General Synod Motion concerning the Anglican Church in North America
by Graham Kings
Date added: 08/02/2010
CEN: On Wednesday 10 February, General Synod will be debating the private member’s motion, proposed by Lorna Ashworth: “That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America [ACNA]”. What do you think of the motion?
GK: I consider it to be too narrow and too early.
CEN: Why too narrow?
GK: Because the background paper, the details of which have been severely challenged, stresses that the debate is not about the Covenant process, nor about remaining in communion with The Episcopal Church (TEC). However, both are key parts of the context of these discussions.
CEN: In what ways?
GK: The Anglican Covenant is the official way forward for intensifying relationships in the Communion, keeping it together and responding to actions which are in danger of splitting the Communion. The autonomous launching of ACNA, only 9 months ago, was entirely outside of the Covenant process and was based on the premise that TEC is a wholly apostate church, from which it is right to split.
CEN: Is ACNA likely to affirm the Covenant?
GK: That is not yet clear and that is also why this motion is too early, as well as being too narrow. A key ACNA theologian, Stephen Noll, an American based in Uganda, is recommending it, but others, it seems, are not so sure.
GK: Well, it would commit ACNA to working fully with the four instruments of communion of the Communion. Some have, in the past, voiced serious questions about the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Lambeth Conference. The fourth, the Primates’ Meeting, is the most acceptable to ACNA. It would also be committed to avoid any more trans-provincial consecrations.
CEN: Was that not how most of ACNA began?
GK: Yes, many of the ecclesial groups of ACNA began with trans-provincial consecrations by the archbishops in Ruanda, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda. The Anglican Communion has repeatedly called for three moratoria: against the blessings of same gender unions, the consecration of people as bishops in such unions and the intervening consecrations of people in other provinces. ACNA are happy with the first two, but the third seems to be part of its DNA and considered to be less serious than the first two. In fact, just before the launch of ACNA, the Province of Rwanda announced more such consecrations. If ACNA is serious about desiring to be recognised as Anglican, which I believe it is, then the process is first affirming the Covenant and then second applying for membership of the Anglican Communion.
CEN: Is that application likely?
GK: Again, too early to tell. I had a very valuable three hours with an ACNA bishop in June last year in Dorset. It seems that many are wary of applying at the moment, but we shall see. He is an American bishop, consecrated by an African archbishop, to work in America, but became part of that African province’s House of Bishops, with two weeks previous experience in the country. Perhaps these consecrations are more to do with expediency than experience.
CEN: So that bishop is part of two churches – the African province and ACNA.
GK: Yes. A key question is, ‘do such bishops fully trust their future to ACNA?’ They seem to be in an interim period at the moment, trying to keep positions in African provinces, and some in the Province of the Southern Cone of South America, as well as ACNA. That is also why this motion is too early to put.
CEN: Don’t you have sympathy with the four dioceses, which split off from TEC to form ACNA, complaining about TEC's attitude to the first two moratoria?
GK: I do indeed and don’t think it appropriate, or Anglican, to consecrate people who are in sexual relationships outside of marriage. There are many bishops and rectors in TEC who hold that position but have not split off from TEC and formed their own autonomous church. About 15 such dioceses are known as ‘Communion Partner’ dioceses, and this motion does not mention them at all, though the background paper does very briefly at the end.
CEN: We are still awaiting how many bishops and standing committees will consent to the election of Mary Glasspool as a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles. What do you think is likely to happen?
GK: Well, the trajectory of the TEC since General Convention last year implies that autonomy will again trump interdependence in the Communion and that the House of Bishops and the standing committees will give enough consents. However, you never know about the bishops. There are a few hints that some who are liberal on sexual issues, but value the Communion more highly, may not give their consent. If the percentage of bishops ('Ordinaries with jurisdiction') who consent in the House of Bishops is below 50%, then consent is not given.
CEN: And the Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori?
GK: Her response will be very significant. If sufficient consents are given and she goes ahead with the consecration, as scheduled on 15 May 2010, then it is difficult to see how she could, with integrity, still be a member of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. Even if she insisted, then the Primates’ Meeting in January 2011 would not be likely to vote for her membership again.
CEN: Mouneer Anis has resigned from that Standing Committee. What do you make of that?
GK: I understand his reasons for resigning and those do relate, partly, to the presence of the Presiding Bishop of TEC on that committee. Ironically, that may be solved if the consecration goes ahead on 15 May as I mentioned just now. He is also concerned with the balance of participation of the Primates’ representatives on that new committee – the balance of ‘bishop-in-synod’ does not seem right at the moment. There is also the large question, as pointed out by the Anglican Communion Institute, of whether this Standing Committee is the same as the Standing Committee mentioned in the Covenant and whether it was constitutionally right to collapse the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates’ Meeting and of the Anglican Consultative Council into this new Standing Committee. I agree that does need urgent attention from the Primates’ Meeting, the ACC and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Mouneer Anis is still fully behind the final text of the Covenant and the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in that process.
CEN: To return to the motion this Wednesday, the Bishop of Bristol, Mike Hill, on behalf of the House of Bishops, has moved an amendment which changes the whole motion to read: “That this Synod (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.” Do you think that is helpful?
GK: Yes, it is eminently sensible. As well as the arguments mentioned already, the constitution of the ACNA mentions the word ‘initially’ far too many times to make it appropriate to vote on the original motion at this stage. As it stands, it is likely to fail: as amended, it is likely to be passed