ANGLICAN CHURCH OF NORTH AMERICA: Synod affirms ACNA desire to be in the fold

by
16 February 2010

THE Church of England’s relations with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) were debated by the Synod on Wednesday afternoon of last week — despite an attempt to abort the debate after the opening speech had been heard.

A private member’s motion was amended to allow an exploration of the issues, and a report from the Archbishops in 2011. The desire of ACNA to be part of the Anglican family was affirmed and recognised.

Introducing the debate on her motion, that “this Synod expresses the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America,” Lorna Ashworth (Chichester) said that it was not part of a “hidden agenda”. There should be no need for a debate to be in communion with biblical Anglicanism as practised for hundreds of years, where there had been no division from the creeds and practices of Anglicanism.

One well-known Anglican, Dr Jim Packer, who had impressed her with his humility and godliness, and who served with other clergy in the largest Anglican church in Canada, St John’s, Vancouver, had, with the rest of that congregation, sought alternative episcopal oversight in order to be in communion with historical Anglicans and with the worldwide Communion.

They had done so because others had either questioned or rejected the incarnation of Christ and his Virgin birth, and did not see scripture as authoritative, Mrs Ashworth said. Ironically, those who opposed such views were being represented as those who sought to destroy church order. Dr Packer and the other clergy at St John’s had been served notice that they had thereby abandoned their ministry, and had renounced the doctrines of the Anglican Church of Canada.

“Many of us have failed to see how An­glicans like Dr Packer have renounced the doc­trine of the Church.” Their critics were “not elevating order, but dumbing down doctrine”. They were leaving no room for traditionalists. Women, clergy and lay, were being left uncer­tain whether they were in the Anglican family or not.

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The General Synod had, in the past, had a part in deciding with whom the C of E was in communion: in entering into communion with the Church of North India, the Church of Pakistan, the Church of Bangladesh, and the Porvoo Churches, among others.

This was an opportunity for the Synod to affirm a Church that had done many of the things that the Synod had debated, such as developing a mission-shaped Church. The Anglican Church in North America planned to plant thousands of new congregations.

“My prayer is that this will be our vision, too.” This was not the time to stand by, but to show support to those with whom “we share the same gospel of the same Lord Jesus Christ that has shaped us.”

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) brought a procedural motion asking the Synod to move to the next business, on the grounds that “You shall not bear false witness.” Claims and counter-claims about ACNA had made it almost impossible to separate truth from falsehood, he said.

Justin Brett (Oxford) feared the “grisly in­evitability of watching a train-wreck in slow motion” if the debate were to proceed.

Opposing the procedural motion, Helen Morgan (Guildford) said that she was “deeply offended to hear that what I was planning to say was a lie”. She had planned to speak to the middle way.

Mrs Ashworth said that it was a question of fellowship. “If one part of the body suffers, all suffer.” Not to debate the issue would be to send a signal that one part of the Anglican Communion had no bearing upon another part. To close down the debate “would mean that we, lay people, are not allowed to come here and talk about real issues”.

Canon Butler’s motion was voted on and defeated.

Canon Butler’s motion was voted on and defeated.

The Revd Johannes Arens (Ripon & Leeds) opposed Mrs Ashworth’s motion on the grounds that the Synod should not meddle in the politics of another Church that had a strong democratic tradition. It was not ac­ceptable, he said, to use the language of ecu-menism to help ACNA congregations retain property. The situation with the ACNA was a territorial and ecclesiological nonsense, and solved nothing. The English Church should

be supporting the Church with which it was actually in communion. He urged the Synod to reject the motion and all its amendments.

Canon Linda Jones (Liverpool) said: “We should be hearing from both sides.” The Church of England should not be in the posi­tion of having to side with one side or the other. She, too, resisted the motion.

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The Archdeacon of Berkshire, the Ven. Norman Russell (Oxford), said that he had spent time in Virginia on his own initiative, visiting the churches there. He had found a great spiritual renewal going on among them. There was a wide variety of churchmanship, with pastoral Anglo-Catholics and liturgically minded Evangelicals. “In voting for this motion, we are not voting against the Epis­copal Church in the United States, but voting for three different Churches: the Episcopal Church, the ACNA, and the Anglican Coali­tion in Canada.

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, said that it was with a heavy heart that he asked the Synod not to vote for the motion. He understood the impatience in the wider Communion, but this would be committing the Church of England to “too much, too soon”. The Bishop had sympathy for the in­tent of the Ashworth motion. He had heard the claims and counter-claims, where each side justified its actions. It was hard to ascer­tain the facts. The Bishop had examined the constitution and governance of the ACNA, and described it as a governance in its infancy — “a first attempt, early days”.

The amendment that he had put down sought to affirm most church leaders and congregations; and to put decisions into the process. The invitation to the Archbishops to report back was an assurance that events would be closely followed. The Synod would have to engage in the Covenant process, and all the issues were interconnected.

Jacob Vince (Chichester) spoke to another amendment. He was attracted by the simpli­city of the main motion, and also by Bishop Hill’s amendment, which took the sentiments to the next level. Why would the motions not complement each other?

Canon Tim Dakin (Oxford) acknowledged the struggle of the North American provinces and the need to go through Anglican Com­munion structures. Might there be a forma­tive process going on in the global Church? Could the struggles be part of building that global mission-shaped Church? Might it be part of a modern missionary movement? “Affirm, acknowledge, and recognise as much as we can,” he urged. “Something holy may come out of it.”

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, said that this was “not meddling in the Episcopal Church”. He spoke of ten years of good experience in the North American churches — enlivening and good in discipleship and friendship. The Church of England would benefit, however fuzzy the relationship with ACNA, where remarkable initiatives were being played out.

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The Revd Brian Lewis (Chelmsford) said that members of the Episcopal Church in the United States felt deeply hurt by those who had left, regardless of their own theological position. Mr Lewis said that he had thought about leaving in 1987, and again after the Lambeth Conference of 1998, and when human-sexuality issues were being discussed, “and when Jeffrey John was so badly treated”. But he had stayed, although it had been pain­ful to do so. Episcopalians also thought about their position, “but they stay”.

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) said that she had good and close friends in the Anglican Church of Canada who “have not left. They are not leaving. They wish to remain, but they are saying to me, ‘Support this motion that the Church of England be in com-munion with ACNA.’” They recognised “that many who left felt that they could not con­tinue to teach the faith in the way that the Church of England had received it”. Her many friends who had stayed had kept their heads down. “They wish to embrace the generosity of spirit to say we all have some­thing in common, our Anglican iden­tity.”

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr John Hind, said that the members of the House of Bishops “don’t speak with one voice on this”. Human beings were at their best when they entered into the joys and sorrows of others, which was very close to what was meant by communion. “The issues of the joys and sorrows of others are at the heart of this.” The 1998 resolution of the Lambeth Conference had called on Anglicans “to reach out to all those in Anglican inheritance, even if not in full communion”.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, said that the Church was mapping a new and intriguing landscape, and it was important that it did not lose its way. Space was needed. “We should not be over-committed too soon. Of course we want to be in communion with both sides, but we need to get the signposts first.”

Mr Vince’s amendment to the Bristol amendment was moved, but at this point the Synod’s electronic system of voting failed. After hurried consultation, the Synod reverted to the system of appointing door-keepers and tellers, and then walking out through the lobby alcoves.

Mr Vince’s amendment was lost by 166 to 223 with 2 recorded abstentions.

Canon Gordon Oliver (Rochester) then moved an adjournment. He said that it would be “sad indeed to press the matter to a vote at this stage”. The delay caused by the electronics had given time for some sanity to prevail, he suggested.

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The Bishop of Bristol disagreed. The Synod had reached a point where the world was watching; and he did not know how it would be interpreted if he said that he would be happy at an adjournment. Mrs Ashworth also opposed the procedural motion. “Having got this far, let’s finish it.”

Canon Oliver’s motion won little support, and was defeated.

John Ward (London) spoke to his amend­ment, to omit the word “affirm” from the Bristol amendment, which sought to recog­nise and affirm the desire of the ACNA to remain within the Anglican family. He did not wish the Synod to affirm people who had “walked away, who did not play by the rules”. When the going got tough, they had formed their own groups, and did not come to meet­ings. Now they wanted to come back. He warned the Church against getting into “play­ground politics”. “I cannot affirm the split, and I need to know more, but I welcome the desire to return to the fold if that is what is wanted.” He then withdrew his amendment.

The Revd Andrew Dow (Gloucester), spoke to his amendment expressing the desire that, “in the interim, the orders of ACNA clergy be recognised and accepted by the Archbishops subject to their satisfaction as to such clergy being of good standing, enabling them to exercise their ordained ministry in this coun­try, according to the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967”.

He said that his hope was to build a bridge on which he hoped the majority could stand. It was not in the language of communion, because that word was now, in their context, full of legal issues. But he felt that Bishop Hill’s amendment came across as cold and dispassionate. “We cannot send a transatlantic message that bears no message of New Testa­ment love, or, significantly, in the Greek, philadelphia.”

When the Anglican Church had broken with Rome, “did we jump or were we pushed?” Now the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to recognise Anglican orders “seems doctrinaire”.

Mr Dow’s amendment was lost.

The Archdeacon of Dorking, the Ven. Julian Henderson (Guildford), believed that Mrs Ashworth’s motion allowed the Synod to express its desire. The Bristol amendment took away that opportunity. It was a current matter and need: it might unlock the log-jam in the move towards the Covenant process.

Anne Martin (Guildford) believed that the main motion would threaten a diverse church­manship where people had begun to listen to one another and to respect each other. The amendment addressed the issue for the future.

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The Bristol amendment was carried, as was Mr Dow’s second amendment about “distress”.

The motion as amended was carried by 309 votes to 69 with 17 recorded abstentions. It read:

That this Synod, aware of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican Churches of the United States of America and Canada,

(a) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;

(b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and (c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.

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