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Birthing a Daughter Church - by Sam Pascoe

Birthing a Daughter Church

By Samuel Pascoe

ORANGE PARK, FL--When you’re 124 years old, giving birth keeps you young.

No one knows the exact date, but sometime in 1880 Grace Episcopal Church was planted as a mission church. Today the church has grown to 1,400 members.

This year marks our 124th birthday as a church. Far from slip sliding
into old age, we are being made young again by a new birth.

September 4 was the 20th anniversary of my ordination. There can be no greater way for me to celebrate that anniversary than to give birth to a daughter . . . a daughter church.

The fellowship that began several years ago as the outreach-oriented “On Ramp” service is going to become a new Anglican Church in Clay County, coming under the under the ecclesiastical authority of the Province of Rwanda and its Primate Emmanuel Kolini.

It will be called Emmaus Road Church (ERC). Its new rector will be the Rev. David Freels.

David, the vestry, and the people of On Ramp service had been talking about a new church plant for some time. Over time it became clear that God was leading David Freels to plant an Anglican church under the direct authority of his bishop, Thomas Johnston, a bishop in the Anglican Province of Rwanda.

Till now, David had been exercising his priestly ministry under my authority as Rector of Grace Church and as part of a joint venture of cooperation between Bp. Johnston of Rwanda and Bp. Stephen Jecko, who was until January of 2004 the ECUSA bishop of Florida. That joint effort in mutual ministry came to an end when the new bishop of Florida, Johnson Howard, refused to relicense David to perform priestly functions in this diocese.

This reversal of Bp. Jecko's policy of reconciliation and mutual ministry caught has caused great pain for all of us. On August 9, 2004, the vestry of Grace Church unanimously passed a resolution celebrating this new venture and approving David’s move from full-time to part-time status here at Grace, thus freeing him up to
resume his priestly calling at ERC.

Taking the On Ramp to a New Road

On Sunday, September 5, ERC moved out of our home and took on her new identity as an Anglican Church on mission to America. Bp. Johnston had planned to join David and the people of Emmaus Road Church but Hurricane Frances prevented his travel to Jacksonville. In fact, even though David cancelled services, 30 people showed up anyway in the midst of the storm and he and new flock celebrated their first communion together as a new church.

Symbolically, they were the still point in the midst of the storm that raged around them.

Bp. Johnston will join the people of ERC as soon as his schedule permits. It was a time of excitement and opportunity. The goal of this new work is to reach out to the thousands of unchurched and non-Christian people in our area. This new work is not about ‘sheep-stealing’ (trying to lure others from existing churches). Emmaus Road Church will offer a way for the 30%+ people in Clay County who have no church home to connect with Jesus and the Anglican Communion.

Why Now?

I believe this is a crucial and timely mission for the following reasons:

• It will clearly put the “Go” in Gospel as we show we are serious about mission, not only globally (thru the ministry of the McHughs, Starnes, and others) but also locally.

• It will be good for our own collective soul and our health as a congregation to take a risk and give our very best to the cause of the Kingdom.

• Because ERC will be under the authority of the Province of Rwanda (through the agency of the Anglican Mission in America, it will allow David to fulfill the calling
for which he has worked so long and so faithfully and for which he was ordained into the Anglican Communion.

• It will open new ministries to our neighbors as those who embark on this adventure offer their special approach to doing church in this area. What David, his team, and those who join him will build together will not be “just like Grace” nor will it be “just like On Ramp.” It will be a new thing, a whole new church worshiping and
serving the Lord in the strong Anglican tradition and in full fellowship with Anglicans around the world.

Why is ERC an AMiA church?

The word “church” only appears twice on the lips of Jesus. The first is in Matthew 16 when Jesus tells Peter that He will build His Church. The second is in Matthew 18 when Jesus lays out a plan for Church discipline. That plan involves progressively taking concerns to more and more people at higher and higher levels of authority within the
church. The context for the Matthew 18 passage is one believer having a problem with another believer. But, what if the problem is with the church (or denomination) itself? That is the issue that continues to face orthodox Episcopalians. I count myself in that group, so I will use the word “we.”

Over the course of 15 years, we (a group of laity, deacons, priests, and bishops) took our concerns “up the ladder” of authority and accountability. In 2000, we took our concerns to what, in Anglican polity, is the final court of appeals: the 38 primates of the Anglican

Their response was to issue several strong rebukes to the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) and call for repentance. When ECUSA did not repent, but instead continued to act in defiance of Anglican tradition, the clear teaching of Scripture, and the expressed will of the Anglican communion, members of the world-wide Anglican Communion decided to intervene.

The desperate need for their help, wisdom, guidance and courage became crystal clear last summer when almost exactly a year ago the Episcopal Church openly defied the Anglican Community and, indeed, 98% of global Christianity, when it approved the consecration of Vicki Gene Robinson--a defiant homosexual activist--as the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. The Anglican world recoiled in horror and sadness at this
act of American heresy and hubris. They determined to send missionaries to America.

There is a fitting symmetry here. Just as in the 18th and 19th centuries America had sent missionaries to Africa and Asia (uninvited but much needed), so now these men and women are sending missionaries back to the U.S. In their arrogance and cultural hubris, some in ECUSA do not understand. They fail to remember that now; as then, in some
cases these missionaries are uninvited but much needed. As one African Archbishop said in frustration, “You (Americans) sent us the Bible and now you are mad at us because we believe it.”

Two archbishops and their provinces stepped up. They consecrated two bishops (Chuck Murphy and John Rodgers) and later four more (among them Tom Johnston) to serve as missionary bishops in America. A new mission agency, the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) was born. AMiA is a mission agency under the authority of Anglican bishops and primates. One of the sponsoring provinces was Southeast Asia (Singapore, Thailand, etc.) and the other was Rwanda.

Why Rwanda?

Two reasons: First, the Rwandan genocide of ten years ago taught the people of Rwanda that all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing. The world literally stood aside and let tens of thousands of people die. In some cases, the international community literally watched it happen but did not want to get involved. Those who
survived the holocaust pledged that they would never stand by while others suffered if they had it in their power to intervene.

Second, the Anglicans in Rwanda believe the Gospel. They really believe that spiritual warfare is just as real as earthly warfare. They believe that spiritual death is even more horrific than physical genocide.

Earlier this year, my friend Neil Lebhar took a trip to Israel with a Ugandan bishop. Just before going on the trip, 200 people in his diocese had been massacred in religious warfare. Neil felt certain that this Ugandan bishop would see the spiritual problems in America as very minor compared to what he was dealing with in Africa. But, the Ugandan bishop shocked Neil when he said, “No! Your struggle and ours is the
same. It is all spiritual warfare, darkness against light. Do not think your struggle (for the soul of the church in America) is any less important to God.”

The people of Rwanda and Uganda have seen the ugly face of sin, unmitigated by western media and the supposed wisdom of western intelligentsia. They know the fight is real.

Why Now?

Earlier this year, the new bishop of Florida, Johnson Howard, refused to relicense David Freels for the priestly ministry for which he had trained for so many years, for which he was ordained by the Province of Rwanda, and for which he was previously licensed by Bp. Jecko. Howard’s refusal to recognize the legitimacy of David’s orders (his ordination) and his continuing refusal to address the issue has left us with few options.

The issue is not the legitimacy of David’s ordination. David’s bishop, Thomas Johnston, was consecrated by two sitting primates of the Anglican Communion--only one is normally present at such an event. Ironically, and instructively, no primates were present at the consecration of the new bishop of Florida, Johnson Howard.

On September 5, Emmaus Road Church took its rightful place as a new Anglican Church, part of the Anglican Mission in America, part of the World-Wide Anglican Communion, and not only a daughter, but also a partner with Grace Church in reaching our world for Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Sam Pascoe is the rector of Grace Church in Orange Park, Florida.


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