Anglican Building Boom Quietly Underway
Illinois Anglicans received welcome news recently: the state Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and will let stand a lower court ruling that awarded a diocesan endowment and property to the Anglican Diocese of Quincy. The move follows similar rulings in Texas and precedes an anticipated district court ruling in South Carolina that may favor Anglicans there. Anglicans’ recent good fortune at the courthouse is a dramatic change from years of mostly losing property trials to the Episcopal Church.
But while property lawsuits have been newsmakers in Anglican circles, several congregations have quietly pursued new building projects. In a denomination in which school cafeterias and storefronts have been regular places of worship, the construction of new church spaces establishes a physical footprint in the communities these churches serve.
Construction of new church buildings by Anglicans runs counter to nationwide trends, which have seen the building of new houses of worship decrease rapidly since 2002. According to the Wall Street Journal, construction of religious buildings in the U.S. has fallen to the lowest level at any time since private records began in 1967.
Much of the new construction has occurred in the southeast, which may be a consequence of both population growth there and a shortage of available existing church structures. In other parts of the United States, Anglicans seeking places of worship have purchased unused church properties rather than building entirely new ones.
The building activity ranges from small churches such as a $2 million project by St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Heathsville, Virginia, where the departing congregation lost their former property to the Episcopal Diocese, to large parishes like St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Tallahassee, Florida, which recently completed a $12 million project for a congregation that was newly begun outside of the Episcopal denomination. Several of the congregations, including Restoration Anglican Church in Arlington, Virginia, which completed a $4.7 million church building in September, did not yet exist during the height of Episcopal Church litigation.
These congregations join other churches like All Saints Church in Woodbridge, Virginia, St. Patrick’s Anglican Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Christ Church in Montgomery, Alabama and Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois that completed new church homes in recent years.
A handful of other congregations, including All Saints Anglican Church in Charlotte, NC, Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Raleigh, NC and Saint John’s Anglican Church of Americus, GA have also announced building plans. This summer All Saints’ Anglican Church in Springfield, MO and All Saints’ Anglican Church in Peachtree City, GA, completed and consecrated new church buildings.
The churches range from a modest colonial-revival brick building in the case of Restoration to a 30,000-square-foot gothic structure built for the congregation of St. Peter’s.
In addition to making the churches more visible in their communities and accommodating growth in the size of congregations, the new structures are allowing for new programs and events. St. Peter’s is partnering with Trinity School for Ministry to offer theological education far from the seminary’s Ambridge, Pennsylvania campus. Other congregations plan to use their news space for conferences, or to begin hosting programs such as Vacation Bible School which were impractical or not possible in leased spaces.
“Our new church is just the beginning of what we hope to build,” explained Fr. Andrew Rowell, associate rector of St. Peter’s Anglican Church. Rowell explained that the next phase of construction will be a parish hall that will accommodate a chapel, auditorium, gathering space for the parish and expanded classroom space. In addition to the seminary, the church hopes to build a school and facility to accommodate a resident boys’ choir.
“In sum, we hope that we soon, by God’s grace, have a campus that represents the new life that our Lord is breathing into Anglicanism in America,” Rowell summarized.
Rowell shared that many Christians from other denominations have expressed joy and excitement as the new gothic church has been built, and he hopes the new structure will be a light to the community and a sign of a vibrant Christian presence in Tallahassee.
“We hope what God is doing in us will be an encouragement to all believers, regardless of denomination,” Rowell explained. “In that vein, we pray weekly for a cross section of other churches in our area – Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, non-denominational, and more – as a remembrance that God’s Spirit is on the move in all the branches of His Body where the truth of Scripture is proclaimed and the Resurrected Lord is lifted up.”
The Anglican church buildings under construction each point to different parts of the Christian tradition.
Kristin Cummins, a laywoman who participated in the design process for Restoration Anglican Church, uses the word “timeless” rather than “traditional” to describe her brick church’s style.
“We didn’t harken back to the Middle Ages and much of the façade is more vernacular — pulling from different classical styles,” Cummins offered. “We wanted something that didn’t look dated in 50 years plus was a worshipful space whereby it felt uplifting on the inside.”
St. Peter’s went with a more ornate design recalling classical English gothic structures.
“It struck us from very early on that modern churches strive far too hard to do ‘contemporary worship’ in a way that seeks to be ‘relevant,’” Rowell explained of the design process. “Such efforts are not the nature of who we are as a community.”
St. Peter’s strove to design a building that was distinctively Christian and in keeping with worship rooted in ancient Anglican ways.
“We believe strongly that it is the distinctiveness of Anglican liturgy, when done with joy and energy and real faith, that draws people and so, of course, we wanted to build a building that reflects who we think we are,” Rowell described of the English gothic church.
“Someone in the community asked our Rector, Fr. Eric Dudley, ‘Why didn’t you build something that fits in with the architecture of Tallahassee?’ Fr. Eric replied, ‘We don’t want to fit in, we want to stand out; we want to be distinctive,’” Rowell recalled. “Gothic architecture was created as a distinctively Christian form of architecture, something that communicates the Gospel of Jesus through its very design.”