Some preliminary observations and comments from Peter Toon
Ecclesial revolution is in the making in Canada and the U.S.A. The Common Cause Partnership in North American has petitioned the Primates’ Council of the GAFCON movement for recognition as an Anglican Province in North America. If granted, this extraordinary request will lead to a rival to the two existing Anglican Provinces of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, both of which are regarded by GAFCON as deeply flawed and probably apostate.
Further, if this petition is granted, then the new North American, cross-border entity will be unique. Not only will it be a province like unto no other either in the GAFCON membership or in the full Anglican Communion of Churches and Family, but also it will present a type of Province, the like of which there has not been in the history of either the Western or Eastern Churches since Provinces were recognized in the patristic era through to the present day. In fact, to call the recognition of the body, that is the present Common Cause Partnership, a Province will be an innovation for which there is only the minimal meaningful precedent.
However, it seems that someone in the Common Cause membership is thinking at least in semi-traditional terms for the Organization has asked not merely for general recognition of the Cause as a Province, but also for the Primates’ Council to seat its own “presiding bishop,” Bishop Bob Duncan, as a fellow Primate at their table. This is a remarkable request from a young and fragile fellowship, and is perhaps of the kind which perhaps only Americans on the move would be so bold as to ask!
It is possible, that, by making this request for Bob Duncan, Common Cause is (as already indicated) making use of an ancient ecclesiastical use of “province,” a usage continued today, for example, in England with the Provinces of York and Canterbury: that is, a specific geographical district or area, where the Church is wholly present and is ultimately (via diocesan bishops) under an archbishop or a metropolitan bishop (e.g., the Archbishop of Canterbury is still called the Primate of all England!). On this (supposed) model, offered by Common Cause, North America is the “district” (and here is the unlikeness to the ancient usage) in which there are no dioceses or Episcopal areas as such; but the whole area is open to all the Bishops of the constituent parts of Common Cause to evangelize and plant churches as they deem right in this district.
Order and fellowship it is assumed will be maintained because each Bishop has two loyalties and works both at the same time –one to the sponsoring diocese, or overseas province, or network, or denomination, or organization, within Common Cause that legitimizes him and which he serves; and the other to Bob Duncan, as Presiding Bishop of Common Cause and also the Primate of the district, to whom he takes some kind of oath of loyalty. Thus the individual bishop keeps watch over the members of his jurisdiction, making sure that they work well together and in harmony with their partners in Common Cause; and, at the same time, he is careful to work with and for his Primate in order to have general stability for the whole “Province.”
While the traditional Province of multiple dioceses is united by a common canon law and constitution, the new North American one will apparently be united primarily by the bonding of the Bishops, each of whom will operate with the canon law of his own jurisdiction (be in REC, AMIA, CANA or another) amongst his people. So there will be no general provincial rules for admittance to ordination; to Baptism and Confirmation; to Marriage in church if divorced; and so on. What each of the Partners accept and do will be acceptable to the Province for that is the nature of this new Province. Its total impact is, and will be, the net result of the action of its partners working alongside, and sometimes in opposition to each other, throughout the whole “district.” That is, it will be bottom upwards and the character will emerge as the bottom rises (as it were). So there will be differences over a wide range of issues and areas such as female deacons and priests, use of liturgy, exercise of discipline over erring members, ownership of properties, medical cover for employees, pension rights and so on. But this will be a part of the real character of this province.
In short, the character will be unity without uniformity and the unity will be a generous, comprehensive one, wherein all major “streams” and “schools” of the Anglican Way will be acceptable and probably present. General unity will be maintained by loyalty to the Primate whose person will be the symbol of this wide ranging and deep form of unity for the district/province.
Will it work? Only if the participants consciously become a different kind of Anglican than they are now and learn to subdue their pronounced “opinions.” That is an Anglican who sees unity as deeply integrated with truth and never apart from it, and reckons being “in Christ” together the primary goal and experience. Some may call this “compromise” but another way of putting it is “walking with Christ” where he sets the route and the pace, and takes along whomsoever he will on his journey!
The Revd Dr Peter Toon Trinity X 2008