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TEC and ACNA

The “Anglican Church of North America” has been formed. What it will become is yet to be seen. From the outside it seems to be a bewildering mixture of structures, including rump former Episcopal dioceses, collections of congregations which were formerly parts of the Anglican Church of Canada, ecclesial extra-territorial missions of overseas Provinces which have established ‘mission’ in North America and appointed missionary bishops, an Anglo-Catholic society, Forward in Faith which developed originally as a coalition of ‘Catholic’ clergy and parishes within TEC after the ordination of women and at least one jurisdiction which created its own self-identity in the midst of the Catholic Evangelical disputes of the 19th.

What unites this disparate constituency is a common belief that there is no room at the inns we term The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada, the official Anglican Provinces of the Anglican Communion in this Continent. This is not the first attempt to create a common home for the alienated. In 1977 in St. Louis a Congress met which attempted to create a similar united alternative expression of Anglicanism. If anything the differences of appoach, even of faith and one must say personalities which made a shambles of that movement are even more pronounced in Bedford, where the new Archbishop will be enthroned tonight.  One significant difference is to be noted. This time those attempting to create “common cause” in Texas this week have the support and perhaps in an informal manner the oversight and counsel of overseas Provinces and dioceses and again in an informal sense those charged with leading ACNA have a larger constituency overseas to which they must answer. We shall see whether the “particularism” which seems to be in the American bloodstream south of the Canadian border will be as potent in ACNA is it is in TEC. The temptation to claim a special revelation vouchsafed to Americans and to be exported abroad has been manifest in both groups, although from different prospectives and both have been potent dividers in the Anglican Communion.

Three main problems face the newly formed ACNA, and they are all formidable. All of them in a sense limit the ability of ACNA to break free of its emotional and psychological attachment to that which has brought them to this point.  The first revolves around property disputes. I wrote to bishops and deputies to General Convention today suggesting that a trust or trusts be formed to administer disputed property and to enter into temporary agreements in cases in which a vast majority of parishioners in such properties wish no longer to be in TEC, negotiating leases, shared arrangements and creative solutions to take these disputes out of the secular courts. I was not encouraged by the responses I received, most of which accused those leaving us off stealing property or of being so bigoted against gay and lesbians that in justice they should be shunned.  Justice, I am told, trumps charity.

The second problem revolves around the language used to depose bishops and other clergy who have joined ACNA which, if language means anything at all, purports to laicise such clergy rather than merely to desprive them of the right to exercise ministry in Provinces in which they have no desire to exercise ministry.

The third is the problematic relationship between ACNA and the Instruments of Unity of the Anglican Communion which has exported American problems worldwide and threatens to destroy the unity of the entire Communion. If indeed the Communion comes apart because of what has happened here, ACNA will, whether it deserves to be blamed or not, bear a good deal of responsibility for a tragic schism, a responsibility in which it will ironically, be accused of sharing responsibility with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, to what extent perhaps is a judgment differently assessed by people on differing sides of this tragedy.

These drawsbacks into that which has happened harm both sides in the dispute. TEC and the ACofC have a psychological, territorial and monetary investment in their commitment to retain property, diocesan identity and to disown those who have left them. ACNA has a similar investment in retaining property, diocesan and jurisdictional integrity and the status of their clergy.

Thus the ghost of things past haunts both households. Both also are driven to defend what their part has been in all this and such a defense is capable of compromising the essential identity and mission of the church. Causes replace Gospel and self-authentication replaces mission. In such situations it is easy for both groups to become mirror images of each other, or other sides of the same coin, trapped in their own involvement like a couples in a lengthy, bitter and unresolved divorce.

Those of us in TEC who were once moderate “traditionalists” are now driven to the edge and wonder just how welcome we are in a growingly monochrome and less comprehensive Episcopal Church, a church now impelled to justify its narrowing “comprehension” to the rest of the Anglican Communion and capable of being as militantly reactive to anything and anyone whose faith is that of the Prayer Book and the Catechism as it has been to those who have left. Those of us who are “Communion Partners” are already being branded as schismatics merely because we wish to adopt an Anglican Covenant at diocesan level whatever the General Convention eventually decides to do once a Covenant is offered to the Communion.

General Convention has an opportunity to reach out to those who have left and to those of us who remain by adopting a language of charity and forbearance, the language of the Cross rather than that of institutional self-justification and protection. We shall see.

One Response

  1. Perhaps comprehension brings about its own downfall. If the weakness of ACNA is that it is made up of so many disaparate elements, isn’t it a weakness of the Anglican notion of “comprehensiveness” itself?

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