“The healing of the Anglican Communion began today,” said Cynthia Brust, a lay leader of the Anglican Mission in the Americas, at the news conference last week, after the adoption of the provisional constitution of the Anglican Church in North America. The next day, in a lead article in The New York Times, a senior professor of religion at Duke University called the coming together of so many Anglican fragments “unprecedented”.
It is fair to ask, of course, just how this begins healing the Communion. Some of our friends continue to hope that what has been dubbed the Covenant process will accomplish that. They have publicly taken us to task for our decision to form the Anglican Church in North America.
We acted — not because we reject the Covenant process, or reject efforts on its behalf, no matter how unlikely their success may seem — to begin dealing constructively with the incredibly complex reality on the ground here in North America. We are uniting 700 Anglican churches that exist today, and more are joining almost every week.
Many of these are congregations or portions of congregations that left the Episcopal Church in the United States, or the Anglican Church in Canada. Covenant or no covenant, it is simply no longer realistic to expect those congregations to rejoin provinces that have sued them and defrocked their deacons, priests, and bishops for standing up for what mainstream Anglicans believe.
Instead, another more permanent solution than temporary ties to generous Anglican provinces overseas is needed. We need a unified body both to heal the divisions among ourselves and to give the broader Anglican Communion a unified and coherent partner with which to be in relationship.
Forming the Anglican Church in North America is a significant step forward on both these fronts. It is an amazing God-given healing of that internal division and an opportunity for forming constructive relationships within the Communion.
Eleven fragments of “mainstream” Anglicanism in the United States and Canada were involved in the adoption of the provisional constitution: the American Anglican Council, the Anglican Coalition in Canada, the Anglican Communion Network, the Anglican Mission in the Americas (Rwanda), the Anglican Network in Canada, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (Nigeria), Forward in Faith North America, the Missionary Convocations of Kenya, Southern Cone (including the Bolivia and Recife networks), and Uganda, together with the Reformed Episcopal Church.
These fragments draw together some 700 congregations in North America, with an estimated 100,000 worshippers on average on any given Sunday. This constellation is thus numbered as larger than 13 of the provinces of the Anglican Communion (including Scotland and Wales), and compares to the 750,000 the Episcopal Church in the United States claims to draw every Sunday.
The provisional constitution begins with eight fundamental (theological) declarations, which are consistent with classical Anglicanism. The constitution’s vision is of a missionary Church: the principal agents of the mission are the people of God; the fundamental agency of the mission is the local congregation; the purpose of the diocese and the provincial assembly is to strengthen the mission. A derivative provincial council, elected by the provincial assembly, “governs” the province.
By providing that existing leadership, structures from the phase of the Common Cause federation are to become the first organs of the new province. Thus the annual leadership council of Common Cause becomes the initial provincial council, and the Moderator of Common Cause becomes the first archbishop and Primate. The genius of this decision means that already agreed and respected leaders continue to guide the new province in its early years.
A governance task force continues to shape minimal canons in preparation for the first Provincial Assembly, which has now been called for 22-25 June 2009 at St Vincent’s Cathedral in the diocese of Fort Worth. Task forces on prayer book and common worship, ecumenical relations, evangelisation and Islam, as well as committees on education and on mission are carried over from Common Cause days. The third meeting of the College of Bishops — the first was in September 2007, and the second at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in June 2008 — will immediately precede the Provincial Assembly.
About 25 “dioceses, clusters [and] networks”, both geographical and affinity-based, each of which is gathered around a bishop or vicar-general, will be represented at the initial Provincial Assembly.
Since the call to form the province originated with the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem, there is a reasonable expectation of recognition early on by the Primates Council and provinces of the GAFCON movement.
The simple truth is that one of the three principal issues identified in the Windsor report — that of boundary-crossing — is most effectively and completely addressed by general recognition of the new province now proposed.
The excitement among the participants drafting the provisional constitution, the deep unity to which we are committed, and the vision of a Church effective in presenting the gospel to 140 million unchurched and dechurched souls bodes well for a renewed Anglicanism in North America.
Bishop Bob Duncan is the Moderator of the Common Cause Partnership.