I met many of our Anglican Compass writers for the first time in person at this Assembly. Such is the life of a web-based editor. That includes lead writers Ashley Tumlin Wallace, David Roseberry, and Elizabeth Demmon, whose pieces appear regularly on the site. It was great to converse with them face to face, as well as contributors Andrew Brashier, Justin Clemente, Mark Brians, Chris Royer, Stephanie Traylor, and others. I found that they’re just as lovely in real life as their prose conveys.

I found myself staying up late with my fellow attendees each night of the assembly—on the first night, getting pizza with other clergy, ministry leaders, and lay representatives from my diocese; on the rest, spending time with new friends from throughout our province and observing the camaraderie that quickly developed. What hath Kentucky (my home) to do with California, Louisiana, Alabama, or Hawaii? The love of Christ and his Church. The mission carried forward. It’s a beautiful thing.

United By Word & Sacrament

Finally, the truth of Christ unites us, as does the faith we confess in the creeds each time we gather. As more than one person pointed out, we prioritize a reliance on the truth revealed in Scripture above all else. We stand together in this emphasis, even on issues on which our interpretations disagree. Resting on Scripture, supported by the historic formularies, our constitution, and canons, we have the grounding to stand firm for the faith. We shouldn’t dismiss our differences but should unite around truth.

Ultimately, we expressed this unity as the Body of Christ by coming together and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in our two Eucharist services, one on Wednesday and one on Friday. The opening Eucharist service (in which many of the assembled clergy sweated through our vestments) featured a powerful message by the Rev. Vaughn Roberts of St. Ebbs Church, Oxford. The British clergyman’s presence, along with that of numerous Anglicans from around the globe, reminded us of the unity of orthodox Anglicans worldwide. After the consecration of the Sacrament by Archbishop Beach, we all processed forward to receive Christ: to be united in the one to whom we belong.

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

A Call to Clarity and Charity

We might sum up the spirit of this Provincial Assembly by our own motto here at Anglican Compass: clarity and charity. By God’s grace, we share a warmth that we don’t always exude online. I’m not saying we should gather ’round, sing “Kumbaya,” and pretend problems don’t exist. This collegiality doesn’t mean we don’t have differences. These were certainly present. They are certainly present. And they are important. But it shouldn’t blind us to what unites us.

Our identity in Christ should form the way we engage with each other, even in our disagreements. That’s what we’ll continue to champion here at Anglican Compass, and I hope it continues to be a hallmark of our province as a whole.

To quote the 18th-century hymnist John Fawcett,

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

John Fawcett, “Blest Be the Tie”

Photo by Jacob Davis from the 2024 ACNA Provincial Assembly Opening Eucharist held in the basilica at Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Published on

July 2, 2024

Author

Jacob Davis

The Rev. Jacob Davis is the editor of Anglican Compass. He is a priest in the Diocese of Christ Our Hope and lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he serves as assisting clergy at Grace Anglican Church and as a spiritual director.

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