Report/Analysis By Auburn Traycik
The Christian Challenge
January 23, 2007
Is the booming Anglican Mission in America effectively re-embracing its original policy of accepting women priests?
Some may claim it is – and some distraught AMiA clergy certainly fear it is – following a change announced with little fanfare at the AMiA’s seventh annual Winter Conference, which opened with a Eucharist attended by some 1,600 persons January 17 and concluded January 20 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Anglican Mission, it seems, is now to be part of a larger international structure, overseen by a single AMiA bishop, that includes a second American wing that has female priests.
The AMiA is of course the U.S initiative backed by the Anglican Communion province of Rwanda, but not recognized by the U.S. Episcopal Church. It started controversially, with the surprise consecrations in 2000 of two Episcopal clerics, Dr. John Rodgers and Chuck Murphy, at the hands of Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini and now-retired South East Asian Bishop Moses Tay (both of whom attended the Winter Conference). But now AMiA represents a significant and expanding piece of the Anglican realignment currently underway in response to deviations from historic faith and morals in some northern Anglican provinces. While the Anglican Mission began by accepting ordained women into its ranks, a careful and highly praised study undertaken by Bishop Rodgers led it to conclude in 2003 “that the most faithful response to the witness of Scripture and its teaching on headship would dictate that women be ordained only to the diaconate,” in the words of Bishop Murphy. “While recognizing that the Church is presently seeking further clarity in this matter through a period of discernment and `reception,’ the important concept of `headship’ proved to be the most critical issue for us as we developed our policy on the issue of women’s ordination.” That determination brought AMiA significantly into line with historic Anglicanism and the wider Universal Church.
Signs of an opposing trend actually began to emerge last year, however. In early 2006, AMiA’s overseer, Archbishop Kolini (whose province allows female clergy but has few of them) agreed that the Anglican Coalition in Canada (ACiC), comprised of some 20 faithful congregations and also accepting of women priests, should form a separate wing of AMiA. To that end, Kolini established on an ongoing basis what had been the temporary episcopal care of the Canadians by AMiA’s Bishop T.J. Johnston. At the time, Bishop Murphy, AMiA’s Chairman, denied that this represented a change in or violation of Anglican Mission policy. He said that all AMiA bishops are part of the Rwandan Church’s House of Bishops and “subject to the authority of Archbishop Kolini,” and added that Rwanda gave the ACiC “the same opportunity that AMiA had been given to express its preference on women’s ordination.” More to the point, Murphy noted that two viewpoints on women’s ordination are officially recognized by the Anglican Communion, of which AMiA claims to be a part, due to its link to Rwanda. To belong to that Communion “is to be in communion with those who are not of one mind on the issue of women’s ordination,” he said.
In this, he spotlighted the difficulties for some orthodox groups attempting to remain in the Communion, and one reason some extramural Anglicans have little interest in being brought back into it: the Communion as a whole no longer has a common view of holy orders or believes that the full interchangeability of ministers is necessary to true communion (as it is in other apostolic bodies); the Communion is content to say, officially, that women’s ordination is still being tested (in the aforementioned process of “reception”) and is therefore “provisional,” which is to say that the sacramental ministrations of ordained women might or might not be a valid and efficacious lifeline for the faithful, and might or might not be finally and fully accepted!
It is a state of affairs that AMiA leaders had already accepted to a significant degree, but one that they now appear willing or under pressure from Rwanda to live with in a closer and more commingled way than might have been expected. In remarks to the gathering January 18, Bishop Murphy indicated that the AMiA is now to be put under the umbrella of the new, Rwandan-backed “Anglican Mission in the Americas ” alongside the ACiC, and a new entity, the Anglican Coalition in America (ACiA), which, unlike AMiA, will accept women priests. All three entities will be under Murphy as chairman of the super-structure and “in communion” with each other.
Reportedly, the new American coalition was requested by Archbishop Kolini. A “fact sheet” distributed by the new umbrella structure stated that:
“In May 2005, Archbishop Kolini asked the Anglican Mission in America to seek a way to embrace all those priests and deacons, male and female, canonically resident in Rwanda, but living and ministering in the U.S. and Canada (now and in the future). The current structure of the Anglican Mission in the Americas, discussed and planned over the last 18 months, was created in response to Archbishop Kolini’s request and represents an expansion of our missionary outreach – a widening of Anglican Mission’s tent.
“The Anglican Mission in the Americas embraces two countries (the U.S. and Canada) as well as two positions on the ordination of women,” the fact sheet continues. “ACiC and ACiA ordain women to the priesthood, as does the Province of Rwanda, while AMiA maintains its policy of ordaining women only to the diaconate. [The] Anglican Mission in the Americas provides a way to maintain the integrity of those with differing opinions and policies on women’s ordination.”
“The three entities – ACiC, AMiA and ACiA – are equal, are in communion with one another and are under the authority of the Province of Rwanda through its missionary outreach – the Anglican Mission in the Americas.
“Bishop Chuck Murphy serves as chairman of Anglican Mission in the Americas, and the National Mission Resource Center will assist and facilitate ministry for the ACiC, AMiA and ACiA.”
The issue of “integrity,” however, seemed to loom large in this matter from the viewpoint of those distressed by the change, who were said to include a number of AMiA clergy, though whether they would raise their concerns with their body’s leadership was not clear at this writing. (The AMiA has no diocesan or synodical governmental bodies but rather appears to operate by consultation among Rwandan and AMiA leaders.)
One non-AMiA cleric willing to go on the record was the Rev. Dr. Peter Toon, President of the Prayer Book Society of the USA, who during the Winter Conference helped lead a standing-room-only workshop focusing on a new rendering of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in contemporary language. Dr. Toon asserted that the new Anglican Mission in the Americas is “not a genuine fellowship”; there is going to be “impaired or broken communion” between parts of the AMiA and the new coalition sooner or later, he said. He thought the new configuration represented “a complete undermining of the doctrinal and practical position of the AMiA and will probably lead to doctrinal confusion and to schism in the long run.”
In a separate commentary, however, Dr. Toon specifically maintained that Rwanda went against the Communion’s doctrine of reception on women’s ordination by failing to appoint one or more bishops solely for the ACiA and ACiC, in order to maintain what the Communion recognizes as the “two integrities” on the ordination question.
“The present policy as determined by Rwanda has one set of bishops…in the AMiA,” all of whom “are committed by oath, annually taken, to the doctrinal basis of AMiA,” Toon wrote. “This includes [a] commitment not to ordain or promote women as priests and means that they belong squarely within one integrity.”
He added that: “It is impossible on principle for a bishop, who does not ordain women in one diocese or province or network, to cross over into another place and there act and speak as if the ministry of women priests is fine. That is, a bishop cannot as a man of principle belong to two integrities simultaneously. This mocks truth and sets aside the Anglican doctrine of reception.”
Toon contended that this conflict is not present in Rwanda, which has decided that women may be ordained, but in accordance with the doctrine of reception does not require a bishop who does not accept the innovation to ordain or license women within his jurisdiction. He noted that the “Mother” Church of England has also provided separately for orthodox parishes through its provincial episcopal visitors (“flying bishops”). “The aim here is to maintain two integrities while the process of reception is continuing,” Dr. Toon wrote.
But for AMiA bishops, “who are committed to one integrity, that of maintaining historic catholic order” in the presbyterate and episcopate, “to move into another (which is what the ACiC and ACiA contain) and function there, as if they were also of that integrity, is clearly contrary to right reason and to good ecclesial practice. It is to conflate two integrities into one,” he stated.
“I suggest that to put matters right Rwanda should provide immediately a bishop who belongs to the new integrity” to minister to the ACiC and ACiA, Dr. Toon concluded. “And, as part of the pain of the modern Anglican situation, let it be understood that [that] bishop will not be able to minister within the AMiA, once he has ordained a woman as a priest.”
Countering the idea that the creation of ACiA represents a significant change, however, new AMiA Communications Director Cynthia Brust noted that the Anglican Mission “was already under the authority of a province that ordains women.”
Bishop Murphy also commented on the changes in question in a January 20 interview with David Virtue of VirtueOnline:
Mr. Virtue: You have had a corporate name change since last year. You now call yourself the Anglican Mission in the Americas, no longer simply the AMiA. Would you tell us what this is about and what it all means?
Bishop Murphy: The Province of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda has canonical letters from three different groups. From Canada we now have the Anglican Coalition in Canada. This was done to justify women’s ordination in that country. Then we formed the Anglican Coalition in America, where we believe the ordination of women should only be to the level of the diaconate (though he evidently means priesthood – Ed.). Thirdly, we still have the original Anglican Mission in America – the largest group of canonical letters – priests that do not accept the ordination of women to the priesthood.
Virtue: So you have not changed your fundamental position on women’s ordination?
Murphy: No, we have not. The charge from the Province of Rwanda was to create a structure that could embrace all three groups and maintain the integrity and conscience of each of the three groups. The AMiA consists of two nations, Canada and the U.S. and two positions on the appropriate biblical response with the women’s ordination question. Since we are in a province that has women’s ordination and since we are in a period of reception to discern the mind of Christ, our response is, being under authority, we created an umbrella with two countries and two positions while maintaining the integrity and conscience of both. I am the chairman of it all and Rwanda gives oversight. We remain under authority and in full communion with our Archbishop in Rwanda, even in our differences.
Virtue: Some of your priests I spoke with were quite upset, with several using words like “betrayal,” “backtracking,” “caving in,” “disaster” – to the point that they said it would have grave consequences [for] the church’s ability to grow and more. A number of your North American priests believe women’s ordination is a nose in the tent, a slippery slope to spiritual anarchy. How would you allay their fears? Are you concerned that it could ultimately divide you?
Murphy: The nose in the tent is that we are in the Province of Rwanda. This province believes in women’s ordination (and is growing as a church) and they have assured us that they respect our decision and our position with respect to women’s ordination to the diaconate only. I believe them. We are encompassing two nations and two positions. This is not a new development. We are giving leadership to all who are part of the Province of Rwanda. It is simply a new charge to give leadership to all the canonical letters.”
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