[Episcopal News Service] A year ago, a congregation in Indianapolis, Indiana, known as “The Table” voted to leave the Anglican Church in North America, or ACNA, and pursue affiliation with The Episcopal Church. Now, The Table is in the final stages of that process, with the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis poised for possible reception of the congregation and its three priests by the end of the year.
“They’re pretty fantastic folks,” Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview. “One of the things that I appreciate about them … is their deep commitment to discipleship and formation – the things we long for in our churches.”
Baskerville-Burrows and diocesan staff worked with the presiding bishop’s office to ensure they were following the proper canonical process for receiving The Table into The Episcopal Church – while also being sensitive to the pain some Episcopalians still feel over ACNA’s roots as a schismatic movement.
ACNA dates to 2008, when several Episcopal bishops and other clergy led some Episcopalians out of The Episcopal Church over theological disagreements with church’s increasingly progressive stances on women’s ordination and LGBTQ+ inclusion. Those schisms predated The Table, which formed in 2016 as part of a church-planting ACNA diocese known as Churches for the Sake of Others, which is not a geographically specific diocese.
In recent years, clergy and members of The Table found themselves increasingly out of step with their denomination on a range of issues, including the congregation’s engagement with questions of racial justice after the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. The congregation, in its October 2022 announcement that it was leaving ACNA, also said it was committed to “resisting patriarchy and empowering women to fully lead in the church.” Though some ACNA dioceses, including Churches for the Sake of Others, ordain women as priests, ACNA does not allow women to become bishops.
Since The Table’s announcement, a second ACNA congregation also has chosen to leave the denomination. Resurrection Anglican Church in Austin, Texas, announced in July 2023 that it would pursue affiliation with the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Like The Table, Resurrection had been planted as a part of ACNA’s Churches for the Sake of Others and was not involved in the schisms of the previous decade.
The Table’s Sunday worship services typically draw about 85-90 people, in space provided by Broadway United Methodist Church on East 29th Street in Indianapolis. The congregation is led by three co-rectors: the Rev. Ben Sternke, the Rev. Matt Tebbe and the Rev. Spencer Ruark. The three spoke to ENS by Zoom this month as they took the final steps to be received as Episcopal priests.
“One of the pulls was that who we were as a church so closely aligned with the mission and vision of the [Episcopal] Indianapolis diocese here,” Tebbe said. They have been in conversations with diocesan staff for the past two years and have been welcomed warmly so far by the diocese.
“I’m really excited,” Ruark said. “It feels like we’re stepping into something that has a lot to offer us, as far as its rootedness and tradition. … I hope that we have something to offer as well at The Table.”
Sternke and Tebbe were ordained as ACNA priests in 2016 and Ruark in 2020. This month, they attended a retreat for those seeking ordination in the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, and the three have met with its standing committee and commission on ministry as part of the interview process for being received as Episcopal priests.
Sternke said that process has been sobering, and he appreciates the seriousness with which the diocese treats ordination and the priesthood. He and his co-rectors were raised in evangelical traditions before joining ACNA, and now the affiliation with The Episcopal Church feels like a natural progression for them.
“In some ways it’s the culmination of a long journey that began maybe a couple decades ago,” Sternke said. At the same time, “it feels like a new beginning.”
The canonical process of welcoming The Table involves two components. Under the church’s Canon I.16. the congregation has been received as an affiliated congregation, with Baskerville-Burrows’ consent and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s approval. The next step would be for The Table to become part of the Diocese of Indianapolis, as a mission congregation, which is on track for a vote at the diocesan convention Nov. 10-11.
The second component is the reception of The Table’s three priests, under Canon III.10.3, which pertains to “clergy ordained by bishops in churches in the historic succession but not in full communion with this church.”
In consultation with Curry, the Diocese of Indianapolis is in the process of applying enhanced scrutiny to the three priests’ ACNA ordinations to ensure they meet the appropriate criteria for “regularity.” The priests also must abide by the canons’ rigorous requirements, from providing nominations, written statements and seminary transcripts to demonstrating their understanding of Episcopal history and doctrine and showing “evidence of moral and godly character.”
Once that process is complete, the three can be received as Episcopal priests, possibly this December.
“It’s been a pretty meticulous process, because we’re aware that this is not something we have a lot of precedent for,” Baskerville-Burrows said. “We wanted to make sure that we’re above reproach and taking good pastoral care of both the people and the clergy who will be joining us.”
At the same time, clergy and congregations in the Diocese of Indianapolis have been getting to know The Table with a sense of excitement, she said. “There’s just a lot of ways in which becoming one has already begun to happen.”
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.