II. Jon Shuler and NAMS

Before I continue my personal involvement with the fledgling AMiA I’ll back up and take a look at someone who I never heard about until the AMiA was in a five-alarm fire six or so years later—that is Jon Shuler. Why Shuler? Well, in many ways he was one of the forerunners of the AMiA and the ACNA Shuler was carrying the banner for orthodoxy and evangelism within the Episcopal Church for decades. He gave a good overview of his history in these podcasts with Matt Kennedy last year: part one, part two.

I will bullet point some of the historical markers he mentions in those podcasts, and then follow up with some more history in another post.

  • Shuler was initially against the renewal movement with the Episcopal Church, which started in the Sixties and had links to the charismatic movement. He self describes as a Catholic Anglican who grew up being taught that he wasn’t Protestant. But what you fight you often succumb to and after spending time in Durham England at an Anglo Catholic parish (St. Margaret’s) when the Holy Spirit fell on the parish and people started being changed before his eyes. This was in 1972.
  • He became convinced that “Go and make disciples” was the mission that we are to be about.
  • He was an idealist who tried hard to work the system and reform the church.
  • In 1978 he went to a conference on evangelism. He heard about Pasadena and Fuller Seminary. He met a priest named Walter Hanam (not sure about the spelling) who had been a missionary in Alaska. The global Anglicans he met were influenced by Roland Allen, a dead Anglican missionary who wrote a book called Missionary Methods.
  • During this time, he started to believe that a larger parish could buck the tide of decay and decline that was setting into the mainlines. He was called to the Church of the Ascension in Knoxville, Tennessee, which had a thousand people on the rolls and maybe 440 who showed up on Sunday. He describes it as “full of itself.” His first Sunday there was February 5, 1984. (Note: Jim Haslam was on the vestry, to give you some idea of the local ties to the establishment.)
  • Ascension gained strength which allowed him to have more influence in the diocese as well as nationally. He traveled a lot, speaking and teaching, advocating for a missionary vision of the future.
  • However, he was also becoming aware that the liberal, revisionist wing of the Episcopal Church was gaining the ascendancy. He says that Edmund Browning was intentionally leading the church astray.
  • He had a great staff and a wonderful ministry in Knoxville, that he never wanted to leave, but the need was desperate.
  • He came upon two core principles: renew what is old and start what is new. He was not welcome to renew the old but had grace from God to start new things. So, in 1993 he founded the North American Missionary Society (NAMS). This was at the instigation of Alden Hathaway, the Bishop of Pittsburgh. Hathaway essentially wanted to create new orthodox Anglican parishes, whereas Shuler wanted Great Commission churches—a key difference that I think he would say persists to today within ACNA.
  • He believed that they could start new churches faster than liberals could kill old churches.
  • In 1996 he was invited to Little Rock, where a group of laity wanted to start a new church. They called Bishop Ed Salmon who referred them to Shuler, but it turned out that Bishop Larry Maze didn’t want them to start a new church. After a couple trips there pleading with Bishop Maze, Shuler returned for a third visit in October 96 where Bishop Maze also had an Archdeacon with him. Shuler says the Archdeacon was an enemy of God who threw him out of the diocese and was screaming at him, spittle flying from his lips.
  • NAMS voted to allow Shuler to help these people start a church, which produced a firestorm within ECUSA and lost him most of the support he had from American bishops.
  • At the ECUSA convention in 1997, Frank Griswold was elected presiding bishop. Shuler says it was well known that he was bisexual and having relationships with a man and a woman outside his marriage. Shuler expected some other bishop to stand up and say something, and even though they all knew what was going on, no one did. He particularly mentions Bishop John Howe, who he says disappeared.
  • Shuler came out of the meeting with the idea to find 50 rectors from parishes large enough to resist the pressure of ECUSA and do something. They got 28 rectors who flew to South Carolina and formed First Promise—something I will get into later.
  • One of the rectors of the largest churches in America signed the First Promise declaration, but by the time he flew home, he asked to have his name removed from the list.
  • The First Promise statement caused so much trouble so fast that Shuler recommended that they ask Archbishop Moses Tay for help. Tay was the Archbishop of Southeast Asia. Shuler knew he was bold for the gospel and was adamant about orthodoxy.
  • In January 1998 there was a meeting in Atlanta. “Nobody knew what to do next.” They hit huge opposition from many people they thought had been friends and who were orthodox. Someone suggested that they send three bishops to Southeast Asia. Shuler went along with them. Moses Tay put them in contact with other Archbishops and suggested getting the Anglican Primates together in Singapore for an emergency meeting. The thought was that the Primates would bring discipline to ECUSA.
  • Tay also asked Shuler if his bishop would allow him to come under Tay’s care. A week later he asked Shuler to move to Thailand. From 98 to 2018 he was canonically part of that diocese.
  • First Promise happening essentially killed the work of NAMS in North America. Instead, its work expanded across the world, but fizzled in North America.
  • Renewal movements started to coalesce after the First Promise declaration. Chuck Murphy suggested getting leaders together, and that became the First Promise roundtable. Murphy facilitated those discussions.
  • Three bishops gave First Promise a lot of advice: FitzSimons Allison, Alex Dickson, and William Wantland.
  • In April 1999 seven Primates came together in Singapore and (shockingly) decided to meet again in the Fall in East Africa. Shuler was not at this meeting.
  • The Primates of Rwanda (Emmanuel Kolini), Uganda, and Moses Tay formed a kind of triad. Secretly, they thought North America needed a new province.
  • Kolini was not persuaded that things in America were as bad as they were portrayed, so he came to the USA for thirty days in 1999. The Presiding Bishop took him around and Kolini saw that the problems were real. After this visit, he told First Promise to select three bishops, draft a constitution, and draft canons for a new North American province.
  • Shuler was asked to be on the committee to draft the constitution with John Rodgers and William Beasley. Shuler and Beasley flew to Ambridge, PA to meet Rodgers and hash out the rough constitution and canons. They found that Rodgers had already written it. They tweaked it. While there, at the house of John Rodgers, Shuler saw a letter on his desk from a David Pytches in England. Ptyches was talking about consecrations of new bishops. Rodgers was convinced that Tay had started a new Reformation.
  • The next meeting was in Kampala Uganda in November of 1999. The Africans had agreed among themselves that they would not take a stand if they were not unanimous. The Archbishop of Canterbury knew this meeting was going to happen and he intimidated Uganda to stand down. Bob Duncan and Jim Stanton were there. It was a tumultuous meeting. Chuck Murphy and T.J. Johnston were also there. Bob Duncan said to them, “we can’t fix ourselves, you have to come and help us.” Kolini and Moses Tay were walking back to the hotel together. On one of the stairwell landings, they stopped and talked. Tay told Kolini that if they didn’t do something now, no one ever would. Tay volunteered his cathedral to consecrate bishops.
  • Shuler flew from that meeting to a SOMA conference in Singapore. When he walked into the church, a priest came up to him and told him that he had heard that Moses Tay was going to make him a bishop.
  • Shuler did not attend the consecration of the AMiA bishops because his name had been bandied about so much. He says his name slips out of the record at that point, and I agree that in many ways it did. I certainly heard nothing about him for my first six years in AMiA.
  • Once the bishops were ordained, all the presbyters such as Shuler who had been part of leading First Promise were sidelined. Everything became about the bishops.
  • The consecrations immediately produced enmity within the ranks of the orthodox.
  • Enormous amounts of money were raised from Pawley’s Island to fund travel and keep the First Promise groups together.
  • At a meeting in Amsterdam during some Billy Graham conference, there was an agreement that Chuck Murphy and AMiA would lead those who were leaving ECUSA, while Bob Duncan would continue with the “inside strategy” we used to hear so much about.
  • Shuler sees AMiA as the outward facing mission movement, whereas Duncan and the ACN that he formed were a movement to keep what they had in ECUSA and purify it. He further sees ACNA as the equivalent of the Counter Reformation in response to the AMiA’s Reformation. Personal tensions between Chuck Murphy and Bob Duncan were obvious.
  • Shuler felt AMiA was creating a new jurisdiction, a new denomination/church and he did not like that. He went to Chuck Murphy and told him he would support him but to get out of his way would move to Charlotte to start a church that started churches.
  • In 2006 the conversation came to AMiA that they need to become a missionary society, rather than a settled church. At that meeting they were told they were being brought canonically under the canons of Rwanda. Shuler thought that was a mistake and had a blowup with Murphy. He asked if he could see the canons of Rwanda. Kevin Donlon told him that they only had the canons in French. Shuler told Murphy that if he got in bed with those canons, he would die by those canons.
  • The AMiA was attracting “pirates” who never wanted to be submitted to anybody.
  • The night before ACNA’s launch, Chuck Murphy passed out a piece of paper that said that AMiA would be a ministry partner of ACNA, not fully inside of it. Shuler thinks this started people within AMiA talking to each other and wondering what was going on. Shuler said something had changed with Murphy around that time.
  • An amazing amount of money was coming into the movement (GAFCON and AMiA) from the AMiA’s donors.
  • Shuler suspects that Chuck’s eventual brain cancer was already affecting him and his decision making in the years when he took AMiA out of Rwanda.
  • Shuler thinks ACNA is not doing things in a missionary way but is trying to preserve the forms that have failed to date.







3 responses to “II. Jon Shuler and NAMS”

  1. ES Avatar

    The Stand Firm conversation w/ Fr. Shuler was great. I first learned about Jon Shuler in 2009 when he was our parish retreat speaker. (I attended, still do, one of the then-AMiA DC congregations.) Gained more appreciation for his ministry from this effort. I’m now beginning to trace more of the history that I remained ignorant about for a long time. We need more oral histories with the folks who were there while they are still around. Appreciate what you’re doing with this current project.

    1. admin Avatar

      Thanks. Agree that we need more honest history. A lot of it is whitewashed and even more is unknowable because it involves donors and politics that are invisible to us unless insiders speak up.

  2. MB Avatar

    This is very helpful. At the time, it felt like God was really speaking to me against the formation of the new province, and I couldn’t figure out why. It felt like the Holy Spirit was being abandoned somehow…that we were disobeying Jesus to form a denomination and forget to follow Him in all things. I’m so glad you are writing this down. If we live by the Spirit, we are following Him. Setting a denomination is trying to take our control of it all. Lord Jesus, forgive us.

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