Whenever there is a split within the church, it is a symbol of brokenness and pain.
A NEW, THEOLOGICALLY conservative, North American Anglican denomination is being born this month. It is a move that is to be both respected and mourned.
The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is the result of a marriage of 12 church organizations that have broken with the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church. ACNA will have 28 dioceses across North America, and one of those dioceses will consist of all of those Anglican churches that belong to the Anglican Network in Canada.
It is unfortunate that the conservative Anglican congregations no longer felt at home within the wide arms of the Anglican Church of Canada or The Episcopal Church. Growing differences on interpretation of scripture, especially around human sexuality, led to this separation on theological grounds.
ACNA will hold what it is calling its first “provincial assembly” from June 22 to 25 in Bedford, Texas. A draft constitution and a comprehensive set of canons (church bylaws) will also be presented for ratification at the assembly.
It is only the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), which met recently in Kingston, Jamaica, that has the authority to declare ACNA a province of the Anglican Communion. The ACC did not receive any formal request from ACNA. It takes several years for a body to be declared a province, and provinces usually are defined by mission and are geographic in nature, not created over theological differences. The creation of a new province also needs the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Anglican Church in North America says it has about 100,000 members, of which about 3,500 are spread across Canada. It is led by Archbishop-designate Robert Duncan, the former Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh. He says, “We’re very clear about our task; it’s to reach all of North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ. …We joined together to reconstitute an orthodox, biblical, missionary and united church in North America.”
The creation of ACNA is to be respected, if only because it comes from people who have strong convictions that this is the right thing to do. They will undoubtedly receive strong support from some provinces beyond North America which have expressed grave concerns over North American theological interpretation with respect to human sexuality.
But the creation of a theologically conservative province, if it comes to that, should be done properly. It should follow canon law; it needs both the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council. The Anglican Church in North America seems determined to move forward, whether or not it is duly recognized within the Anglican Communion.
Something else bears watching. Both the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church have broad theological arms, embracing a wide range of opinions and interpretations. When a small group of churches, priests and bishops leave that wide embrace to form their narrowly defined group, disagreements may arise.
Will this newly formed Anglican Church in North America become as united around what they stand for as they are united around what they stand against? Will they embrace conservative, evangelical Anglicans or will they strive to recreate the historic episcopate? The inaugural provincial assembly will face a true test of just how wide its conservative arms are when it considers its draft constitution and canons.
There are, thankfully, many conservative Anglicans who have decided to remain within the Anglican Church of Canada. The church needs to hear their voice and there needs to be theological space to listen to each other … within commissions, at our seminaries and theological schools, and within the various assemblies of the church. The Anglican Church of Canada, as a small part of the body of Christ, is strong enough to tolerate differences of opinion and pliable enough to change.