Speaking to the Anglican Mission in America’s (AMiA) Northeast Network Mission & Ministry Conference in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, has afforded me a unique opportunity get to know some old friends much better and to make many new friendships as well. Today Mark Rudolph gave a homily before I spoke in the morning conference session. He showed how the AMiA movement is rooted deeply in suffering and death. The reason he could say this is simple—these AMiA pastors submit to the bishop of Rwanda. Even Missionary Bishop Thad Barnum serves under the leadership of the Rwandan Bishop. Indeed, he is a "missionary" bishop within North America serving under the Rwanda Church.
For those of you who do not understand this polity what this means is that the American churches are under the spiritual oversight of a bishop in Africa who oversees their work here in the U. S. as a mission directed from Africa. This, in itself, is remarkable. It is nothing short of a historic turn of events. A church formed by Western missionaries in Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries is now overseeing a new mission church in the West by ordaining a missionary bishop to serve the people of Christ within America. This makes the whole feeling and context of AMiA quite different than that of any church fellowship I have been around in the U.S.
The bishop of Rwanda knows suffering firsthand. He also understands racial and human reconciliation, because of the ethnic and racial wars in his land, in ways that Americans simply have never experienced. The result of this is that the life in these human relationships flows directly out of death in Rwanda into the need of the American Church for real power and authority, something that can ultimately come only to those who suffer. I cannot explain the sense of reality that I felt as Bishop Barnum shared some of this reality with me after the morning session today.
I have been suggesting, for some years, that the American Church will not know real power again until we come to know real suffering. Somehow I believe one part of this equation is what I have seen over the last two days. Men and women hungering for God—living in fellowship under the care of a leader who has come to his place of authority by being mentored in suffering—is what we so desperately need in America now. This is so real and it just seems clear to me that God is at work in it. I have so much to learn from this experience. I feel more and more impressed to call the American Church to prepare for suffering. I have a sense of personal freedom to undertake this calling. I pray God will grant me the strength to do it well. I have no idea where this goes but I am sure God will go with me.
I am personally convinced that the next great movement of God’s Spirit in America will prepare us to suffer in ways that we have never known. May those of us who lead the church lead the way.
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This is an incredible story. Pretty neat how God works. At the same time, it reminds me once again of the simple truth in Ecclesiastes – there is nothing new under the sun, is there? Life and history are very cyclical!