Attended the 57th General Council of the Reformed Episcopal Church
- June 12, 2023
- Steve Macias
As a presbyter (priest) in the Reformed Episcopal Church, I am also a voting member of the General Council. I recently had the privilege of attending the 57th General Council in historic Charleston, South Carolina. The council, which marked the REC’s first in-person multi-diocese gathering since 2017, was a momentous occasion filled with fellowship, celebration, and spiritual enrichment. The Reformed Episcopal Church General Council is an important assembly where Bishops, clergy, and laity gather to discuss and make decisions regarding the direction, governance, and mission of the denomination within the broader Anglican tradition.
A Historic Celebration:
The council held a significant place in our hearts as we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Reformed Episcopal Church. It was awe-inspiring to reflect on the faithfulness and preservation of our denomination for over a century. We praised God for His guiding hand throughout our history and the opportunity to commemorate this milestone together. With the alphabet soup and various schisms that exist throughout Anglicanism, this long legacy is worth celebrating.
This was my first visit to South Carolina and historic downtown Charleston. The Francis Marion Hotel, where we stayed and held out business meetings served as a comfortable base for our activities. Being within walking distance of the ACNA Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul and St. John’s REC allowed us to conveniently explore these historic sites and engage in worship. My wife Sarah was able to join me – which was out out-of-state first trip together (without our kids) in a few years. We got away from the General Council and indulged in the culinary delights of the South at a restaurant called Magnolia’s for mouthwatering fried chicken to their delectable shrimp and grits. Magnolia’s captures the essence of Southern cooking.
The opening Eucharist service held at the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul set the tone for the entire council. It was a privilege to worship alongside Archbishop Foley Beach, who gave us opening sermon. The mornings of the following days were equally enriching as we joined at St. John’s REC, led by Bishop Willie Hill, for Morning Prayer. These moments of collective worship filled our hearts with a profound sense of unity and purpose.
St. John’s used the prayerbook, but was certainly influenced by its black southern culture which exudes a unique vibrancy and soulfulness that is deeply rooted in the rich traditions of gospel music and spiritual expression. The infectious energy of the congregants, the heartfelt call-and-response, rythmic clapping, and the powerful harmonies create an atmosphere of joy, unity, and spiritual connection. The worship experience had another layer of meaning as I considered the history of this church itself. St. John’s was built by slaves for slaves while slaves. They worked as slaves during the day and built this church during their nights. The building currently owned by St. John’s was built as the Anson Street Chapel in 1850 by a group of free and slave black Presbyterians.
The General Council featured remarkable teaching sessions from the Most Rev. Dr. John Fenwick, the Primus of the Free Church of England. Bishop Fenwick’s sessions on the context and vision of Bishop George David Cummins, our founding bishop, were thought-provoking and provided valuable historical on the legacy of the Reformed Episcopal Church.
During the mid-19th century, concerns arose within the [Protestant] Episcopal Church over issues such as the centralized power of the bishops, the influence of Anglo-Catholic practices, and the lack of attention to biblical authority. Bishop Cummins, a prominent Bishop within the Episcopal Church, became disillusioned with these developments and sought to address these concerns by fostering reform within the church.
In 1873, after much prayerful consideration, Bishop Cummins made the difficult decision to leave the [Protestant] Episcopal Church and form a new body known as the Reformed Episcopal Church. This was also the subject of several talks by Bishop Fenwick, Primus of the Free Church of England. During which I learned that Cummins was likely influenced by the Old Catholic movement and the Utrecht consecrations that came in response to Vatican I.
Time for Fellowship
One of the highlights of the council was the opportunity to meet in person many of the priest of the REC that I only “knew” online. A harbor cruise dinner on Thursday provided a delightful experience, sailing through Charleston Harbor and past Fort Sumter. General Council also hosted the annual meeting of the the Anglican School Association (ASA), which hosts an annual dinner on the growth and development of Anglican schools. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of this ASA event, as it allowed me to connect with fellow educators, administrators, and supporters who shared my passion for providing a classical education rooted in Christian values.