Thanks to David Harper, shepherd of 26 years; Nick Braunschneider, our new Joshua; & especially Joe Acanfora, our Moses.
During the service of consecration and thanksgiving for Church of the Apostles’ new church home in Fairfax, Virginia last month, I was surprised and filled with joy when I closed my eyes. Remaining behind closed eyelids was the image of the cross that was against the back wall of the chancel. I suddenly remembered how I used to love “seeing” that cross while praying at Church of the Apostles’ first Meeting Place. I had missed out on that experience for over seven years.
That Meeting Place was a modest structure also nicknamed “the warehouse” for obvious reasons. It was built in 1979 on land Apostles purchased from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Like other evangelical and spirit-filled parishes in the diocese, we had an interesting relationship with the Episcopal Church. But after years of attempting to “stand firm” for the gospel and remain, it became apparent that we could no longer live out our mission in a denomination that was abandoning Biblical truth and the Lordship of Christ.
Apostles and a number of other parishes voted to leave the Episcopal Church in 2006. We would henceforth identify as Anglicans, embracing and being embraced by leaders of Biblically orthodox Anglicanism in the Global South. That was a costly decision for all of us.
In January 2012, NPR spoke to the Reverend David Harper (rector of Apostles from 1986 until his retirement late in 2012) about what transpired with that decision:
According to David Harper. . . “The Episcopal Church has developed a scorched-earth policy.” Harper says that in late 2006, when the seven churches decided to leave, they worked closely with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to do what had been done in other states — figure out a way to stay out of court and pay the diocese to stay in their church. But one day, Harper says, the negotiations fell apart. The Episcopal bishop told him, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”
Katharine Jefferts Schori. . . had just become presiding bishop of the national Episcopal Church in late 2006 when she told the Diocese of Virginia to stop negotiating. . . .Within weeks, the Diocese of Virginia and the national Episcopal Church sued the Anglican churches. Initially, the judge in the case ruled in favor of the breakaway congregations, but after being reversed on appeal he awarded almost everything to the Episcopal Diocese.
After losing that last court battle we were forced to surrender all of our assets – building, land where we had intended to build a new church home, finances, and material property – to our former denomination.
In February 2012, as we prepared to depart into our years of exile, it seemed appropriate that our last two gatherings at The Meeting Place were the Ash Wednesday Service and The Father’s Blessing. Ash Wednesday ushered in the season of Lent. Through human eyes, it seemed as if we were entering a long Lent, longer than we had ever known before. We left our home first for rented shared space with another local church and most recently for renting a local elementary school.
But the very last service at The Meeting Place was our regular Friday service of prayer, praise, and healing – known as The Father’s Blessing. It was a time in which God revealed His Father-love and blessings to people from both inside and outside the church. People were healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually during those times of worship. And as our last hurrah, it was a way for us to say that we trusted God for whatever the future would hold. And that we would continue to be the Church of the Apostles God created us to be.
We took our name seriously. An apostle is a “sent one,” someone who is sent on a mission. A founding member of Apostles’ Praise Band, Lynn Dobbins, wrote a song that included our mandate from God:
Apostles of love, that’s what I call you,
Apostles of love, go in My power.
Jesus in you, the Hope of Glory:
Apostles of love, go with Me.
Apostles of love, go with Me.
From just my own limited perception, Church of the Apostles has been used by God in some extraordinary ways, going in Jesus’ power to be an instrument of healing to both the nation and the nations. Here are just a few of the more unusual examples:
- In the early 1980’s we had a visit from a Ugandan pastor, Kefa Sempangi. Sempangi told us about the horror and deprivation Ugandan Christians were enduring under Idi Amin. We took up a collection to help. I can’t remember how much we raised, but I will never forget that several families put second mortgages on their homes and another family gave up their plans to renovate their kitchen in order to provide, among other things of course, “soap and salt” for displaced Ugandan Christians.
- For over 27 years Church of the Apostles has been a regular member of “The Grate Patrol,” a feeding program for the homeless in Washington, DC who sleep on the city’s steam grates. Volunteers bring home-cooked soup and sandwiches and baked goods to the street people, serving from The Salvation Army’s canteen truck. One of the leaders of this ministry was Angie Houtz, a civilian Naval Defense Intelligence specialist who died at the Pentagon at age 28 in the 9/11 terrorist attack.
- Apostles has supported over a dozen of our own long-term missionaries over the years, and has sent church members on dozens of short-term missions. One place where we have had five or six short-term missions is a place that few American Protestant Christians have ever been! I led the first three of those mission trips, to Crossmaglen and Darkley, South Armagh in Northern Ireland. These mission trips were about ten years before the historic Good Friday agreement. When our bus, driven by our friend Ian Bothwell, leader of Crossfire Trust ministry rolled into Crossmaglen, the British soldiers were on duty in high towers all around the town square. Over 32 years later, I am still in contact with about a dozen of the then children and teenagers from Crossmaglen and Darkley.
- In 1990 Church of the Apostles held an “Eastern European Festival” with Christian friends from various denominations from four different Eastern European nations: Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and (then) East Germany. We shared their joy in the advances for freedom in their nations, celebrated the Lord together with them, and prayed for the healing of the nations and the complete end of Soviet oppression. And before that Soviet oppression ended, we had a short-term mission trip to Moscow and to Yerevan, Armenia to work with former Soviet prisoner of faith Alexander Ogorodnikov and others.
- We may also be the only American Anglican (Episcopal then, of course) parishes to ever host two Vice Presidents of Sudan. Heck, we may be the only American church, period, to ever do it. A member of the Church of the Apostles, the late Herb Pearce, was part of the first Episcopal Diocese of Virginia mission trip to Sudan in the early 1990’s and we were part of a partner relationship with the Diocese of Renk in what was then Sudan, now South Sudan. Through Herb we hosted the Honorable Abel Alier who was made Vice President of Sudan because of the Addis Ababa agreement and served from 1971-1982, when the agreement was dishonored by Numeiri and Sharia was imposed on all of Sudan. In 2005, not long after the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South, we hosted the newly designated 1st Vice President of Sudan and President of the South Sudan Regional Government, Dr. John Garang. Over a thousand Sudanese and South Sudanese people showed up at The Meeting Place to see Dr. Garang, who died in a helicopter crash not long afterwards.
With such experiences in our past, it is exciting to imagine what God has in store for us in our new home. We have learned much in our seven+ years of exile.
We have understood what a blessing it is to suffer – in the tiniest bit – for the sake of the Gospel, knowing the tremendous suffering that our brothers and sisters around the world endure. We have realized that what man meant for evil, God used for good. As part of the Global Anglican Future (GAFCON) we are part of an extraordinary community of the faithful Anglicans from across the world. We are under the godly leadership of the Rt. Rev. John Guernsey in the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, and part of the Anglican Church in North America under the godly leadership of our Archbishop, the Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach.
Now we have installed again our cross, so lovingly built by some of the founding members of Church of the Apostles. We didn’t quite do the Children of Israel gig where we carried that cross wherever we went like they carried the Ark of the Covenant. It’s a big cross! 360 lbs! The carpenters replicated the size of the one on which Jesus was crucified. But like Israel, entering the Promised Land and bringing their wilderness Tabernacle and the presence of the Lord with them, we have come home to a new community to which we can show the love of Jesus. And the God who has never left us or forsaken us will continue to be present with us in our new home.