Birth of a province


Warren Tanghe offers the clearest and most perceptive assessment of the new American Province, the complex network of groups involved and its uncertain prospects of long-term stability and Catholicity

In 2000 the Assembly of Forward in Faith North America (FiFNA) adopted a statement of purpose which called for the creation of'an orthodox Province of the Anglican Communion in North America'.

From its inception in 1989, FiFNAs predecessor body, the Episcopal Synod of America (ESA), had sought to create a secure place within The Episcopal Church (TEC) for those who held to that church's historic faith and order (which was none other than that of the Church Catholic) and to bear witness for that faith and order against efforts to change them. Over time, ESA recognized that nothing less than a structural solution was necessary, and therefore sought the creation of a tenth province within The Episcopal Church, as a non-geographic entity.

ESA proposals for such an internal province never made it out of committee onto the floor of TEC's General Convention. And at Philadelphia in 1997, the Convention adopted amendments to the canons which made discrimination on the basis of gender or of sexual orientation a triable offense. The Episcopal Church's rejection of the orthodox's plea for a viable, structural solution to the division created by the ordination of women was clear. While none of the orthodox seem actually to have been charged under these provisions, we had been made outlaws.

ESA took heart at the passage of Resolution III.2 at the Lambeth Conference 1998, which called on the Communion's Provinces to make provision for those who dissent. In the event no such provision was forthcoming; indeed, it was argued that such provision would violate the canons of TEC. ESA likewise took heart at the passage of Resolution III.6, which provided for intervention by the Primates' Meeting 'in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within provinces.' This, too, proved a false hope, as the Primates' attempts to intervene foundered in the face of TEC's assertions of its autonomy.

ESA and its UK counterpart, Forward in Faith (FiFUK) worked together closely during Lambeth 1998. The following year, ESA's Assembly decided to become part of the international Forward in Faith movement under the name Forward in Faith North America (FiFNA). FiFNA worked directly with two Anglican primates - one a Catholic, the other an Evangelical - to secure the creation of a new, orthodox Province in North America. It also worked with the leadership of two groups with substantial international connections, First Promise (FP) and the Ekklesia Society. First Promise arranged the first meeting with Primates and their representatives in Singapore in 1999, which included representatives from FiFNA.

FiFNA was likewise present at the second, larger meeting of Primates and their representatives held in Kampala, later that same year, at which Bp Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh emerged as a key leader. While FP asked that the bishops act to create a new Anglican entity for the orthodox in North America, they declined, saying that it was not yet time. But in January 2000, their elected president, Abp Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, decided that it was time, and together with Abp Moses Tay of S.E. Asia consecrated two American priests, Fr Chuck Murphy and Fr John Rogers, morphing FP into a new ecclesial structure, the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA). A number of parishes seceded from TEC to join AMiA, but its central thrust was and remains the planting of new churches and evangelization of the unchurched.

Although its bishops were consecrated under the constitution of the Rwandan Church and seated in its House of Bishops, the Communion did not recognize the AMiA. Further, the conservative Primates were angered that their leader had acted on his own. Although FiFNA wanted to see more provinces support the new entity, it continued in partnership with the AMiA, holding it to its promise to engage in a substantial theological study of the ordination of women as priests which led to its decision (on the basis of a process which included a vote in every congregation) against that innovation.

While few of its parishes contemplated withdrawal from TEC at this stage, small groups of members who could no longer worship in their TEC congregations regularly approached FiFNA to give them clergy and help them set up orthodox congregations outside TEC. To do this, however, FiFNA needed to be able to ordain priests to serve them; and to do this, it needed a bishop. At its Assembly in 2002, FiFNA appealed to the conservative Primates to consecrate a bishop to serve its constituency, and suggested the names of two priests for their consideration. But their negative response to Abp Kolini's pre-emptive consecrations meant there was no support for a FiFNA consecration. It would happen, but not yet.

FiFNA had entered into communion with the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), and in 2001 its Council articulated a two-prong strategy, to stay connected both with those working within the Communion and those who had left it, until it became clear what God purposed to achieve. For a time, FiFNA was part of the discussions with Rome which led earlier this year to the TAC petition. But Catholic Anglicans in the US are more Anglican in outlook than their counterparts in the UK, and more likely to treat Rome as their competitor than their mother.

Those within the FiF movement regard the exercise of priestly ministry by those who are not validly ordained, or the validity of whose ordination is uncertain, as of greater concern than the consecration as bishop of an 'open and notorious evil liver'. But it was the authorization of such a consecration by TEC's General Convention in 2003, together with the US and Canadian bishops' tacit consent to the blessing of same-sex unions, which galvanized the conservative provinces into action.

The variety of conservative groups in North America, each with its own agenda and competing for support from the different conservative provinces, was a central concern of those provinces' leadership. It was in response to the need to work and speak together, so that their overseas supporters could work with a single group, that Bp Duncan organized the Anglican Communion Network (ACN). It consisted of existent conservative dioceses which remained (and desired to remain) within the Anglican Communion, together with five 'convocations' for conservative congregations in revisionists dioceses. Four of these were geographic; the fifth, which covered the whole country, was set apart as the FiFNA Convocation for congregations which could not accept the ordination of women. FiFNA was able to participate actively in the ACN because this structure provided its convocation the same four essentials which the proposed free province in the CofE was meant to guarantee. Further, the ACN's leadership promised that it would undertake a serious theological study of the ordination of women, giving FiFNA an opportunity to convince the 'biblically orthodox' who accept this innovation that they contradict themselves.

The overseas Primates, however, came to regard the Network structure as inadequate, because there was no place in it for North American Anglicans who were outside the Communion - in particular, the several churches known collectively as the Continuum. To address this, Bp Duncan invited all North American Anglicans, whether within or outside the Communion, to gather as a round-table to make common cause. This group included one Continuing Church, the Anglican Province of America; the Federation of Anglican Churches in America, which represented the TAC, and other Continuing bodies which were not prepared to join the round-table, and the Reformed Episcopal Church, which had left TEC in the 1890s to embrace a more Calvinist stance, but which has since moved to a more classical Anglican position. In 2007, the round-table took on a more formal and substantive structure as a federation called the Common Cause Partnership (CCP).

Meanwhile, several provinces intervened directly. Nigeria established a mission in North America (the Convocation of Anglicans in North America) and consecrated two Americans and two Nigerians to lead it. Kenya and Uganda established missions and consecrated bishops. The Province of the Southern Cone likewise established a mission, but it was served by bishops from the dioceses of that Province; more recently, it has given temporary refuge to four US dioceses which have withdrawn from TEC - Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, Quincy and Fort Worth.

On 3 December 2008, the members of the CCP announced the formation of a new Province in North America. Some of the founding groups are dioceses or collections of dioceses: the missions sponsored by Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and the Southern Cone; and the Rwanda-sponsored AMiA. One, the American Anglican Council, is an advocacy group. Three to some extent combine ecclesial and advocacy roles: the ACN, the Canadian Network, and FiFNA.

The sponsoring churches of the ecclesial members are all Evangelical in character, although that tradition has developed differently in Africa than it has in the UK or US. Further, the Province is tied to last summer's GAFCON, a gathering that was dominantly Evangelical. This raises clear concerns that while Catholic Anglicans may be respected and honoured, the inertia of the movement will push them to its margins.

The CCP's theological statement was initially crafted to leave intact the understanding of the Anglican formularies on which the Oxford Fathers based their assertion of the CofE's catholicity. This was modified by the recognition of four General Councils, and only the Christological clarifications of the fifth, sixth and seventh (the formularies, of course, do not specify a number). Still, the document contained Abp Fisher's clear affirmation of the Catholic faith and constitution of the Church. That affirmation has been dropped from the constitution of the new Province.

Further, the new Province's constitution affirms GAFCON's Statement and Jerusalem Declaration. On the whole, these documents exhibit a more confessional' understanding of the Anglican formularies which leaves Catholics uncomfortable. While the GAFCON leadership was responsive to many of the concerns expressed by Catholic participants, the absence of nuance (which many in Africa see as a means by which Westerners evade the clear meaning of the words) in GAFCON's statements, and the limitation of the number of Councils to four, raises questions about whether this document can be an adequate platform for the assertion of the Anglican realignment's Catholicity (and for the place of Catholics within it). Will elevation, reservation, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament be accepted, for instance, or judged contrary to the Articles? What about statuary and icons?

The Province's constitution guarantees the right of each constituent member to decide whether or not to ordain women as deacons or priests; your correspondent is informed that its canons specifically disallow the consecration of women as bishops. This is, of course, a contradictory position, though it means that the protections afforded by the present federal structure are likely sufficient for the orthodox bodies for the short term. But can such co-existence, which signals in practice that the matter is at best of secondary importance, be acceptable over the long term?
Under its original constitution, the Church in Australia was a federation of dioceses. At various points its dioceses have felt free to opt out of actions by the national church, and indeed have sometimes acted independently; Sydney's decision on lay presidency is a case in point. The new Province is likewise federal in structure. Its constituent members 'each maintain all authority they do not yield to the Province by their own consent', as for instance by adopting the Province's constitution and canons, and are free to establish their own (different) governance, constitution and canons' within the Province's constitutional framework. But the fact that it includes several different sorts of members structured in different ways, while appropriate in a partnership, seems likely to make it difficult to function as a coherent ecclesial body.

There have been tensions between some of the member bodies of the Province in the past. Indeed, the CCP's provisions for the mediation of disputes between member bodies was put to the test shortly after its adoption; the new Province's constitution does not contain such provisions. The constituent members differ, not only with respect to structure, but also to character, priorities and strategy. Further, while the quality of the various constituencies' leadership is high, there have been tensions. The simple fact that more than one constituency may plant a congregation in proximity to another constituency's is a likely source of tension. The need to come together to gain primatial support for the creation of a new entity has kept these disparate bodies together to this point: but - especially in light of the Continuum's experience - there is reason to fear that it may not be able to stay together.

Further, some of these constituent bodies, while part of the new Province, are at the same time missions of overseas provinces, and accountable to them. Although the AMiA decided that women should not be ordained to the priesthood, its sponsoring province, Rwanda, altered its structure to provide for receiving and ordaining women under its umbrella.
While it seems likely that some of the overseas missions will be released into the new Province by their present sponsors, it is not clear that all of them will be. Will the three US dioceses headed by FiFNA bishops, now temporarily in the Southern Cone, become independent dioceses of the Province? And if FiFNA were a constituent member of the new Province, to whom may orthodox congregations and individuals still within TEC and desirous of remaining within the Communion look to represent their interests?

The new Province has been recognized by the GAFCON provinces, but not by the Communion. It has been widely reported that the GAFCON primates may seek to move its recognition at the gathering of the Communion's primates in Alexandria at the end of January. If two-thirds of them consent, the issue would then be brought to the Anglican Consultative Council in May. Others have pointed out, however, that procedural issues might delay any such consideration until 2011-12. Until then, the Province's relationship with the GAFCON provinces will not give it status in the Communion. And, of course, there is no assurance that either the Primates' Meeting or the ACC will choose to recognize the new entity; there is considerable resistance in the Communion to admitting an additional Province to operate where a Province already exists.

FiFNA has as its stated goal the formation of 'an orthodox Province of the Anglican Communion in North America'. Its membership in the new Province of the Anglican Church in North America created on December 3, together with the statements of its leadership, indicate that it sees the new Province as a step toward fulfilling that goal.

But the new Province, while collectively far more orthodox than TEC, is not orthodox. It allows the ordination of women as priests by those who choose to do so, and its statements suggest a Protestant bias. It may become orthodox, but only if a study is undertaken and leads to a common mind which each constituent member separately will embrace.

Nor is the new Province a province in the usual meaning of that word among Anglicans. It does not join dioceses in a coherent whole; it loosely confederates disparate and overlapping entities. It may become a coherent Province, but only if it manages to stay together and its members embrace a kenosis that allows it to develop clearer structures and a strong common identity; there is no certainty they will choose to do so.

The new Province, as it is now, is neither orthodox, nor a Province, nor of the Anglican Communion. But it is early days yet: the Province is only ten days old as this is written. Your correspondent is neither a prophet, nor a prophet's son: he cannot tell, in the providence of God, how the Province will develop and what it may become. But it is clear that the new Province declared on December 3, however much relief it may afford the beleaguered faithful, does not yet fulfil our hopes.

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