ACNA'09: ACNA Constitution Ratified
By Michael Heidt in Bedford, Texas
Over 800 visitors including 234 delegates filled the gymnasium of St. Vincent's cathedral school to overflowing for the inaugural session of the Anglican Church in North America's Assembly. The business at hand was simple; ratify the Constitution of the new Province. It started at 2.00pm it started, by 4.20 pm the task had been completed, with the Constitution being ratified by vote of acclamation by the whole Assembly. In the words of ACNA's Archbishop Elect, Bishop Robert Duncan, "We have done the work dear brothers and sisters. The Anglican Church in North America has been constituted."
In the words of Bishop Duncan, this means that a framework, or "skeleton" has been put in place around which a living Church will be built. This "skeleton" is governed by six key principles.
1. confessional unity, expressed in matters of Faith and order
2. subsidiarity, where what may be wisely left to the local level (both diocesan and congregational) is left to the local level, including property and ownership
3. missionary focus, especially in structures, roles and representation;
4. flexibility, recognizing the diversity of godly approaches common among the partners coming into union;
5. disciplinary reform, including address of concerns for Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders, as well as provision of a provincial tribunal.
6. collegial accountability, especially in matters relating to bishops.
These are embodied in fifteen Articles of Constitution along with a Preamble, which starts off clearly, "In the Name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," and moves on to affirm the congruence of the Constitution with the "Historic Faith and Order of the Church. There's no ambiguity of purpose here, with ACNA seeking to be nothing other than "obedient disciples of Jesus Christ our One Lord and Savior." After some debate on contextual language, "We are grieved by the current state of brokenness within the Anglican Communion..." the Preamble was ratified by an overwhelming majority of the House. After a short "'mission minute",' led by Debbie Petta of the Diocese of Fort Worth, focusing on the effectiveness of intercessory prayer, the Assembly moved to the Articles proper.
Article One answers the call to confessional unity in Faith and Order in seven points, prefaced by a strong statement of identity, "...being a part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, we believe and confess Jesus Christ to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by Him." The Article follows on with a classically Anglican affirmation of the authority of Scripture, the Dominical Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper), the Episcopate as "an inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice, and therefore as integral to the fullness and unity of the Body of Christ." The "historic faith of the undivided Church", enunciated in the three Catholic Creeds is upheld, along with the Councils of Church, most notably the first four Ecumenical Councils and the further three, "insofar as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures. The last two points uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as the standard for Anglican doctrine, discipline and worship, and the Thirty Nine Articles of religion as expressing "fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief." The postscript for this foundational article is worth quoting, speaking as it does to the essential belief of the new Province of the Church:
"We seek to be and remain in full communion with all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacraments and Discipline of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."
This was passed by an increasingly ebullient assembly, as were Articles Two, Three and Four, which deal with the Membership, Mission and Structure of the Province. These stress the local autonomy of member dioceses, the necessity of presenting Jesus Christ to the world as Savior and to make disciples of all nations in obedience to the great commission. Structurally, the Province seeks to live up to principle of subsidiarity, naming the local congregation as "the fundamental agency of mission," and the freedom of member dioceses to maintain their own "governance, constitution and canons" in consistency with those of the Province.
After Article Five, delineating the canonical authority of the Provincial Council was ratified, Bishop David Bena of CANA spoke on the importance of the Church's ministry of healing; Jesus, he told us to applause, is the "author of healing." Archbishop- Elect Duncan caught the mood of the house, "You see," he said as the clapping began to die down, "we're all in one place at one time." The applause began again.
The nature of the Provincial Assembly and its Council are dealt with in Articles Six and Seven. Article Eight outlines "The Limits of Provincial Authority." This safeguards the juridical integrity of member "dioceses, clusters and networks." Speaking to the concern of some, the Article explicitly states that the Province "shall make no canon abridging the authority of any... with respect to its practice regarding the ordination of women..." Articles Nine and Ten concern the role of bishops; for those used to the ways of TEC, this is refreshing. "The chief work of the College of Bishops," we're told, "shall be the propagation and defense of the Faith and order of the Church, and in service as the visible sign and expression of the Unity of the Church." No VGRism or Spongian schism here, and, in case the Province is tempted that way, Article Eleven makes provision for a Provincial Tribunal which will ensure godly discipline, while Article Fourteen allows for the removal of member Churches. Again, in interesting contrast to the property obsessed TEC, Article Twelve states, "All church property, both real and personal... shall be solely and exclusively owned by each member congregation..." There is to be no repetition of the tyranny of the Dennis Canon in ACNA. No one appeared upset by that and the Article was ratified to thunderous "Ayes".
Then Bishop Nwaizuzu of Nigeria addressed the Assembly, "Archbishop Akinola," he told us, "is happy." Why? Because "today it is America solving the problem... the GAFCON Conference has turned into a movement."
So it has, a new Province of twenty eight dioceses, several jurisdictions and the support of seventy percent of the world's third most numerous part of God's Holy Church, namely the Anglican Communion. With the ratification of its Constitution, this new undertaking is underway, with critical mass and, more importantly, self-evident godly intent. May God bless the endeavor.
---Fr. Michael Heidt is a mission priest in the Diocese of Ft. Worth and assistant editor of Forward in Christ magazine
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