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Anglican Bishop Julian Dobbs on Proclaiming the Gospel in Albany

Anglican Bishop Julian Dobbs on Proclaiming the Gospel in Albany

By Jeff Walton
November 10, 2021

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany this month opened the door to the practice of same-sex marriage within the diocese, a departure from what was until recently permitted there. Albany was the last remaining domestic diocese in the Episcopal Church to proscribe the use of same-sex rites that were effectively required following the 2018 General Convention.

In March I reported how some Albany clergy had begun seeking canonical residency within the Anglican Church in North America, the first public movement of clergy in New York's Capital District since the resignation of Bishop William H. Love earlier that winter. The Anglican Diocese of the Living Word, which already has congregations in upstate New York, received a new congregation near Albany and began making plans for a regional ministry network emphasizing church planting. That has now grown to four churches, plus an additional church received into the neighboring Anglican Diocese in New England.

This week I spoke with Diocese of the Living Word Bishop Julian Dobbs about unfolding ministry opportunities in New York's Capital Region and how the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) hopes to be a faithful and growing witness to the gospel there.

"It's about reaching North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ," Bishop Dobbs told me of Anglican church planting efforts in the region. "You just can't do that if you depart the faith. And if you say 'I haven't departed the faith, only the organization has departed the faith' I would say to you that your connection to that organization compromises your ability to fully proclaim the gospel. That's why we are saying that we sense the Holy Spirit saying to us now, not move in and take over, but replant, rebuild, and let's see North America transformed with the love of Christ."

Interview Transcript with Bishop Dobbs

JW: Hello this is Jeff Waton, Anglican Program Director at the Institute on Religion & Democracy in Washington, DC. I'm joined today by Bishop Julian Dobbs of the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word, a diocese of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and also Marc Steele who is Communications Director for the diocese. I've reached out to them today to discuss ministry in the Capital Region of New York state -- specifically the Albany Region -- and what that will look like going forward. Traditionally, ACNA has not had a congregational presence in that part of New York state. That has changed within the past year: it looks like it's going to be expanding. Bishop Julian, thank you for joining me today.

JD: So great to be with you, Jeff. You and I have known each other for many years and we've shared some ministry together. So great to be with you and the faithful team with whom you work.

JW: Thanks so much, Bishop. You're actually pretty close by to IRD -- I'm in downtown Washington, DC right now and the offices of your diocese are out in Manassas, a suburb of DC. But what we're going to be talking about today is in New York. There are a few congregations and some clergy that have come into the diocese in the past year and some of that has been due to some some changes that have taken place. Can you tell us what it is that has drawn your diocese to start ministry specifically in that part of New York, and what are some things that have changed in order to open doors there?

JD: Thanks, Jeff -- really happy to talk about that and I'm excited to talk about it because it involves gospel mission, the work of the evangelist, the sharing of the gospel and the impacting of communities for Christ. That's the obviously underlying reason for us to be involved anywhere isn't it? As Christians to walk in that Great Commission which Christ has given us. He still says 'go' to us today as he did when he gave the Commission to his disciples. That's the first reason for us to be involved in gospel mission in the region. Secondly, we've had a strong relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Albany because the immediate past bishop, Bishop Bill Love, his predecessor Bishop Dan Herzog, the former Suffragan Bishop Dave Bena, one of the former chancellors, Raymond Dague, are all members of the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word and involved in wonderful active gospel ministry. There's been a partnership for some time. Then, over the years, a number of clergy who felt that they could not stay in the Diocese of Albany journeyed towards the Anglican Church in North America through our diocese. So we've had a strong presence relationally and for some time we did not engage directly in the Albany region because Bishop Bill Love was faithfully upholding the gospel. We did receive one church in Half Moon, NY from another Anglican jurisdiction that became part of our diocese. That was our first real footprint in the area, which was great, St. Thomas and the leadership of the great team there: John Bassett and his team. But then Bishop Bill Love felt that he could no longer stay in the Episcopal Church after his engagement with them he became the Assistant Bishop of our diocese. A number of people followed him at that point and all together now we've got four congregations in the region. The Anglican Diocese in New England, it's got some work in the region as well which is a great partnership for us in the province. That brings us up to date, Jeff. To answer your question, very recently the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany issued a statement which, in my reading of it, capitulated to the false doctrine of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church having left the faith once for all entrusted to the saints. That poses a serious problem for us because this then becomes an issue of salvation for the people in the region who cannot be served by a church that has departed the faith. Article 20, for example, of the 39 Articles [of religion] reminds us that it is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word. And so therefore we're saying now we sense the prompting of God, the Holy Spirit. We want to be about gospel work in the region: proclaiming Christ, seeing people coming to know him, and we're grateful for that opportunity. A long answer, I apologize, but I think it's helpful for people to see something of the journey towards the present day.

JW: You've mentioned there are four congregations that are part of your diocese in addition to some projects that are also in the neighboring Diocese in New England. Can you tell me about the four projects that are currently underway, what the communities they're seeking to minister in and how those came about?

JD: Sure. Well, first of all as I mentioned, Saint Thomas's in Half Moon came into our diocese as an existing congregation. They're doing some great work in the region there and I'm really thankful for them under the leadership of David Hague. We've got Church of the Resurrection planted out of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, as did Bread of Life [Ithaca] with Dan Jones and recently Holy Comforter with Matt Baker. Those congregations have all begun again -- some leaving very historic buildings, which is a big challenge to to leave everything behind and to begin again in a very different context. That's the case for all of those congregations. I believe that they are the beginning of a great new work in the Capital Region and beyond. We've got Bishop Herzog who's planted a congregation in Utica, NY. We've got our work in Syracuse, NY, in Binghamton, NY and we're thanking the Lord for the great ministry in Endicott, NY with Ifeoluwa Ojetayo in Syracuse, so the work is strong. We've got Archdeacon Joel Greg up on the border thinking about planting in Massena and so grateful for all of these works. We've also got the Sisters of St. Mary who have joined us -- that very historic ancient order of Anglican nuns that were once a part of the Episcopal Church that also thought 'we can't be there any longer because they've departed the faith' and they made that courageous decision to come and join us as well. I'm thankful for the courage of all of these brothers and sisters, clergy and lay leaders alike, who are journeying with us because it's not about becoming an Anglican so much as it is about coming to Christ, planting our feet in his Word, declaring the gospel and ministering Christ in the communities in which we are. I don't believe you can do that with one foot in a denomination that has departed the Faith once for all entrusted to the saints because dark and light do not mix. Ours is a gospel of light: Christ is light and we must be about proclaiming him.

JW: One of the things that you've mentioned in the past when asked about the Capital Region has been that there hasn't been a specific strategy, but there's been an open door for those who are looking to do ministry in ACNA. But it does seem like some things have changed in recent months. Obviously Bishop Love stepped down from his leadership of the Albany Diocese and, as you mentioned, is now an assisting bishop in your own diocese along with several other people you mentioned: Bishop David Bena, whom I think is probably the longest serving -- I think you've prevented him from retiring multiple times! He was the contact Bishop for my congregation in Arlington, Virginia back in 2009 when we were planted, it's amazing that he's still very hard at work. What are some of the things that you think the Diocese of Living Word has to offer now in this area of New York? Obviously you've mentioned that there's some experience working with congregations in other parts of the upstate. What is something that Anglicans can bring that is not, at present or historically, found as much on the ground as far as a Christian distinctive that maybe other groups doing ministry there haven't specialized in or offered?

JD: It's a great opportunity for the Anglican Church in North America and this is one of the reasons why, in conversation with Archbishop Foley and the Diocese in New England, we thought 'this is the time' because I do believe the Standing Committee statement from the Diocese of Albany is a watershed moment: it's a capitulation to the false doctrine of the Episcopal Church and so therefore we have Christ to offer and the gospel to offer and we will be about strategically planting missional congregations up and down the Capital Region and towards the west where it's strategically appropriate. We've seen that already in Utica. We've got one priest who came from the Diocese of Albany who's working with refugees and we're thrilled to be able to be supporting that work in the Capital Region. Further east we're looking at strategies of planting where we can. I'm saying to the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany: if you can't stay, the Anglican Church in North America is a place where you're able to work out your Anglican orders with the support of the majority of the world's Anglicans through GAFCON because what sadly the Standing Committee's decision does -- it separates them from dioceses around the world that have traditionally stood with them places like Nigeria and Kenya who are now part of GAFCON with the Anglican Church in North America. We're saying we've got the strength and the authority and the support of that huge movement behind us as we reach out into the Capital Region. In fact, one bishop from GAFCON -- a very senior bishop -- said to me recently 'go in there, do it, replant the gospel.' This is in fact how Anglican Christianity was planted in the Capital Region. It was very very missional and we're going to be about being missional again. The gospel hasn't changed. The church that received that gospel -- the Episcopal Church in the region -- has departed from it. We're saying there's another alternative, an alternative that continues to uphold and proclaim the Good News of Jesus and we're going to be about gospel mission in that region. I'm so thankful because this is important to us as Anglicans that we are able to ensure that our [clergy] orders are intact. We come recognized by GAFCON -- recognized by the [global] majority of Anglicans -- we've got the structure of a pre-existing diocese, the Diocese of the Living Word, we've got the support of our archbishop and province. We've got another diocese already working in the region and we're saying, 'we're here to see the hearts of men and women and young people turn toward Christ.' Are you getting the sense that I'm excited about this Jeff? I'm so excited about it because I sense the Holy Spirit has has urged me in my heart as a bishop to say 'now is the time to engage.' It's too important, it's about the gospel.

JW: You mentioned GAFCON and some of the overseas partners. I know that the Diocese of the Living Word has a component of some clergy who come from the Global South. How has that shaped your 'DNA' as a diocese? You yourself of course originally come from a different part of the world, New Zealand. What has the global nature of Anglicanism made you aware of in some of your mission strategy, and what are some of the communities that you are reaching or hoping to reach a result of that?

JD: Jeff, I so much like to talk about this because there's a 'here and now' component and There's a component ahead of us. The 'here and now' component I've mentioned already, which is the Great Commission, the making of disciples, and that includes all ethnicities no matter what the ethnic 'DNA' is of anyone. The Anglican Church in fact is just such a great tapestry of this, isn't it? Jerusalem 2018 [GAFCON]: I think you were there, Jeff, right? We had great worship in an Anglican context led by a most spectacular choir from Nigeria. We saw that beautiful tapestry of Christians coming together, young and old together, different ethnicities from all around the world worshiping God and celebrating Christ. That's something -- I've been an immigrant to this nation myself -- has taught me that we bring with us a certain level of 'DNA' in our own lives into the context in which we are in. But that 'DNA' must always be subservient to the Great Commission of Christ to go and reach the nations and move always forward as Archbishop Foley says to us. I talked about something else and that's a glimpse for the future and that's the Revelation [Chapter] 7 component of this that talks about one day there will be a time when every tribe, every tongue and every nation will gather together around the throne and worship Christ. I see the church today as very descriptive of that. In our diocese we're so privileged to have Haitians and Cubans and Nigerians and other Africans -- even a former Kiwi, oh my goodness -- worshiping together with all of that great 'DNA' and history that comes, but remembering we're coming together because Christ has beckoned us in. That's what this diocese is all about, as is the Anglican Church in North America, isn't it? It's about reaching North America with the transforming love of Christ. You just can't do that if you depart the faith. If you say 'but I haven't departed the faith, only the organization has departed the faith' I would say to you that your connection to that organization compromises your ability to fully proclaim the gospel. That's why we're saying we sense the Holy Spirit saying to us now, not move in and take over, but replant, rebuild, and let's see North America transformed with the love of Christ.

JW: It does seem like there has been a significant church planting movement that has taken hold especially in the last 20 years. I'm thinking about congregations that I'm part of that have been shaped by groups like Redeemer [Presbyterian Church] in New York City, [Pastor] Tim Keller's congregation, but also many other different church planting movements that I've seen: in the Assemblies of God, the Southern Baptist Convention, a variety of different expressions of church planting work. These congregations are functionally new that you've talked about: the four that have come together and they're meeting, in some cases, in non-traditional facilities. What is that looking like for them and where are they finding opportunities presenting themselves that perhaps weren't there previously, or at least weren't as immediately apparent?

JD: It's hard, isn't it? When you leave a building and a structure and you have the basis of ministry and you move out of that. Because you draw a line in the sand: 'I can't stay in this context.' You have to begin somewhere, and we see this, don't we? throughout the New Testament: Paul meeting at the riverside with a group of believers, later meeting in somebody's house as a group of believers. So one of these congregations is, in fact, meeting in somebody's house and they're meeting in that context and -- Lord willing -- he will build his church and they'll move into another context. But it's very interesting to be able to say to someone, 'look, we've planted this new church, we worship in the Anglican tradition, you may be aware of that, come and join us, we're meeting at a home at the moment.' That's a little unusual, but we're seeing the Lord break down some of those traditional structures so that we can be very missional. Because this is one region of our country where church attendance is not significantly high and so therefore we have to think that existing models may not be the most engaging or appropriate models for ministry. One congregation is renting space in a local community, another congregation using the beautiful chapel at the Sisters of Saint Mary convent. Saint Thomas has a building of their own, which is great. My own story with regards to church planting saw both the use of a chapel, a school hall, a local hotel called The Bishop's Arms -- that was quite cool -- a middle school environment before we moved into our building. It reminds us it's not always easy, but it reminds us of the missionary nature of the gospel.

We have to be prepared to get our feet dirty, so to speak, and get out there and proclaim the gospel to a community and -- here's the thing, Jeff, you'll know this -- most people that study mission tell us that the single most effective way to reach the unchurched for Christ is to plant new congregations. Therefore we're committed in our diocese and across the province to the missional planting of new Anglican structures: not so that the Anglican Church becomes strong -- that will happen -- but so that the gospel is proclaimed. What happens when the gospel is proclaimed is that people come to faith. That's what this is about: taking this moment that has been given to us by God, as a result of the actions of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, and saying 'we're here to proclaim the gospel' let people come to faith in him.

JW: Yes, that's a great way to summarize it and to keep in perspective what all of this is ultimately about. We may talk about the pragmatic reality of different church ecclesial structures and about church planting. It's all centered on the point of bringing Jesus to people and his unique message. Is there a next step in regards to your diocese as far as what you're hoping for in the next six months to a year of what you'd like to establish, what conversations you'd want to have, what near-term things would be in your goals?

JD: Firstly, we're available to talk to anyone from the Episcopal Diocese of Albany or anywhere else who wants to join us in this exciting gospel work. Our website, www.adlw.org, references ways that people can get in touch with us and -- also I think very importantly -- in touch with former priests of the Diocese of Albany who are in the region with us now engaging in this missional work. Archdeacon David Collum is working with us. We've established a new archdeaconry in the region. We're saying, 'here is the moment' if you want to talk to us now, we're here and we're available and we will support you through our networks and through the province with planting in the region. It will look different when you leave a 200-year-old building one Sunday and you're worshiping in a community hall the next. But I tell you, the excitement that comes when you draw that line and no longer have to wrestle with staying in a place that has departed the faith and saying 'I'm here with a group of believers who will support us.' Near term we're open to conversation, we're moving forward with our own strategy in the region. Whether anyone talks to us from the Episcopal Diocese or not, that involves continued church planting, the strengthening of the four congregations we've already got our engagement socially in the region thinking of Jim Brisbane and his work with refugees and others. The Sisters and their work in the community. There's just so much to be done and so many people who need to be reached for Christ, it's a missional moment for us.

JW: Thank you so much for uh sharing about that. i'll include a link to your diocese in the show notes and folks will be able to see that as well on IRD's blog. Thanks so much for taking the opportunity to share about your work in New York. I hope that it continues to bear good fruit.

JD: By the grace of God and through the prayers of his faithful people. Grateful to be with you Jeff and for your ministry as well.

JW: Thanks, Bishop.

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