Not a few former Episcopalians, now known as Anglicans, in the U.S.A. seem to believe that there could be a new Anglican Province in late 2008 or early 2009, after the Lambeth Conference (July 08) and its fallout.
Such a belief and hope are impossible of fulfillment. Those who persistently hold them will be very disappointed.
Why? The answer is something like the kind of answer given as to why a major highway cannot be built across the whole U.S.A. in one or two years. There is too much work to be done and by its nature it has to be done slowly and surely or at least not quickly; and there are too many obstacles to surmount, too many problems to solve, to many enemies to defeat and too many internal relations and bonds of affection to create and solidify.
Let us approach the hope for a Province another way and ask: What are the “raw materials” and the “building blocks” for this proposed new structure and association and federation?
n general terms, these are what is known as the Partners in the Common Cause. The latter is a new and fragile organization composed of dioceses, jurisdictions (small denominations), networks and interest groups, from inside and outside both The Episcopal Church and The Anglican Church of Canada. The present fellowship and cooperation within Common Cause is right now very far from the complex unity that will be required to make a Province acceptable to the Anglican Communion of Churches. In 2007 C.C. is at a very preliminary stage of growing together in maturity and trust.
One could say that right now Common Cause is like a Mall where all the resident businesses agree to be in the same place and work within the same hours and general conditions, so that shoppers can readily come in and out. In contrast, a Province can be compared to one of the big shops in the Mall, which has one management and various departments, all within the same building and structure.
So what kind of things have to happen for Common Cause to become a Province—that is to be in a position to be accepted as a potential Province by the larger, global, Anglican Family? Here are some of the things needed:
Each of the C.C. denominations, jurisdictions, and networks not in TEC or ACC has to go through a set of procedures to get approval from its own authority structure for sacrificing at least some of its autonomy and sovereignty in order to be part of a new entity. Right now some of these groups are actually making big plans to expand and as it were “do their own thing.” The Nigerian-based CANA and the Rwanda-based AMiA, for example, are both consecrating new bishops either to meet present pastoral needs or to expand their numbers. These big plans have the look of minimum 5-year but more likely 10-year plans.
Each of the dioceses planning on seceding from The Episcopal Church is going through a slow and complex process to leave this Church, and then they are planning joining a Province overseas (e.g., Uganda or Southern Cone)for an undefined time. Again several years of process are in view here and those years may be extended by legal action from The Episcopal Church’s New York office. It would seem that these (four) dioceses are critical in terms of supplying the major part of the basis of a new Province and so without them a viable Province seems out of the question.
All the groups in Common Cause are committed to its Theological Statement. In this the classic Anglican Formularies are central. However, right now not a few of the groups in Common Cause practically deny these classic Formularies by publicly being committed to other innovatory Formularies. This is so with the several dioceses within TEC, who remain committed to the Constitution and Formularies of TEC; and it will remain so with them if they join the Southern Cone, where again the 1979 American book is dominant. For the present TEC dioceses to shed their 1979 heritage and become fully orthodox by using classic Anglican Formularies will be a long and painful process!
Since the proposed American Province will be utterly unlike any other Province in the present global Anglican Communion, it will take great wisdom and skill to create for it a suitable constitution and then persuade Provinces abroad to accept the new entity with its innovative constitution. It will be like no other, simply because it will be a federation of semi-autonomous and partially competitive groups, who will be competing for the same converts in the same towns and streets. In fact, it will be a totally new model of unity or at least of cooperation within an ecclesial entity as understood within Anglican terms. It may even be too innovative every to get off the ground!
To create from the present fledgling Common Cause an autonomous and inter-dependent Province in North America of the Anglican Communion is a task that is enormously difficult and time-consuming. It cannot be done in less than 3 years, maybe in less than five or even ten.
Indeed, bearing in mind the entrepreneurial skills of some of the major players—especially in CANA and AMiA—and recalling the powerful centrifugal forces of American religion and culture, many rational persons would say that it is impossible, and that at best, what will occur is loose kind of federation of Anglican groups who meet irregularly to cooperate in various ways on matters of shared concerns.
So, let us be clear, for this to become a reality and to go from Common Cause to Anglican Province, there will need to be an extraordinary outpouring of the Holy Spirit making God’s people—especially the laity who are the majority and the payers of the bills—both willing and able to bring this thing to pass and to do so in the day of His power.
This is why PATIENCE with PERSEVERANCE and a lot of CHARITY and WISDOM are needed.
The Revd Dr Peter Toon November 18, 2007