Here at The North American Anglican we’re dedicated to the classic Books of Common Prayer. We believe them to be an integral element of our Anglican identity, and we hope, in many ways, to encourage their use. However, we know that ministering as a traditional Anglican parish can be quite difficult in the 21st century, and so we’d like to begin to help. As part of that, we will be running a series of profiles on traditional Anglican parishes that are thriving, with the intent of sharing stories and ideas. If you know of other such parishes that should be featured, please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Saints Anglican Church
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Prayer Book: 1928 Book of Common Prayer
History: Founded in 1977 as part of the Continuing Anglican Movement. Joined CANA in 2008.
Worship: traditional hymnody
Anglican Churches Near By: yes
Growth: has grown from an average Sunday attendance of 70 in 2017, to 90 in 2019.
Growth Demographic: primarily young families who have moved into the area; some were familiar with traditional Anglicanism, but most were not. Fr. Isaac says that the bulk of the families came in via the website.
The picture of Anglicanism in the greater San Antonio area is one familiar to many large American cities: a smattering of Continuing churches from the various provinces placed next to a handful of ACNA parishes, mostly from different dioceses. You may not expect a 1928 Book of Common Prayer parish to flourish in such environs, but since Fr. Isaac Rehberg took over as rector of All Saints Anglican in 2017, the parish has steadily grown. They even planted another church!
For those who have been familiar with The North American Anglican for a while, this likely comes as no surprise: Fr. Isaac has shown himself a winsome communicator, as well as a kind pastor. After a few emails back and forth with Fr. Isaac, though, it becomes clear that All Saints has some things going for it beyond just solid leadership, and that’s what I want to dig into here.
One of the first things Fr. Isaac did when he became rector was to build a network of clergy and parishes throughout the city that could give both him and All Saints support. This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but you would be surprised at how many clergy I encounter who feel isolated in their cities, even when there are other Anglican churches around. So often we can sit in our ivory towers, sneering at the guy down the street who still uses Rite II, or the Anglo-Catholic that does Benediction, but I’m happy to hear that Fr. Isaac takes the opposite tack. To use the parlance of my upbringing, Satan thrives in the divisions of the Anglican world.
Often one will see a pattern of entrenchment in traditional Anglican parishes; after all, said parishes have chosen to stick with the old ways in terms of liturgy, so it’s common that this mindset of “conservatism” extends beyond just the Book of Common Prayer. All Saints, however, does not fall into this. With the ascension of their new rector, they scrapped their old way of planning year-by-year, and instead built a 5-year plan. With this plan in hand, it freed Fr. Isaac to focus on the specifics of Word and Sacrament, while lay leaders were able to take the initiative in other areas of parish ministry. He gives an example, “if our Daughters of the Holy Cross wanted to visit a nursing home, I would provide advice if asked, but let them determine the specifics of what they wanted to do. Or if the men’s bible study wanted to focus on a particular book, they were free to do so, so long as I knew generally what was going on. And I did not need to be at every event, every meeting, etc.” This strategy has been so successful that All Saints has phased out their children’s church and Sunday school, while replacing it with lay-led catechesis for children.
The final item I’d like to highlight is that of church planting. Perhaps the most common trend in older Anglican parishes is a sort of “circle-the-wagons” mindset. Isolated, aging, and low on resources, it can become easy to enter a “survival mode.” Not All Saints, though. As part of re-forming their mission, the church decided to stretch themselves and form a new plant. That plant is now it’s own parish, thriving and bringing Anglicanism to a new part of San Antonio.
Now, you may say, “this is impossible for us, we are barely getting by as it is! Our parish is lucky if we have ten people in it on a Sunday, and we were ‘planted’ back in 1874.” It is true that church planting resources are few and far between for traditional Anglican churches. We tend to lack youthful energy, money, and simply a good strategy for attracting folks to our strange services in an English from 500 years ago. This is something we hope to work on here at The North American Anglican: developing strategies and creating networks for Anglican church planters in the 21st century. If you are interested in helping us with that goal, or know of churches that have been successful in planting with a traditional BCP, please let us know!