North American Anglican group holds inaugural gathering

Episcopal News Service. June 25, 2009 [062509-01]

Pat McCaughan

The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), a new entity composed mainly of groups that have left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, concluded its four-day inaugural assembly June 25 in Bedford, Texas.

"We are oriented toward a hopeful future that has been at the heart of this week. We are reaching out to North America in particular and the whole world with the transforming love of Jesus Christ," said former Episcopal Church bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who was installed as archbishop of ACNA.

About 700 laity and clergy from Canada and the United States attended the gathering. Nine Anglican provinces, from as far away as Africa, Asia and South America, sent official delegations indicating their support, he said.

Guest speakers included the Rev. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and Metropolitan Jonah, spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church in North America.

Duncan said the ACNA had been officially recognized by Anglican provinces in Uganda and Nigeria, the Anglican Communion's two largest provinces, representing tens of millions of worshippers. "We are in the process of being recognized by and partnering with churches around the world," Duncan said.

He told a reporter that although he is in frequent communication with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the two had not spoken since the gathering began June 22.

"We are part of something big," Duncan added. "God isn't just bringing Anglican Christians together. Across the Church, people are re-embracing Scripture's authority. Christians are once again discovering the beauty, wisdom and grace of our 2,000-year-old tradition."

A group in Pittsburgh that wishes to remain loyal to the Episcopal Church noted that ACNA has inherited ongoing litigation over property claimed by the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada in California, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Texas, British Columbia and elsewhere.

"Despite the ACNA's grand words, the new organization is being built largely with assets belonging to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. It is unclear what Christian moral principles can be invoked to justify this," said Pittsburgh attorney Kenneth Stiles, vice president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, a group that wishes to remain loyal to the Episcopal Church.

ACNA delegates worked to ratify constitution and canons for what they are defining as a new province, said Cheryl Chang, of the Anglican Church of Canada and a member of the governance task force.

"Our task was to ensure that the structure was supporting the mission, not the mission supporting the structure," she said. She said the group wants a "minimalist structure" and sought to regularize "practical obstacles" like differences in entities, cultures, legal systems and charitable rules. "Some are called jurisdictions, some clusters, but in principle, they act similarly," she said. The new structure would work across jurisdictions, she added.

Dr. Michael Howell, executive director for Forward in Faith North America, alluded to "differences" among the group while speaking to reporters. He praised the gathering, but added: "Let's not distort things. There are significant differences … and there will be challenges in addressing them, but I believe we will be able to address them as Christians."

Bishop Martyn Minns, missionary bishop for the Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America, an initiative of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, said the gathering places the group "within the mainstream of Anglicanism," adding that "we are not doing anything new. We are establishing that we want to stay within that mainstream and not go off into tangents … like the Episcopal Church."

He added that the group will continue to seek and to build relationships among other like-minded Christians who hold "traditional" beliefs.

According to a news release, ACNA represents some 100,000 Anglicans in 700 parishes and numerous organizations including "28 dioceses and dioceses-in-formation" including: Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy and San Joaquin. A majority of members of the four dioceses voted to disaffiliate from The Episcopal Church.

A majority of members of the dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy and San Joaquin cited theological differences over the ordination of women and gays and, during the period from December 2007 to November 2008, voted to sever ties with TEC. In most cases the dissident congregations have realigned themselves with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone and attempted to retain property.

The dioceses removed the word "Episcopal" from documents and congregations and replaced it with "Anglican," although TEC is a member church in the Anglican Communion, which includes 80 million members located within 44 regional and national member churches in 160 countries.

Episcopal dioceses continue in each of those areas.

The House of Bishops on September 18 voted to depose Duncan, who had served as Bishop of Pittsburgh, and authorized Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to remove him from active ministry. Former bishops from the three other dissident dioceses no longer serve in active ministry in TEC.

Officials of the Episcopal Church and of the Anglican Church of Canada did not comment on the ACNA assembly.

The ACNA press release also cited as members of the new entity: the Anglican Mission in the Americas (including the Anglican Coalition in Canada); the Convocation of Anglicans in North America; the Anglican Network in Canada; the Reformed Episcopal Church; and the missionary initiatives of Kenya, Uganda and South America's Southern Cone. The American Anglican Council and Forward in Faith North America are also founding organizations.