Anglican Church in North America: A new province or a new church?

Published January 5, 2009

Leaders of the Common Cause Partnership, a coalition of conservative Anglicans in Canada and the U.S., released a draft constitution on Dec. 3 for a new Anglican province that they propose will be defined by theology rather than a geographic location.

Gathered in Wheaton, Ill., leaders of the partnership, which they say represents about 100,000 Anglicans (3,000 in Canada) – those who have left the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the U.S. largely over blessing same-sex unions and the ordination of an openly gay bishop – outlined their vision for the new Anglican Church in North America.

According to Bishop Robert Duncan, who led the diocese of Pittsburgh out of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and is the provisional leader of the new province, the future of this new body may go further than being a parallel province operating in the same geographic regions as the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada; it may become a rival church. “I think what the Lord is doing is that the Lord is displacing the Episcopal Church,” Bishop Duncan said. “The Episcopal Church has been in extraordinary decline,” he added. “We are a body that is growing, that is planting new congregations, that’s concerned to be an authentic Christian presence in the U.S. and Canada.”

Bishop Duncan acknowledged that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are still the only churches recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the structures of the Anglican Communion. But he said there is a new emerging reality, referring to support from conservative national archbishops who met in Jerusalem for the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in June and who asked the Common Cause Partnership to create a constitution for a new province.

Soon after the announcement, the GAFCON primates, whose provinces comprise up to 40 million Anglicans, mainly in Africa, issued a statement of support and blessing for the formation of the new province.

Common Cause leaders hope that GAFCON primates will advocate for the new province when the primates meet in Egypt in February. Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) Bishop Donald Harvey recently warned of dire consequences for the global communion if the primates meeting in Egypt reject the idea of the new province. “It would be painful and cause decisions to be made that would be unfortunate for the communion as a whole. It would cause more fragmentation,” he said.

Bishop Duncan said the new documents will be sent to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. “What the Archbishop of Canterbury will do as this province emerges is for him to say,” he said. Leaders of the partnership have said that they would like to have the blessing of the Archbishop, but they will move forward even without it.

A spokesperson for the Archbishop of Canterbury responded to news of the formation of a new province: “There are clear guidelines set out in the Anglican Consultative Council reports, notably ACC 10 in 1996 (resolution 12), detailing the steps necessary for the amendments of existing provincial constitutions and the creation of new provinces,” the spokesperson said. “Once begun, any of these processes will take years to complete. In relation to the recent announcement from the meeting of the Common Cause Partnership in Chicago, the process has not yet begun.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, recently said that he finds the idea of creating a new province defined by theological differences “disturbing.” And he was critical of the plan to proceed with or without the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury. “Part of the essence of being Anglican is that you are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury,” he said.

Archbishop Hiltz added that it is an assumption, perhaps a “huge assumption,” to think that the views of the GAFCON primates accurately represent the views of the millions of Anglicans in their provinces. He asserted that many other views were represented at the Lambeth Conference (the decennial meeting of Anglican bishops around the world), which he characterized as having a spirit of openness, good will and a general determination to find ways to keep the communion together. “It has become more and more clear that those associated with GAFCON are not so committed to building bridges and keeping in conversation but rather to separation,” he said.

Despite such objections, plans for the new province continue. Canon Charlie Masters is the general secretary of the Common Cause Partnership and also serves as the executive director of ANiC, which held its first synod in November in Burlington, Ont. ANiC members are excited about the new province, he said. “We feel that this province represents Anglicanism at its best.” Mr. Masters expressed ANiC’s gratitude to Archbishop Gregory Venables, who made a controversial decision to take clergy and congregations leaving the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the U.S. into his jurisdiction in the Southern Cone. “We’ve always known that the offer of care which came through Archbishop Venables and the Southern Cone was, by definition, temporary and emergency.”

Mr. Masters noted that the constitution won’t be ratified until delegates at the provincial assembly in Texas vote on it in the spring.


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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