Leader: A new Church in the United States

10 December 2008

WHETHER it is viewed with sympathy or suspicion, there is no doubt that the new Anglican Church in North America changes the Anglican map. To be more accurate, it lays a new map (a relief map, perhaps?) on top of the old one, so that in his otherwise factual article (See Comment ) the new Archbishop, the Most Revd Bob Duncan, can say artlessly that the charge of boundary-crossing, condemned by the Windsor report, “is most effectively and completely addressed by general acceptance of the new province”. Although territorial confusion matters less where a church is defined more by congregational membership than place of abode, the parish ideal is none the less strong.

When a new state declares independence, the international community decides whether or not to recognise it by measuring it against a set of standards. In this instance, does the new Church have integrity? On the subject of territorial dis­tinctiveness, as we have seen, the jury is still out. Is it Christian? Undoubtedly: it is as faithful a realisation of Christ’s will as any Church manages to be. Is it Anglican? Yes and no: its worship is, but its formation without any reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, or the Primates’ Meeting suggests otherwise.

Is it viable? Because most attention has been given to the various groups that the new Church has split from, the remarkable nature of its unity has been overlooked. The new partnership embraces both the high-church Forward in Faith North America and the low-church Reformed Episcopal Church. The only way to bring such disparate bodies together is by creating a loose federation, and this is what has been done. It essentially allows the member bodies to continue acting as they will, though it is hoped that greater contact will promote closer working.

The chief judgement is whether the creation of the new Church is a divisive or a healing act. In its present form — a breakaway group without any authentication from the Anglican instruments of unity — it must be judged the former, though not without provocation. In time, once it enjoys the open support of some official Anglican provinces, its leaders hope that it will unite more than the Common Cause members. Forming an Anglican Church further to the right of the present one may appeal more to a different segment of the American people, but the present Episcopal Church is not going to disappear. New missionary effort, therefore, will have to overcome the painful truth that the body of Christ is broken into more pieces than it was before. The impetus to form a new, more congenial Church was clearly too great to resist; but, as a result, there is yet another structure that obscures the overwhelming unit.y of all Christians.

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