nineteen centuries in two paragraphs
The Church has had a foothold on the British Isles since the second century. Maybe you've heard of one of our earliest missionaries, a fellow by the name of St. Patrick? Or Thomas Becket? Or Julian of Norwich? These were a few of the great Christian souls nurtured in the English Church during the long centuries when there was still only one Church in the whole of western Europe. But it was at the time of the Reformation that the Church of England was born. Henry VIII & all that, to be sure; but it was courageous, godly men like Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, & John Bradford who led the spiritual, doctrinal, and liturgical Reformation of the Church. In their youth, they'd drunk in the forbidden "German heresy" - Martin Luther's evangelical theology - along with their ales. By the mid-1550s, when their reforming efforts came to nothing under the strong hand of Queen Mary, they were so ablaze with passion for the gospel that each one of them gave up his life for Christ at the stake. Before the fire was lit, Bradford turned to his young fellow martyr, John Leaf, and said: "Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night." Latimer, tied back-to-back to his friend Ridley, said: "Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." But Mary died, Elizabeth became Queen, and England returned to the Reformation. By the time the dust settled in the 1560s and 70s, the Church of England came to possess a unique profile, holding together a Reformed Confession in the Thirty-Nine Articles, a more "high church" or Lutheran liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer, and the Catholic church order of bishops, priests, and deacons - what's now called classical "Anglicanism," though that word wasn't used till 1817.
Not long later, in 1607, the first Anglican worship service was held on North American soil at Jamestown. After the Revolution, the Church of England in the Colonies morphed into the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America. Jackson Kemper, a missionary bishop, planted the first Episcopal congregations in Wisconsin in the 1840s, including a number here in the Waukesha County area. Sadly, in the twentieth century the Episcopal Church - like most mainline churches in America - walked away from the gospel of grace, the authority of the Bible, the orthodox Faith, and moral truth, and shriveled up in the process. Happily, at the very same time Anglican Churches in other parts of the world held fast to evangelical truth and grew in leaps & bounds: today, for example, there are some 20 million members of the Church of Nigeria, 9 million in Uganda, 4.5 million in Kenya. Starting in the 1990s, bishops from these "Global South" provinces of the Anglican Communion began to call the older, western provinces like the Episcopal Church to repent & come back to the gospel. When that did not come about, the hard decision was prayerfully made to form a new Anglican province in North America. This gave rise, in 2009, to the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Our parish is St. Michael's Anglican Church because we're a part of this new province & of the bigger global movement that it's a part of, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. But our deeper hope, beyond mere structural affiliation, is to recover the gospel-centered, scriptural, & confessional heritage of classical Anglicanism that our more immediate forebears in the past century or so lost sight of. Why? Because being a "real" Anglican is a trustworthy, wise way to be what C. S. Lewis called a "mere" Christian: a disciple or a church grounded in the bedrock gospel truth of Holy Scripture.