New wine uncorked

Gerry O’Brien reflects on the future of relations with the Anglican Church in North America following last month’s debate in the General Synod

Events are moving fast on the other side of the pond in both Canada and the USA. Ten years ago virtually all Anglicans were members of the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) which later styled itself as The Episcopal Church (TEC) or, if they lived north of the border, of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC).

The last decade has seen disagreements within both churches. For many the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire was a defining moment and we have since witnessed the intervention of several primates from Africa and South America. Literally hundreds of parishes have withdrawn from TEC and ACoC to seek primatial oversight from elsewhere.

Hundreds of priests (including women priests) have been deposed, inhibited or released from their ministry by TEC and ACoC, and they now find themselves in good standing in one province of the Anglican communion, be it Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya or the Southern Cone, but ‘unfrocked’ by another.

In several cases whole dioceses have sought alternative oversight and we find bishops declaring that well-known leaders such as Jim Packer and Bob Duncan have ‘abandoned the faith’. Many parishes have become embroiled in costly litigation as dioceses lay claim to the church buildings where congregations have sought alternative (Anglican) oversight.

Challenging convention

However, one ray of light has been the emergence of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) which was launched in Bedford, Texas, in June 2009 with over 700 parishes which had transferred their allegiance to various non-American primates. The Anglican Communion was faced with the emergence of this new body whose very existence challenged conventional Anglican polity.

However, they held to the Scriptures, the Creeds, the Anglican formularies and even the Thirty-Nine Articles, and sympathy began to build across the Communion, including the General Synod.

There is a saying that if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. Many members found little difficulty in regarding the members of ACNA as being as much Anglican now as they had been ten years previously, and a private member’s motion expressing the desire for the Church of England to be in communion with ACNA attracted the signatures of a quarter of the members of Synod in just three days last July.

An even-handed motion

At the General Synod sessions in February this motion came up for debate. Lorna Ashworth proposed the motion but it was subject to one of those ‘Delete all after That this Synod...’ amendments from the Bishop of Bristol, at the instigation of the House of Bishops. The amended motion eventually passed by 309 to 69, a margin that exceeded the expectations of even the most ardent supporters of the original motion.

The motion ‘recognized and affirmed the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family’, acknowledged that this ‘raises issues which the relevant authorities need to explore further’ and ‘invited the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.’

The genius of the motion is that it is even-handed. It recognizes the divisions that have arisen between Anglicans on the other side of the pond, but does not seek to apportion blame. Hitherto members of ACNA have seen little evidence that the Church of England has done anything other than adhere slavishly to the rules and side with TEC. Now they see us as being inclusive, even-handed and willing to extend the hand of fellowship to all who desire to be in communion with us.

Keeping informed

My mole in Lambeth tells me that the motion provides everything they need, to engage with the Anglican Consultative Council, to come up with a commonsense solution, to sort out the ecclesiological disarray that characterizes the Anglican scene in North America.

So what can we do in 2010 while the wheels of the Anglican Communion grind away at brokering a modus operandi which both ACNA and TEC can live with? There is an opportunity for English parishes and clergy to invite ACNA clergy to visit, preach and celebrate the Eucharist, with appropriate notification to the relevant diocesan authorities.

However, it would be unfortunate if we provided a precedent by which TEC partnered-gay clergy came here to make high-profile public presentations. No doubt the ‘Mary Glasspool Tour’ is already being planned, so let us ensure that Archbishop Bob Duncan’s ACNA is not marginalized.

There is still a major job of informing many people, both inside and outside Synod, who try to take the middle ground and are either unaware of what has been going on in America, or are reluctant to believe what they hear. There are many good Anglicans who instinctively feel that America is a long way away, and that here in England we are somehow insulated from what goes on there.

If only that were true. ND

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