30 Years on Mission: The NAMS Story (So Far)

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NAMS was born in 1993 as the North American Missionary Society. However, it was conceived in 1973.

I was walking the dog and playing with my two young sons in the park in Durham, England. While enjoying a Saturday break from my Ph.D. research, I seemed to “hear” a voice. It impressed these words into my spirit: “There needs to be an Anglican order of Church Planters.”

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Initially, I alone thought this voice was from the Lord. No one in England or North America affirmed this call until 1993. That year, the then-bishop of Pittsburgh, Alden Hathaway, challenged me to start NAMS:

“We need a missionary society that will plant new Great Commission churches in North America like SAMS does in South America.”

I was convinced that what I “heard” twenty years before was true and applied to this invitation. Two other bishops, Alex Dickson of West Tennessee and James Stanton of Dallas, concurred with +Alden, and the three laid hands on me and commissioned me as the founding leader.

In my mind and heart, the order was born that day. However, when the first board meeting convened, they believed we should organize like every other Anglican missionary agency. Outvoted 4 to 1, having no money and no history, I, of course, submitted. Our work began in North America, and we quickly found a diocese that wanted our help. We would share vision, find and train planters, raise support, and give ongoing guidance and temporary oversight before handing the work over to the diocese. Thirty years have now passed, and we serve in over forty nations.

To tell the story of these years briefly, it is helpful to think in terms of three stages.

1993-1997

Though most of our work in the first years was in either the USA or Canada, my theological training, ordination, and graduate study in England had left me with many relationships. Among those friends was George Carey. In 1992, he had invited me, as a priest committed to the renewal of the Anglican Way, to serve with him in the Diocese of Canterbury. Renewal had quite passed that diocese by, he said, and I gladly accepted the invitation.

I began to travel back and forth across the Atlantic several times a year, and by 1994, I was sharing the work and ministry of NAMS in England as well. For a season, we had the blessing of Canterbury. That led to many queries: “Why is the North American Missionary Society serving in England?” In 1996, we changed our name to the New Anglican Missionary Society, and the global call on NAMS became clear.

1997 – 2009

1997 was a year of significant change for Anglicans in America, as a group of presbyters took a stand opposing the theological drift that was advancing rapidly in the Episcopal Church. The “First Promise Movement” grew out of their stand, and soon, a loose consortium of ministries gathered together to support a demand for disciplined biblical correction. The movement appealed to overseas bishops for help, and many came to our aid. NAMS was among those ministries and the dispute and schism that eventually resulted deeply affected our welcome in North America. Meanwhile, our global work was expanding, and in 1998, the Archbishop of Southeast Asia, Moses Tay, took me in as a priest of his diocese and agreed to be Archbishop Guardian of NAMS in his province. It opened the door to NAMS serving the global Anglican family.

NAMS now began to be the servant of many clergy, laypeople, and a few bishops in the Episcopal community of America as we were discovering a new way forward. From 1997 to 2008, we helped, either directly under our care or in partnership with others, over two hundred new Anglican congregations to begin. Many, but not all, were groups reconstituting themselves after being forcefully ejected from their diocese or choosing to leave.

An Anglican Order of Church Planters

We were growing worldwide, but our North American work was “labeling” us throughout the Anglican world. Traditional and conservative dioceses and provinces supported us, and others did not. We experienced the Anglican family breaking in two. However, we tried, and we still do, to bridge the schism with our mission and ministry wherever we find the Church submitted to Christ and his word.

When the Anglican Church in North America was born in 2009, out of the GAFCON Movement, it became clear that another transition was upon NAMS. The ACNA was embracing church planting as a part of its founding DNA. Indeed, at the Founding Synon in Denton, Texas, Archbishop Bob Duncan called for the ACNA to plant 1,000 new churches. After a season of prayer and broad consultation, NAMS returned to the words from 1973 and reconstituted itself as “an Anglican order of Church Planters.”

2010 – 2023

Refounding NAMS as an order under rule led to many developments in our mission. We covenanted together as Missionary Companions with the prayer and desire to unite as a “band of brothers and sisters on mission” in every nation where the Lord opened a door. We restructured our global work into continental divisions and began to build a truly global cross-cultural leadership team. By 2013, we had embraced a missionary strategy that focused on raising up church-planting leaders in fifteen “mega-regions” of the world, as had been suggested to us by Patrick Johnstone in his magisterial work, The Future of Global Christianity.

2023 again finds NAMS in a pivotal transition from its founding season to an ongoing ministry serving the Anglican Family and, through them, the whole church of the Lord Jesus. We pray that this transition will prepare us to serve faithfully the glorious gospel as long as the Lord desires it of us.


Photo from a NAMS mission in Nepal courtesy of NAMS.

Published on

September 7, 2023

Author

Jon Shuler

The Rev. Dr. Jon Shuler is the founder and Servant General of NAMS, the New Anglican Missionary Society.

View more from Jon Shuler

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