Bishops, clergy, and lay delegates gathered from across the North American continent to meet on June 11-13 for the 54th General Council of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC). While the denomination broke away from the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1873, the REC has since joined common cause with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), signing on as one of its founding members. The Council was hosted by the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church and was held northwest of Philadelphia in the town of Blue Bell, PA. In its three-day span, the Council focused on missionary activities, reconciliation, and the election of a new presiding bishop.
During the first day’s worship, the Rt. Rev. Keith Ackerman, retired Bishop of the Diocese of Quincy, preached as homilist. He and then-Presiding Bishop Leonard Riches exchanged mutual forgiveness and reconciliation between the Diocese of Quincy and the Reformed Episcopal Church. They highlighted the mistreatment and ill-will that occurred between the Episcopal Church and the REC in Illinois during the Bishop Henry John Whitehouse and Bishop Charles Edward Cheney era. As successors of these two leaders, Ackerman and Riches joyfully announced that they recognized one another as co-laborers in the Gospel of Christ.
Following these events, the Rt. Rev. Royal Grote was elected Presiding Bishop of the REC without opposition. Similarly, the Rt. Rev. Ray Sutton was elected Vice President of the General Council without opposition. Both serve in the Diocese of the Mid-America. Retiring Presiding Bishop Leonard Riches submitted his final and poignant presiding episcopal report. The REC accepted the trial use liturgies of the ACNA for the Daily Offices and Holy Communion. Archbishop Robert Duncan, head of the ACNA, was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Reformed Episcopal Seminary.
Over the course of the council, delegates received greetings from many honored guests, including Bishop John Guersney of the ACNA Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, Bishop John Fenwick of the Free Church of England, and Presiding Bishop Walter Grundorf of the Anglican Province of America. The Council witnessed much encouraging news in the realm of international missionary work. Bishop Jasmin Millic of Croatia shared how the REC is not only planting new parishes, but also helping bring reconciliation to a land once fraught by bitter strife. Bishop Gerhard Meyer of Germany officially announced and disseminated German translations of the Book of Common Prayer. The Rev. Matthew Colvin shared about his family’s vital labors in teaching and midwifery in the Philippines. Finally, Bishop Charles Dorrington of the Diocese of Western Canada and Alaska reported that twenty-three new churches had been planted in Cuba. Throughout these presentations, the efforts and aid of Canon William Jerdan were often noted and appreciated.
On Thursday evening, the Council gathered for a banquet in honor and thanksgiving for the life and work of the Most Reverend Leonard Riches. Testimonies, speeches, and prayers from many friends and colleagues guaranteed a night that provided both uproarious laughter and many tears. It is commonly recognized that Bishop Riches was the main agent responsible for turning the REC away from a trajectory of “moribund polemics” and numerical decline to spiritual renewal and a passion for church planting. When Riches was still in seminary in the 1960s, Reformed Episcopalians were wont to declare, “The REC is small and good, and we like it that way.” In his testimony, the newly-elected Grote reminisced, “Presiding Bishop Riches created a safe environment where we could dare to dream and to have conversations about what direction that the REC could take.”
By most reports, both Riches and Grote are considered great visionaries within the REC. After his installation, IRD asked Grote about his hopes for the REC’s future. “We set out by keeping in mind something that Joseph Dawson Wilson had to say at the 3rd General Council of the REC,” Grote replied, “The REC was intended to be the restored episcopal church. It was to be the cause of the revivification of the Anglican Communion, which we now pursue, even in our own small way.” When asked about the REC’s contribution to the wider ACNA, Grote answered, “When you form a new group, there’s no history. What the REC brings is 141 years of faithful expression.” “The REC has been able to chart a path without division,” he added, “That is one of our charisms: contributing to the DNA of non-schism.”