These have been challenging times for one of Tallahassee’s largest faith communities. The unexpected departure of the parish’s spiritual leader last summer shook the congregation to its core. Now the Anglican Church in North America has brought its first archbishop out of retirement to bring healing and renewal to the Capital City cathedral church of St. Peter’s.
The Anglican Church, or Church of England, dates back to 1534 and King Henry VIII’s famous split with the Catholic Church. But the Anglican Church in America is much more recent. It sprang from the objections of more socially conservative members of the nation’s Episcopal Churches, who then left those parishes in protest and affiliated with the more theologically traditional Anglican Church. Their objections included the Episcopal Church’s acceptance of female ordination, same sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. In Tallahassee, dozens left St. John’s Episcopal Church to form the original congregation of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, which was elevated to cathedral status earlier this year. That leads us to the man who took over the post of the cathedral parish’s dean back in December. “I’m thankful for this opportunity,” said Rev. Robert Duncan.
“It’s not what I expected or looked for. I actually expected to write some autobiographical accounts of these incredible years of Anglican reformation in these next two, years, but that wasn’t God’s plan.”
Reverend Robert Duncan served as the Bishop of Pittsburgh for two decades before being elected the first Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America 10 years ago. He served until 2014 when he attempted to retire. Instead, he says he soon learned the church was looking to update its venerable Book of Common Prayer, an important and tangible link between the American church and its English forebear.
“There came to be the assessment that the 1662 (book) was the standard for both doctrine and worship within Anglicanism,” he explained. “So the 2019 book is actually a fresh assessment of 1662; an attempt to be completely continuous on what it is that Anglicans have always believed and how they’ve always prayed.”
But no sooner had Duncan accomplished that formidable job, than the church had a new assignment for him. The newly elevated St. Peter’s Cathedral parish in Tallahassee, Florida found itself without a dean. The congregation’s longtime leader, Father Eric Dudley, had resigned this past summer amidst allegations of alcohol abuse and an improper relationship. Robert Duncan was sent into the breach.
“This is one of the half-dozen most significant congregations in the entire Anglican Church in North America,” he insisted. “In the midst of a difficult moment, the bishop of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese Neil Lebhar and the archbishop, my successor Foley Beach, both called me and said, ‘You need to go to St. Peter’s.’”
Duncan sees his role as essentially providing spiritual and administrational triage to a congregational patient in deep distress.
“Coming here first to stabilize staff, to deal with the issues that are there and to help all kinds of healing to take place. You know, wounds don’t heal unless they’re cleaned out or sometimes being cauterized. It’s how we’re made and how things are.”
And it’s a position he aimed to terminate as soon as practically possible.
“So my task is to give stable leadership while they search for our next dean and when they’ve made that call, I’ll disappear.”
But in the interim, the man who was until just five years ago the most powerful cleric in the Anglican Church in North America, is determined to restore the Tallahassee parish and its congregants to a pre-eminent position in the community and beyond.
“As I look at this cathedral church, what I see and what I think God’s vision for it is – and I’ll gradually help the people to test that and to see if that’s not the case – is that in worship, in discipleship and in mission, this cathedral church humbly and hospitably is to lead the Anglican movement forward.”
That’s a responsibility that formerly-retired Archbishop Robert Duncan hoped he can hand off quickly and return to a peaceful retirement in his beloved Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania.