brown wooden church bench near white painted wall

Brothers (and Sisters), We Ought Not Be Congregationalists

In a recent Twitter/X (whatever it’s properly referred to these days) post Jeff Walton, Anglican Program Director at the Institute for Religion and Democracy, wrote:

Many fail to realize that the ACNA is functionally a congregationalist denomination

where the laity rarely see beyond their local parish, aside from the yearly episcopal

visitation. Few are engaged at the diocesan level, and even fewer at the provincial


Before I go any further I will note that I first met Mr. Walton more than a decade ago and have found him to be friendly – while we’re not close I count him a friend – and appreciate his work. I am, however, compelled to interact with his assertion there.

On one level it could be argued that his argument has some validity. Anglicanism, while not the wax of nose that some wish to portray it as, can at times be a roomy church. Since 2021 I have served as Rector of a predominately white, Central to Highish Church parish in a Diocese that is overwhelmingly black and largely tends toward a more Low Church expression of faith. We’re located a couple of hours from the center of mass of our diocese and, especially given my aversion to meetings (as with so many other things I agree with Dr. Thomas Sowell that people who enjoy meetings should never be in charge of anything) the temptation to hang out here in Savannah and do my own thing might easily be yielded to.

That would be wrong, however. What is often overlooked is the fact that as a cleric my membership has been in the diocese (or a diocese) since I was made a deacon in 2001. Most of that time has been spent serving parishes on at least a part-time basis and a good bit of that time I served as a chaplain but I also didn’t do that as a freelancer but as a clergyman of my respective jurisdiction. While my bishop had no say over my hiring or firing in that role if I chose to go out of the bounds of the Formularies I should’ve rightly expected to be called to account.

The parish is where most of the ministry of the Church takes place and I have long argued that the way to have a strong diocese is primarily to build and sustain strong parishes, but as parishes, we aren’t free agents nor are we, or at least should we be, independent entities who do our own thing while periodically sending money to the diocese and welcoming the bishop once a year. Clergy need to be involved at the diocesan level and laity should as well.

Which brings me to a related matter. In his comments, Mr. Walton stated that few laity were engaged at the diocesan level and fewer still at the provincial level. At least as far as the provincial level the same might be said of most clergy as well even, as he charged in another Tweet (or whatever we’re calling them these days) “. . .small parish rectors whose world is perhaps overly concerned with wider dispute.” As a rector seeking to rebuild a small parish following COVID-19 and the near-simultaneous departure of several families for Rome, that seemed an awful lot like being told to stay in my lane.

When the ACNA was formed in 2009 I was working as a hospice chaplain and assisting in a parish on a largely non-stipendiary basis when the Inaugural Assembly was held in Bedford, Texas. I was not a clergy delegate from my diocese but went on my own dime, taking time off of my job, to attend because I wanted to be there for an historic event. Registration cost several hundred dollars and my flight cost more (thankfully I stayed with the family of a deacon and friend who was attending, so lodging wasn’t an issue). It was a good experience and I was glad that I went.

When the second Assembly was held at Ridgecrest near Black Mountain, North Carolina, in 2012 I was serving as Vicar of a small rural parish and was one of the delegates from my diocese. My diocese paid my registration in advance but I was asked to repay at least some of it as the diocesan funds were tight. I took several days off, drove to the mountains, experienced several days of worship, workshops, and seminars, and got to visit Black Mountain, where I lived for the first six and a half years of my life. The actual business portion of the Assembly ran about two hours of the four days’ work I lost.

An Assembly will once again be held this June in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, The time for the Early Bird rate of $375 per person has passed, but one may still register for $475 until March, after which attendance will run $600. That does not include meals, travel, or lodging.

I’m sure a good time will be had by all and am blessed to serve a parish that could afford to send me if I wanted to go. Still, in many cases, clergy and laity will be spending upwards of a thousand dollars and perhaps more if they wish to attend and, by design, I suspect the business portion of the meeting will run a couple of hours.

I am aware that most of the real work regarding legislation is done by the Provincial Council. The job of the Assembly is to approve or veto their actions as appropriate. Service on the Council entails an annual (as opposed to at least every five years) meeting and if one wishes to serve on the Executive Committee one must agree to attend quarterly meetings, the location of which varies.

All of that is fine, well, and good. I respect those who can commit the time and money required to serve but it does raise the question of what sort of clergy and laity can commit to such service. Many ACNA parishes are not large and not a few clerics serve in a tentmaking capacity, following the example of St. Paul in Acts 18:3. Attending meetings incurs expense, and even if those costs are covered by their parish or diocese, work still must be missed. That’s even truer for the laity unless they are retired, affluent, or self-employed and I suspect that it has ramifications for both bodies. As currently constituted the system limits participation. I suspect that in many cases it’s not so much that there isn’t a lack of a desire to participate but that it’s difficult to afford to.

I wish that I had a solution that would make it easier for more clergy and laity to participate in these bodies, but I do not. What I do know is that while attending meetings is often far from the most exciting way to spend one’s time it is important to do so rather than retreating into one’s own congregational cocoon. Clerics need to be churchmen, attending synods and assemblies and laymen should be encouraged to do so as well.

In 2002 Baptist pastor and theologian John Piper wrote Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry attacking the professionalization of the ministry and urging a call to a more prophetic role. While I share his disdain for professionalist careerism, I found his title a bit poorly chosen because I firmly believe that excellence should be our aim as we minister, whether we’re receiving a paycheck or not. That being said, as Anglicans we are a part of a connectional body and so, brothers (and sisters), we ought not be congregationalists and as long as we are we will be a loose confederation rather than the Province we aspire and purport to be.



The Rev’d Charles A. Collins, Jr.

The Rev’d Charles A. Collins, Jr., is Rector of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, a Reformed Episcopal parish in Savannah, Georgia, and is currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, South Carolina.

'Brothers (and Sisters), We Ought Not Be Congregationalists' have 2 comments

  1. February 20, 2024 @ 4:00 pm Sudduth Cummings

    Thank you for the good article! When I left the Disciple of Christ in order to enter the Episcopal Church while I was in an Oklahoma college (Phillips University in Enid, a Disciples of Christ school, now long closed from lack of endowment (too many clergy attended it!) I was happy to be part of an historical church with a long heritage and a connection to the early church. Like you I attended the Fort Worth gathering and was glad to leave TEC for ACNA. The godly bishop of Oklahoma, The Rt. Rev. Chilton Powell, who privately confirmed me (so my family could attend), admonished me from his cathedra to never forget the Biblical heritage I had received in the DOC. So, I have striven to always teach the Scriptures wherever I was serving. I used to enjoy attending diocesan conventions in order to get the free books offered by publishers back then (I was ordained in the new Dark Ages of 1971) While I rejoiced to be in a “connectional” jurisdiction, there is accuracy that many parishes do function congregationally, especially the ones with larger congregations. I think that’s even true in the much more tightly organized Methodist Church. The larger and wealthier churches can often write their own ticket, so do speak. It’s simply the nature of all institutions.


  2. February 21, 2024 @ 11:57 am Ven. Isaac Rehberg

    I very much appreciated this piece. I wonder how these dynamics can differ depending on how the diocese is structured. E.g., I’ve never been part of a geographic (i.e. more traditionally-organized) diocese; I’ve always been in affinity dioceses that are… geographically expansive. One thing we’ve found helpful was strengthening our local Archdeaconry/Deanery. The clergy have a standing monthly brunch, that is also open to other local ACNA parishes. Each church also agreed to contribute a bit of money each month to be set aside for the “three c’s”: Church Planting, Clergy Development, and Community Outreach. So, when we do things like an Archdeaconry-wide VBS, those funds apply. And we’ve use those funds to help supplement seminarians, retreats, etc. And we try to have clergy from the other parishes preach or preside from time-to-time. While it’s not quite the same as being heavily involved on a Provincial or Diocesan level, it’s a step in the right direction that we’ve found helpful. Of course, not every diocese is organized with local deaneries or archdeaconries. And not everyone has a plurality of close parishes to have such regular connection. But, again, we’ve found it very helpful in our own local context.


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