Provincial Assembly: A Rookie Anglican Guide

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The Provincial Assembly is a gathering of Anglicans from across the province. Its purpose is to conduct business under the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, encourage one another in gospel mission, enjoy fellowship, and celebrate the Eucharist.

In the Anglican Church of North America, the Provincial Assembly meets at least once every five years, at the end of an Archbishop’s term, as in 2014 (Latrobe, PA), 2019 (Plano, TX), and 2024 (Latrobe, PA). The Provincial Assembly can also convene on other occasions at the Archbishop’s discretion, as in 2017 (Wheaton, IL).

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The Collect for Provincial Assembly

Almighty and everlasting God, by your Holy Spirit you presided in the council of the blessed Apostles, and you promised, through your Son Jesus Christ, to be with your Church to the end of the world: Be with the council of your Church assembled in your Name and presence. Save us from all error, ignorance, prejudice, and pride; and of your great mercy direct, sanctify, and govern us in our work, by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit; that the order and discipline of your Church may be maintained, and that the Gospel of Christ may be truly preached, truly received, and truly followed in all places, breaking down the kingdom of sin, Satan, and death; till all your scattered sheep, being gathered into one fold, become partakers of everlasting life; through the merits and death of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

BCP p.647

Taking Counsel Under the Spirit and the Scriptures

Typically a Provincial Assembly gathers to take counsel and make decisions on a set of questions before the church. In addition to Bishops, every diocese has clergy and lay delegates who are empowered to vote on topics ranging from church finances to governance to ministry initiatives.

In some ways, then, a provincial assembly could be compared to a national legislative assembly. But the analogy to a political body fails in a fundamental way, in that the goal of the delegates is not to pursue their own interest, but rather to discern the call of the Holy Spirit in alignment with the Scriptures. In other words, the Provincial Assembly is not free to depart from the will and the word of God.

Compared to the Council of Jerusalem

The key Biblical example of this dynamic is the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem, as narrated in Acts 15. The question under consideration was whether Gentile converts must be circumcised to come into the church. Though multiple perspectives were shared on the question, of ultimate concern was the witness of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of the scriptures.

In the end, the apostles decided that the Gentiles need not be circumcised, indicating that it was not necessary to become Jewish in order to become Christian. However, the apostles also emphasized that Gentile converts were obligated to keep the ethical teachings of the Scriptures, including on sexual morality. Here is what the apostles said in their concluding letter to the Gentile believers:

It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

Acts 15:28-29

Encouraging Gospel Mission 

Provincial Assembly also functions as a missions conference, in which speakers share stories and strategies for proclaiming the gospel. Typically, there is a combination of plenary sessions, in which one speaker shares with the whole assembly, and breakout sessions, in which participants choose from a rich collection of speakers representing many categories of ministry.

For example, at the 2024 Provincial Assembly of the ACNA, there are more than 40 breakout sessions, including:

Missions at the Council of Jerusalem

As a missions conference, the Provincial Assembly is again comparable to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. During the Council, the gathered believers shared stories and strategies for the gospel mission. For example, Paul and Barnabas were everywhere sharing the news of the conversion of the Gentiles, both on their way to the Council and also when they arrived in Jerusalem:

They passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.

Acts 15:3-4

Moreover, after the conclusion of the Council of Jerusalem, the participants went out with greater enthusiasm and energy for mission. Paul, for example, subsequently began his second missionary journey, in which he planted churches in Philippi, Thessaloniki, Berea, Athens, and Corinth.

Let us consider and pray that church plants and other missionary endeavors will emerge out of our own Provincial Assemblies!

Fellowship and Eucharist

For many participants, the most powerful feature of the Provincial Assembly is the fellowship. Though we know we are part of a larger church body for which we regularly pray, it is meaningful to come together in one place with fellow believers. The collect for a Provincial Assembly points to the end times, in which “all your scattered sheep, being gathered into one fold, become partakers of everlasting life.” The power of the Provincial Assembly is that it offers a foretaste of that final gathering. 

Most Provincial Assemblies also include international guests from other Anglican provinces around the world. This heightens the sense of global fellowship and furthers our anticipation of heaven, which will contain:

A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb…

Revelation 7:9

The ultimate expression of Christian fellowship is celebrating the Eucharist, whereby we participate in the body of Christ, experiencing unity with Christ and each other. Thus, the high point of the Provincial Assembly is the communion service, led by the Archbishop, with all participants in attendance.

We gather to worship the lamb who was slain, was risen, and now reigns. We praise him, the gathered church here on earth pointing to our triumphant Lord in heaven:

…clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’

Revelation 7:9-10.

Photo of Provincial Assembly Eucharist, 2017, by Peter Johnston.

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

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