Anglican Fever: Youth Flock to New Denomination

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CHICAGO -- For decades young people have flocked to seeker-friendly churches that feature culturally relevant services and a casual environment.

Now, a new denomination that emphasizes tradition and centuries-old sacraments and practices is drawing them in.

The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) officially began in 2009 with hundreds of congregations that severed ties with the Episcopal Church.

In Albany Park on Chicago's north side, a group of college students and recent graduates have started one of the ACNA's newest church plants.

They worship on Sunday afternoons, renting a church building that's close to several university campuses.

New Denomination, Old Worship

While the congregants are casually dressed, the service has a more formal, liturgical feel and the students that CBN News spoke with say that's exactly what they like.

"I love the emphasis on Scripture. I love that we read four long passages every Sunday so you really ingest a lot of scripture each Sunday," said Andie Roeder, who studies at Moody Bible Institute.

"And I love the way it's interactive so there's a call and a response and you get to pray back and forth," she said.

Deacon Mike Niebauer, who oversees both the Albany Park congregation and one at Northwestern University in Evanston, said the liturgy builds community and helps students who often long to be connected.

"I think it's easy for so many people, especially young people, to feel like they're not anchored anywhere, not rooted in anything, particularly people who are very mobile" he said.

"So the idea that the church traces its roots back and its worship back 2,000 years to this very day is I think something that's very attractive," he said.

Anglican Fever

Archbishop Robert Duncan dubbed the movement "Anglican fever" in an address to the Lausanne Congress last year.

CBN News spoke with Anglican leaders who are witnessing college communities springing up, from Florida to Massachusetts and beyond.

A possible reason for the growth is the authenticity. Many congregations in the new denomination gave up buildings and property in order to break from the Episcopal Church and its increasingly liberal theology.

One of the worst cases happened in Binghamton, N.Y., where the Episcopal Church evicted the Good Shepherd congregation and then sold its property to a mosque.

Rector Matt Kennedy found out about the new owner while he was driving by the old property and saw a crane taking down the steeple.

"It was very sad," he said. "Because it is a place where generation after generation the gospel had been preached."

"People have come to know Jesus Christ, people have been brought from darkness into light and now it has been sold to a group that promotes the darkness," Kennedy added.

A Different Approach

While property battles are still a reality for many congregations, ACNA leadership doesn't want to focus on the courtroom drama.

Instead, the group is ambitiously planting new churches with a goal to double in size to 2,000 churches in five years.

The strategy involves combining Anglican tradition with modern church planting models from Africa.

"They're actually following some of their southern and global Anglican churches in how they're building churches using less trained leadership," explained Lon Allison, evangelism expert and director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

This is exactly what's happening in Chicago.

Rev. William Beasley has overseen the planting of nine Anglican churches in and around college campuses there. He said he expects continued growth with students.

"I think we're actually just beginning," he said. "We're at the very beginnings of something that's perched to grow exponentially."

What's drawing young people to the Anglican Church is what many would not expect. It's about sacraments, like weekly Communion and traditional prayers, that the entire congregation participates in reading.

"I like the fact that it's something that Christians around the world are saying, and that they've been saying it for a long time," said Wheaton College student Josh Melby who attends a church just off campus.

"I grew up in a Baptist church my whole life," fellow student Michelle Nelson added. "So coming to an Anglican church where there's liturgy and sacraments every week, I appreciate the tradition."

Moving Forward with Faith

Students also appreciate the church's global connections. The ACNA is part of the Anglican Communion worldwide and has enjoyed a close relationship with like-minded orthodox Anglicans in Africa and South America.

"I felt like my interest in missions and working with global poverty, those were all being spoken to by a very passionate body who's passionate about serving the poor and being there for the needy," Wheaton student Matt Jones said.

Another area of growth for the new denomination is in the Latino community.

CBN News visited a worship service in Franklin Park, a northwest suburb of Chicago. Hispanics there and elsewhere appreciate the Anglican worship style, its reverence, and its community.

In the end, what may also be drawing young people, Latinos, and others is the integrity that comes from standing for one's faith.

It's a process that has profoundly shaped the character of the ACNA.

"Whenever you have to lose something for your faith, be it a pension or a building, whenever there's a sacrifice, it's also a moment you can choose to go forward, without bitterness, without rancor, and you become refined," Rev. Beasley explained.

One of his congregations surrendered its building to the Episcopal church more than six years ago.

Today, that church has bought its own property and plans to move in next year.

In Binghamton, New York, Church of the Good Shepherd now meets in an old Catholic church -- perfect for its congregation which has doubled.

These are all encouraging signs for a young denomination determined to advance the Gospel and multiply the church.

Original air date was on Friday, December 16th.  

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

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