Anglican Church in North America Forms, Focuses on Mission
by the Rev'd Charles A. Collins, Jr.
Amidst joy, celebration, and a bold commitment to missions and evangelism, the Anglican Church in North America, a 39th Province (national church) of the worldwide Anglican Communion held its Inaugural Assembly from Monday, June 22 to Thursday, June 25th , at St. Vincent's Cathedral in Bedford, Texas (in the Diocese of Fort Worth, which voted to depart the Episcopal Church [TEC] last year). Comprising some 100,000 Christians in 700 parishes in 28 Dioceses, the Assembly represented a coming together rather than fracturing – and all too rare feature of the history of the Church.
The Assembly began with an opening service of Holy Communion in an overflowing Cathedral (overflow seating was provided both a gymnasium and a tent) in which the Rt. Rev'd Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh and the Moderator of the Common Cause Partnership whence the new Province sprang, preaching and the Rt. Rev'd Jack Leo Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth, celebrating. Bishop Duncan's message was one of healing to many who had given up much to remain true to their convictions – many of the attendees have given up property, substantial income, and some are in the midst of legal action brought about by the Episcopal Church. The service was, as one would expect in a Diocese noted for its Anglo-Catholic worship, marked by reverence and ceremonial but it was also a joyous service at which many in attendance noted a sense of relief and expectation at their reason for journeying to Texas.Following the service, the first business session approved the Constitution of the New Province in just under an hour and a half! The Constitution evidenced a clear commitment to Scripture and the historic teachings of the Church, outlines the entities initially forming the Province (the American Anglican Council [although not all members and affiliates of that organization went into the new Province], the Anglican Coalition in Canada, the Anglican Communion Network [as with the American Anglican Council, not all members entered the new Province, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina being a notable local example], the Anglican Mission in the Americas [a mission of which is in Mount Pleasant] , the Anglican Network in Canada, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, Forward in Faith – North America, the Missionary Convocation of the Southern Cone, the Missionary Convocation of Uganda, and the Reformed Episcopal Church [which has a significant presence in the Charleston area]), and defines structure and authority.
On Tuesday, June 23, the Rev'd Dr. Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist minister and Pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forrest, California, delivered the keynote address and encouraged members of the ACNA to maintain a commitment to missions and evangelism noting that “Great commitment to the great commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great communion!” In an especially relevant point to many of those assembled who had given up property upon leaving TEC, Dr. Warren noted that in the first 13 years of Saddleback Church's existence they met in 79 different locations before building their own facility; he noted a comment he had made at an earlier gathering of Anglicans: “You may loose the steeple but you won't loose the people. Christ did not die for property.” Later that day, in a move that surprised most present with its briskness, the Canons for the new Province were approved with little debate and in record time in a little over two hours debate and discussion. Immediately following the approval of the Canons, it was announced that the Missionary Convocation of Uganda had been transferred to the new Province with several other overseas Provinces granting recognition to the ACNA.
Wednesday, June 24, featured His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, Metropolitan of All American and Canada for the Orthodox Church in America as the keynoter. Metropolitan Jonah was warm in his greetings but warned that he would say something with which practically everyone present would take issue at some point! The Orthodox leader stated his high hopes for the new Province, noted that the early part of the twentieth century had seen dialog between the Anglicans and the Orthodox that had sadly been ended by the Anglicans, and expressed his earnest desire for renewed discussions, making it clear that he viewed the Anglican Church in North America as the legitimate body with which such meetings could and should take place. He then outlined several issues that would need to be resolved in such meetings before full relations could be established, among them the recognition of an all-male priesthood and episcopate (fundamental to the Constitution and Canons of ACNA is that the office of bishop is limited to men but the issue of female priests is an issue on which there is some disagreement with some member bodies – among them the Reformed Episcopal Church and Forward in Faith-North America holding to an exclusively male priesthood while other bodies ordaining both men and women), the recognition of the seven Oecumenical Councils of the Church, and a repudiation of the doctrines commonly known as Calvinism (this last point was controversial among many present). Greetings were also brought by representatives of other bodies as well, among them the Rev'd Dr. Roy Taylor, Chairman of the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals; Dr. Taylor also serves as Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America and, it could be imagined, would beg to differ with Metropolitan Jonah on the merits of Calvinism! It was rewarding and refreshing to hear the good wishes of so many fellow Christians.
That evening the Assembly moved to Christ Church in nearby Plano for the Investiture of the Rt. Rev'd Robert Duncan as the first Archbishop of the ACNA. Being one of 323 clergy – in addition to some 60 bishops – to process into that service was one of the most humbling and moving experiences of this author's life. Archbishop Duncan was installed by the Most Rev'd Leonard W. Riches, Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, which departed from the Episcopal Church in 1873, and was anointed with oil as he began his new ministry by Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya.
The next day, tired after an exhausting week but exhilarated by what had taken place, the Assembly was adjourned and the delegates and other attendees returned home with a sense that they had been a part of an historic event and inspired to be bold in proclaiming and maintaining historic Anglicanism.
As a priest in the new Province, I was encouraged and inspired by the preaching and teaching at the Assembly, the worship (which featured a variety of styles), and the fellowship that was enjoyed. Fully 25% of the delegates were under 25 years of age and meetings of Young Anglicans took place on two of the evenings of the Assembly. It was an honor to be united with many who have sacrificed position, security, and in some cases buildings in order to remain true to their convictions.
Metropolitan Jonah successfully introduced what may well prove to be the most controversial issue facing the ACNA – that of the ordination of women. Current policy allows for diversity on this issue, but time will tell whether or not a Province-wide consensus exists.
Also to be seen is whether or not the Archbishop of Canterbury, representing the Anglican Communion, will grant recognition to the new Province. Regardless of whether he does or not, several of the largest Provinces of the Anglican have already granted recognition and declared themselves to be in communion with it.
Practically everyone at the Assembly has friends and in some cases family who are still a part of the Episcopal Church, the General Convention of which will meet in Anaheim, California, in mid-July. Certainly they deserve our prayers and, for those seeking to preserve the faith, our support.
All told, it is a very interesting time to be an Anglican!
The Rev'd Charles A. Collins, Jr., a priest of the Diocese of the Southeast of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the Anglican Church in North America, is a graduate of Erskine Theological Seminary and serves as Chaplain for a local hospice