ACNA three years in process...to what end?

The Anglican Church in North America has been about its work as a church body for about three years, give or take a few months.  It depends on how you count. The wind up for the pitch was a long one, but in 2008-9 it all came to a head.  In June of 2009 ACNA was formed. That's about as good a starting point as any.

Where does ACNA stand now and how shall we in The Episcopal Church understand our relation to it?

The Anglican Church in North America is a denominated entity, that is it is a named organization or religious society. It as all the trappings of any other denomination in Christendom and in the United States, part of the thundering herd of churches and other religious organizations in this land of opportunity. It stands along side others, great and small, with its own take on things and its own vision of its work.

ACNA just published their statistical report for the last year, and Scott Gunn has a fine summary and some questions. Read it all HERE.  So, right off the bat, ACNA has become just another church, whose record (even if a bit a guesstimate) is there to see, poke at and criticize.  ACNA may have been touted as the best thing on the Anglican block here in North America, but it looks surprisingly like The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Except of course as concerns bishops and its peculiar claims concerning being Anglican.

About Bishops:
Giving ACNA the wides latitude, their guess is they have 140,000 members. It is reported that there are 35 active bishops, but let's suppose no more bishops than there are dioceses, 22.  TEC is 13 times that size at a minimum.  If TEC had the same number of bishops in proportion, we would have 286 bishops.  If the report of 35 active bishops is true, then TEC would have 455 bishops.  ACNA is a bit loaded down with the purple. Maybe this is just a function of start-up and bishops being the missionary beginnings of new dioceses. But that's a lot of purple.

ACNA's episcopate includes a number of bishops who have been deposed, retired or otherwise released from license as bishops in The Episcopal Church. Their vows included obedience to the canons by which their removal was effected. They have disavowed their former promises and are back, mucking around in other's back yards.  Others of ACNA's episcopate were ordained by bishops without jurisdiction in the US or Canada precisely for the purpose of providing an alternative to TEC, one supposedly more orthodox. Most of ANCA's bishops are in one way or another irregular. 

Ecumenical distance.
We could be in ecumenical conversation with ACNA except for two points: 

(i) ACNA's existence is the result of a critique and that began with the assessment that The Episcopal Church had abandoned the "faith once delivered" as Anglicans understood that faith. That is not a great conversation starter.

(ii) ACNA was formed to be the carrier of what they believe to be the true Anglican understanding of the faith and the plan has been to work for ACNA's recognition as a province in the Anglican Communion replacing The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as North American churches of the Anglican Communion.  Barring that, their plan has been to seek recognition as the "real" Anglican entity in the US and Canada with as many provinces in the Anglican Communion as possible, explaining to potential partners just how the Episcopal Church has abandoned the true faith.

ACNA claims as its mission "Reaching North American with the Transforming Love of Jesus Christ," a mission that does not mention anything at all about the critique of The Episcopal Church or the strategies to become the North American entity in the Anglican Communion.  The hints of that agenda is found elsewhere - in the history of ACNA's development, in the growls of the American Anglican Council - and in subtle migration of the use and meaning of words.

The history of ACNA includes the clearly strategic planning that took place in the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) and in the Common Cause Partnership. That strategic planning involved at two pronged campaign. 

The ACN and the Common Cause Partnership worked towards the development of a church to replace The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada with an "orthodox" expression of Anglicanism. ACNA is that expression. 

The American Anglican Council worked from within The Episcopal Church to draw members into the ACN and then ACNA, kept up the criticism of TEC and the ACoC, and generally played bad cop. 

The Anglican Communion Network, soon to be the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) took the high road, building a new denomination that was billed as a "province in formation" and building networks and arrangements with other Provinces of the Anglican Communion by way of the Global South and GAFCON / Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. It was the good cop.

This history places ACNA in a difficult ecumenical position as regards The Episcopal Church (and I suppose) the Anglican Church of Canada.  ACNA considers itself the righteous version of Anglicanism in North America, the replacement for the unbiblical and unorthodox Episcopal Church. That is, it sees TEC not as another denomination in the ecumenical world, but as a false representation of what it sees itself to be truly representative.  Until it is all sorted out, then, ACNA has condemned TEC in a way that makes ecumenical engagement extremely difficult. 

What is ACNA?  Well, from the standpoint of The Episcopal Church, it seems to me we must begin by saying, 

ACNA is not our friend.

ACNA believes it is a "province in formation." It calls itself a province (of what we cannot be sure), and its chief bishop is called Archbishop and considered by some other Primates in the Anglican Communion to be the Archbishop of a Province.  But when ACNA says it is a province in formation, what it means is that it is forming to become the recognized Anglican presence in North America in the place of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, recognized as such first by the GAFCON / FCA leaders and then at some future date by the whole of the Anglican Communion.  In order for that second goal - full recognition in the Anglican Communion - to take place it may be that considerable change will have to take place in the organization of the Anglican Communion itself. Thus the push by ACNA's friends in the world of Primates for a more rigorous Anglican Covenant and a greater role for the Primates as a council.

ACNA misrepresents itself.

ACNA's strategic misrepresentation of self has roots in its beginnings.

The Anglican Communion Network was at its best what its legal title suggested, a "Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes." But the change in the title made it somehow appear that this group was sanctioned by the various entities that make up the Anglican Communion. It was "the Anglican Communion Network." But it was not an Anglican Communion network, something sanctioned by the "instruments of unity" within the Anglican Communion. 

The American Anglican Council is fond of misrepresenting both TEC and ACNA:

"We live in a time when the leadership and structures of The Episcopal Church have abandoned the faith once delivered and substituted a "false gospel" which they are now threatening to spread - as a matter of manifest destiny - to the rest of the Anglican Communion. At the same time, the realignment of Anglicanism in North America has produced an extraordinary (if not miraculous) coalition of Anglicans from across the spectrum of orthodox Christianity to form the Anglican Church in North America (AC-NA). Anglicans in North America are poised to build a biblically faithful, Holy Spirit empowered, missional movement that will transform North America with the message of Jesus Christ as Lord and savior of all, whose love will empower our lives."

The American Anglican Council apparently claims to be a council of advocacy and empowerment, advocating for the true meaning of Anglican faith and empowering its expression through ACNA.  It is, of course, a council that in no way represents the large majority of Anglicans in the US, namely Episcopalians. It is a council of one particular sort of Episcopalian / Anglican in North America.

But where did the AAC and the Anglican Communion Network come by the right to claim their views of what it means to be Anglican to be the right view?  And what makes their claims to be "The Anglican Communion Network" or "The American Anglican Council" acceptable? 

What they have done, good friends, is simply call themselves Anglican Network or Anglican Council long enough and loud enough and people ceased to question if they are Anglican. The question became not "are they Anglican" but "how many of them are there?"  In the process they have been working hard to capture the flag. They are about the business of taking the name and running with it. And as long as no one is on the case, they will simply walk off with the brand name, "Anglican" leaving us with the name "Episcopal."  And then, almost by magic, they will be poised to be part of the Anglican Communion because, after all, they are Anglican.

ACNA stresses on every possible occasion that ACNA is recognized by a large majority of the world's Anglicans as Anglican, that a majority of the Primates in the Anglican Communion have recognized ACNA as a province, and that they are part of the Anglican Communion. 

This is what ACNA says about itself: 

"The Anglican Church in North America unites some 100,000 Anglicans in nearly 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada into a single Church. It is a Province-in-formation in the global Anglican Communion." (About page)

Of course there is no such thing as "a Province in Formation."  But the idea is floated.... ACNA is Anglican, it will be a Province in the Anglican Communion. Say it often enough and it will be.  It is just a matter of time.

ACNA is patient. 

It may take time, but ACNA is willing to wait. They are a church now and can more or less do as they like, making Archbishops, naming themselves a Province, going to meetings of GAFCON, the Global South, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, and so forth. 

They will do good work as a church, for which we will give them credit. They will become more and more acceptable. And one day the Archbishop of ACNA (Duncan will be long retired by then) will present a petition to the Anglican Consultative Council or to the Primates Meeting (which by then may have transmogrified into a Primate's Council with powers to name new members of the Communion.) They might also ask the Primates who already recognize them to bring the matter forward. And it will seem easy enough to say, "sure, come on in." After all, they are Anglican. It's in their name. They say so. They uphold the faith once delivered of the saints. They say so. And so forth.

And their friends will explain away the problem of there already being an Anglican Province in the US and another one in Canada by saying, "Well, maybe there can be two jurisdictions in the US and Canada. After all there are already cases of overlapping jurisdictions and parallel churches in the Communion." And very few will listen to the objection that, yes, but in those cases the two churches are in communion. The reality is that ACNA and TEC are not in communion and not likely to be in communion. 

But the long haul of repeating the same Anglican thingy over and over again will have done its work. And if their acceptance into the Anglican Communion happens, the possibility of there being a "a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer" will be moot, for the fellowship will be broken.

But perhaps it won't go that far anyway. The Jerusalem Declaration of GAFCON and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans may provide a second world wide alternative to such an Anglican fellowship as we now have. The leaders of GAFCON are already trying to think of a new name for who they are. Bet it will be something like "The Worldwide Anglican Church."  Perhaps ACNA is headed to the land of the Anglican Church, worldwide.

So, where is ACNA three years in?

It is a church, much like the church from which it sprang, only with more purple.
It is not our friend.
It is strategic in identifying itself as Anglican
It is patient.

TEC will need to remain watchful.

It remains for TEC to be watchful, insisting that it is the Anglican Communion province in these parts.  We will need to resist the temptation will be to think of ACNA as another Christian church to be treated with ecumenical care, not remembering that ACNA wants to be the true Anglican presence in North America, replacing TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada in the larger Anglican Communion. Part of that watchfulness is to pay close attention to the future form of the Instruments of Unity in the Communion - the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meetings, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the various agencies and networks of the Communion. 

ACNA has lost some battles, notably concerning property, but it is still on track, networking its way to full inclusion in the Anglican Communion backed by the Global South, or as a second path, to inclusion in a new improved Anglican Communion of the really pure faith. In either of these possibilities, TEC would not be invited to stay or join the post Anglican Anglican Communion. But perhaps that would be OK, since, afer all, the Post Anglican Anglican Communion (PAAC) will not really be Anglican at all.


  1. Deacon Charlie Perrin15/6/12 10:07 AM

    In the words of George Costanza "If you believe it, it's not a lie."

    They seem to be acting the same way as Mitt Romney (or any other Republican) continuing to spout half-truths and falsehoods about their opponent's activities hoping that someday enough poorly informed people will believe them in sufficient numbers to give them victory.

  2. I think, Mark, that I need to backtrack from some things I have said here in the past, that the Communion could include all three North American entities. To that the response has always been that ACNA won't recognise TEC's legitimacy as an Anglican church (and may be not ACCan either). My hope then has been that ACNA would change its tune. But your analysis leads me to think that ACNA's strategy towards membership is one of patience. So we must wait for time to unfold to see whether ACNA's bright prospects come to fruition.

  3. While I don't give much thought to how my sisters and brothers in ACNA organize their life together, I appreciate the reminder that at least some of them are focused on getting TEC and the ACinC kicked out of the Communion.

  4. BarbieAnn Rounds15/6/12 7:40 PM

    What strikes me as most interesting about these groups is that the "faith one delivered" seems to consist of the following passages: Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 and Romans 1:21-31.

  5. I agree with most of the post, but I'm not sure why the number of bishops is so important. Guess it depends on the diocese/area. TEC here has one bishop for a diocese of 40 parishes with 3500 members. By that figure, ACNA's still short a few. How many people/parishes should a bishop cover? And will TEC correct it's own imbalances? As for irregular ordinations, that didn't bother liberals when it was women being ordained before GC approved them-they were prophetic heroes.

    Perhaps patience is the name of the game on both sides.

  6. I think your analysis while very well begun misses a few major items at the end.

    1) The foundation of the ACNA is what I call, exclusionary holiness. They would not exist if they were willing to be in communion with those who might be less holy than they.

    It will take a lot of purging to get the existing Anglican Communion down to those they consider holy enough to be in their group.

    2) Exclusionary holiness begets schism. Schisms are already visible as ACNA begins its fourth year and AMIA fragments. It is likely that no unified entity will exist to fulfill your predictions.

    3) The imminent failure of the Covenant, combined with the horrible acts of those whose ideas of exclusionary holiness include judicial murder, (cf. ABp Orombi in Uganda) make it increasingly likely that the "Anglican Communion" or ABp. Williams' fictional creation, the "Anglican Church" will exist.

    Thanks for the recent history.


  7. Fr. Mark, I do not want to violate your hospitality on your blog, but I think Chris H. should be answered.

    The church did care when it was confronted with the irregular ordination of women. The church did not merely accept the ordinations, requiring a specific set of steps before the ladies were accepted.

    Some, apparently including Chris may have thought the reaction and requirements too mild, but the fact is the church responded and did not merely announce the participants were "prophetic." This claim like the ideas you mention in your post -- truth telling takes second fiddle to useful dishonesty.


  8. I am amazed at how many TEC members can be fooled. Apparently they have never heard or believe that "fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me". It took Fr. Mark long enough to arrive at this conclusion while many have been there for years. I guess one has to have experienced first hand the brutalization that the ACNA church can wreak on those who do not agree with ACNA. If there still are doubters, stick your hands in the wounds of San Joaquin, Fort Worth, and Pittsburg so you may believe.
    "They came for the Episcopalians and there were no others to stand by them." This will sound incredibly harsh but wake up and smell the coffee folks".

    Fred maybe back.

  9. John 2007

    I am in ecusa and I do consider ACNA friends. Why wouldn't I? They were not given delegated primitial oversight even for a season to work things out. They were not given any real space and time for equable parting. I don't think they were the initial schismatics. I don't think they were stealing property. I don't think, on the whole, they are as thin skinned,snarky, and petulant as the clergy who speak or blog on this issue. I don't think they come close to the misrepresentations of KJS or the astonishing canonical violations in the depo of Duncan. So,while I would differ from them in some things, I like them a whole lot. And I think far more inconsistency shows itself in TEC almost daily.

  10. John 2007

    PS "exclusionary holiness"? Where to begin? Yes, ACNA thinks, with our BCP and Canons, that there are standards of believing and behaving. Yes, holiness means (etiologically) being set apart. (I have heard many TEC sermons by the way that use this "difference" BTW to avoid moral difference viz.,as a way of not acknowledging moral and sexual holiness!) Yes,the ACNA thinks that we have 'walked apart.' As I see it we as a church have, in the main, caused the breach.

  11. Thank you for this. Is there a published list of ACNA's congregations? With 400 to 600 reported and, I believe, up to 1,000 claimed, it would be interesting to know.

  12. Liberal commentators in TEC have moved from dismissing critics that formed into ACNA as "the few that don't want to be with us" to acting like they are more than a few? Hmmmm how things have changed since 2003. More to wonder about is where TEC will be in 10 years. We are trending into the ground in every way: dioceses are merging, cathedrals closing, seminaries shuttering, churches coming apart, and not even 1/2 of us will show up on Sunday anymore to support The New Thing as diagnosed and preached in the private revelations of revisionist theologians. No change in leadership or philosophy on the horizon. Amazing. Our Church will have to get much much worse before changes will take place. By then, I'm afraid, we will be a niche Church that used to be relevant, but will then have the same attraction and credibility as the MCC or UCC.

  13. Interesting analysis, Mark.

    I think even those like myself, who feel more affinity with ACNA than other posting here, have been bothered by the absence of hard numbers thus far and welcome the correction. Frankly, it might have been better not to put that nominal 100,000 membership figure on display until there was something to sustain it, but hubris comes in many forms.

    As for the "purple fever" that too is troubling, although given the fact that many bishops are either retired or doubling up as parish priests (a feature curiously reminiscent of TEC in the early 19th century, when many laypeople figured that if a bishop had to mind the parochial store, he would have less time to interfere in diocesan affairs), it can perhaps be excused as a temporary feature of a church-in-formation.

    Whoever writes the definitive history of this period of American Anglicanism (and believe me, I've thought about it) is going to have a hard time reconciling conflicting statements about people's motives. Most of the non-realigning conservative clergy whom I got to know in Pittsburgh in the years leading up to realignment tended to convey the impression that the pastoral shortcomings of those on both sides of the theological divide weren't so different and that has also been my observation.

    Frankly, I always longed during the realignment process for its proponents to spend much more time acknowledging the grim necessity of the move and - however much I accept the historical accuracy of the diocesan claim to property - how much more morally effective would the mass abandonment of property have been than what has occurred?

    I think you're right about the ecumenical prospects. The more revealing question is what happens to the Lambeth Conference, which is likely to become less and less relevant as the decades roll on, because it's quasi-synodical aspects are no longer acknowledged by ANYONE.

    I suspect that GAFCON will ultimately move towards an Orthodox model in which the various provinces will practice some form of autocephaly (with or without an analogue to the Ecumenical Patriarch). And - just like the Eastern Orthodox - it will view residual Anglicanism - as the former currently regard it.

    None of this will necessarily determine whether ACNA makes a go of it or becomes merely a twenty-first century version of the REC.

  14. Sound, fury and foot-stamping re General Convention and same-sex blessings, from Mark Lawrence's folks .

  15. Having read the comments here I would offer the following observation. In our diocese we have extended the "olive branch" to those who, when their church facility is recoverd,may rejoin the episcopal church. I have, in this diocese and in my blog, steadfastly said, "WHY, it will smply rebuild the force that became ACNA. As you can see by the comments, we still have trouble with those who for whatever reason, chose to stay behind. We have been attacked from outside by the forces of destruction and apparently we are being attacked by forces from the inside. If you like ACNA and have not been through the pain and anguish of San Joaqun, Fort Worth, Pittsburg please leave. We are rebuilding and do not need your help.

    For those who think they can just come back and life will be as it was, do not think it will be easy.

    Fred is back

  16. Chris, 40, Priest

    My concern is with clergy formation. I had to go through several years of discernment, seminary, CPE, etc for ordination.

    Have any of these new guys/gals even done Anglican Studies if they weren't previously Episcopalians?

    My sense is that they are trying to create an ethos that isn't really Anglican.

    Most of them seem like Reformed types from strictly conservative seminaries.

    I am saddened because I still believe there is room for everyone here in The Episcopal Church!


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.