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ZOOM MEMOIRS - John H. Rodgers and Stephen Noll

Conversations with the John H. Rodgers Jr and the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll
(Foreword by The Very Rev. Dr. Henry L. Thompson III)

Anglican House Publishers 237pp https://anglicanhousepublishers.org/

Reviewed by David W. Virtue, DD
July 18, 2021

History can be told in numerous ways. These memoirs of John H. Rodgers a scion Anglican leader cover a remarkable historical time period. His interactive conversations with theological, missionary and educator Stephen Noll bring to life a portrait of this great Anglican leader at a turning point in the history of North American Anglicanism.

Rodgers, now 90, is at once an evangelical theologian, seminary dean and Anglican bishop. His life from early boyhood through seminary, his doctorate under Karl Barth, his marriage to his beloved Blanch (since deceased), the formation of TSM and GAFCON and his ministry both at home and abroad make for fascinating reading.

Noll takes the lid off the man and brings his life to us with its ups and downs, his multiple "retirements" and God's continual pull on his life through the peregrinations of The Episcopal Church.

One area of history that I am personally acquainted with, but could never gain all the facts, largely because most bishops refused to talk about it, concerned the struggles within the AMIA and the birth pangs of the ACNA. The relationship between AMIA Bishop Chuck Murphy and ACNA Archbishop Bob Duncan was cloaked in silence though I knew that they fought bitterly over the leadership of the ACNA.

I dislike being shielded from the facts, because sooner or later those facts come to life in various biographies and personal memoirs like this.

So here is an exchange in the book that will throw light on what actually happened. I have added a postscript.

It should be borne in mind that Rodgers is, at all times a reconciler. He hates conflict, even though he saw the handwriting on the wall over the theological and moral degeneracy of The Episcopal Church. Rodgers realized that TEC was an unreformable institution. TEC's heresies were a bridge too far. Conflict between competing entities among Anglicans was painful for him and he moved heaven to decrease tensions that arose. It should also be noted that with the birth of GAFCON, it was Rodgers, with foresight, who suggested that it was time for a new Anglican Communion. The idea was seen as too extreme at that time and was shot down.

As a bridge builder Rodgers fought (as an evangelical) for the place of Anglo-Catholics to be in the ACNA, even though they rejected the Articles of Religion. He spoke glowingly of Bishop William Wantland as a "great ally" in the gospel even though the issue of women's ordination could have been a major stumbling block. That was mercifully avoided. The term "evangelical catholic" emerged from all this. Bishop William Love is an example of evangelical catholic.

The following is a conversation between Noll and Rodgers that throws light on what led up to and then on to the AMIA debacle and the imbroglio that followed.

RODGERS: [The] Common Cause meeting in 2004 concluded with a strong sense that we begin the whole process of forming ACNA as an alternative to the Episcopal Church. We did not believe that there were any signs that God was reforming that church, and we had given up trying. TEC was moving rapidly in the wrong direction.

NOLL: By that time, the national Episcopal Church was driving congregations out of their buildings.

RODGERS: Yes, the PB had turned out to be heavy-handed. While we in ACNA were not recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Lord Carey), we were increasingly recognized by provinces within the Anglican Communion. At one point there were 20 provinces that were in communion with us as we were forming ACNA. Many had broken communion with the Episcopal Church.

AS AMIA grew, we added bishops to accommodate a fresh outburst of departures and newly planted congregations. Our oversight was coming from Rwanda after Singapore withdrew. Parishes that identified with the Anglican Communion Network appealed to other Global South archbishops and soon it became a movement involving more and more churches in North America and more and more overseas sponsors.

NOLL: When did you retire as a bishop in AMIA?

RODGERS: In 2002, if my memory serves me right.

NOLL: Am I right that since you retired at a time when the AMIA was part of the ACNA, you consider yourself an ACNA bishop?

RODGERS: I never formally withdrew from ACNA. I had retired by then. That is the sad thing about this recent rift. When AMIA withdrew from Rwanda, it happened without my permission. At the same time, I did not want to withdraw from AMIA. I did not want to do anything that would cast any doubt on my relationships with Yong Ping Chung and Emmanuel Kolini. They had paid a high price for their willingness to take the first steps. So, I did not withdraw from AMIA, but I also never officially withdrew from ACNA, So, I'm kind of a strange duck.

I have tried to be a reconciler all the way through this process. That has been my role; it continues to be my role. The separation broke my heart. After the separation, we had a meeting in Bob's office with Chuck and some others from AMIA and ACNA. Chuck actually asked rather tentatively to come back into ACNA, but Bob was not open to this apart from AMIA bishops remaining in Rwanda, since they had also withdrawn from full membership in the ACNA College of Bishops the previous June (2010).

VOL: There was never any doubt that Duncan would lead the new Anglican identity. There was no love lost between the two men. Chuck did not have backing and support of his bishops, many of whom felt betrayed by him. He had neither the education, skills or gravitas to lead something as potentially big as the ACNA.

On his death in 2018, I wrote that it was an unholy mess, a clash of wills, power struggles and theological direction. And so, it was.

Issues over money, leadership style and the belief by Murphy that the AMiA needed to be a Missionary Society forced Rwanda Archbishop Rwaje's hand. The relationship came to an end. The AMiA lost her last ecclesiastical lifeboat. The Society for Mission and Apostolic Works was formed. Today the Anglican Mission, as it is now called, is a shell of an organization under Bishop Philip Jones.

The birth and rise of the Anglican Church in North America under the leadership of Bishop Robert Duncan and the clash as to who would lead it, took its toll on both Murphy and the AMiA.

Murphy's leadership style did not go down well with a number of his own bishops. One by one, they left the AMiA and joined the ACNA. Murphy was isolated. It was a case of the bear vs the lion, and in the end the lion won. Duncan had the scars of battle as a TEC bishop under fire from the TEC's leadership for leading his diocese (Pittsburgh) out of TEC. Duncan had a military background that had taught him how to wrestle with the revisionist demons of his fellow bishops. He was experienced in drawing together disparate forces and had the gravitas of a Churchill that Murphy simply did not have. In the end, it was no contest.

The fight over leadership and the bitterness that resulted between the two men was never resolved. A source close to both men told VOL that Bob and Chuck had no contact for years. "So, no, no reconciliation. Chuck talked a good line but that's all it was." He died with no reconciliation ever made.

Through it all, Rodgers kept the emerging Anglican ship theologically grounded.

"The high point of my ministry in the wider Anglican Communion after retirement was being asked to a talk at the first Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008 on 'where do we go from here?'. We have to state who the "we" and where the "here" is. "We" are the Anglicans who hold to classic historic Anglican doctrine and practice. We have a common faith, which is beautifully summarized in the Thirty-nine Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. We have a common liturgy, the 1662 Prayer Book tradition, which is still dominantly used around the communion. We have a common ministry, historic Anglican orders, as part of our tradition unbroken from the early church, though women's ordination has been something that requires further consideration. And we have a common mission, which is to go into all the world and preach the gospel and win souls for Christ and care for the needy."

Rodgers notes that GAFCON represents probably 80% of the actual Anglicans that go to church on Sunday world-wide.

The book is a wonderful portrait of a humble, self-effacing man, whose full contribution will only be revealed "in that day." Rodgers knew all the players including P.T. Forsyth, Fitz Allison, John Stott, J.I. Packer and many others. In a postscript, Rodgers pays tribute to his wife Blanche, who stood by his side for 61 years.

I thoroughly recommend this book, especially to young Anglican leaders who should know from whence they came, and on whose backs their own story will be told during this difficult post-COVID moment. They are the inheritors of a great history.


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