Mysteries of Anglican Governance, part 4
An Abundance of Anglicans
In this post, I'm going to talk more about Anglican churches in North America, and why/how they are currently divided.
Long before there was a United States of America, the British established Anglican parishes in North America. After the Revolutionary War, the Anglican church in the new United States because independent of the English church. A name change was in order. Remember that the word “Anglican” means “from England.” During and after the American Revolution, calling your church “from England” wasn’t very popular. The word “episcopal,” which means “governed by bishops,” was a far better brand name. So the Americans named their denomination “the Protestant Episcopal Church.” In Canada, which never rebelled against England, the church eventually became the independent “Anglican Church in Canada.”
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many countries that were once British colonies gained their independence. The Anglican churches in those nations established new independent provinces. There are now 44 provinces of the Anglican Communion all over the world.
As a side note, there are also North American denominations in the Anglican tradition that aren’t part of any of these Provinces. Some are content to be independent, while others are exploring how they might become more connected to the Anglican Communion.
In the twentieth century, serious tensions began to develop in the Anglican Communion. On one side were some Anglican leaders in the Global West (the United States, Canada, England, Europe, and Australia). In these areas, the Anglican Church had become increasingly liberal in theology and practice. Clergy, including bishops, were denying the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus, and the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation. On the other side was the Global South (the Anglican Church in Africa, Asia, and Latin America). These churches tended to be more conservative, and often, quite poor. Anglican churches in the West were shrinking in population, while the Southern churches were growing rapidly.
During the last decades of the twentieth century, the Episcopal Church in America made decisions that upset conservatives in their own province, as well as bishops in the Global South. The Episcopal Church ordained women as priests, and then as bishops. Several Episcopal bishops published unorthodox statements about God and the Bible. Standards of worship and church discipline became much less traditional.
In 2003, the Episcopal Church, acting at its ruling convention, did two groundbreaking things. First, the denomination decided to allow a gay activist named Gene Robinson to become a bishop. Second, it proclaimed that gay unions were part of their common life. These actions angered the theological conservatives in their own denomination. They also upset the bishops of the Global South, who had warned against such behavior. These actions were the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” An Anglican realignment began—a breaking apart of the entire communion.
As a response to the behavior of the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church in Canada, several Anglican provinces began missionary work in North America. Archbishops from Rwanda, Singapore, Nigeria, Uganda, and other places crossed historic boundaries by accepting American clergy and congregations. This level of realignment had been unprecedented in all of Anglican history. It’s fair to say that we have not seen this level of change since the Reformation.
In 2008, a new group in the Anglican Communion was formed. It’s called GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference). GAFCON is made up of Anglican archbishops who represent a huge number of the world’s Anglican Christians. In 2009, GAFCON asked that all the various Anglican missionary groups in North America come together and form a new province, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
As a result of this, in North America there are currently three Anglican provinces. One is called The Episcopal Church. The second is the Anglican Church of Canada. The third province is the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The archbishop of Canterbury has not accepted the ACNA as an official Anglican province, but many of the archbishops in the Global South have.
At a recent meeting of Anglican archbishops, the Archbishop of the ACNA (Foley Beach) was invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to participate. This was seen by many as a signal of a more official future of the ACNA.
At this same recent meeting of the archbishops, the Episcopal Church in the United States was restricted from leadership in the Anglican Communion. There is a growing possibility that the Episcopal Church will no longer be an full member of the Communion at some point in the next several years. This is the news story the sparked the writing of these posts on Anglican Governance.