ACNA '09:Okay ACNA's the Answer: Now What Was the Question? by Gary L'Hommedieu
By Canon Gary L'Hommedieu in Bedford, Texas
The Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) opened its inaugural assembly today with a mass in St. Vincent's Cathedral in Bedford, TX. This "birth moment" has been a long time coming. It is the culmination, some would say of years, others would say decades, still others centuries, of work depending on which pair of glasses you're wearing.
That's just it: what is the proper lens for looking at this event? Is it the response to the consecration of Gene Robinson, or female clergy, this or that Prayer Book, or TEC's utter capitulation to the secular culture, or (most likely) all of the above? Is it the last straw, or the last straw man?
What lens are we looking through? What hat are we wearing? What metaphor are we using, even unconsciously, to formulate our questions and thus our answers? Make no mistake. The questions determine the answers.
Here's what we do know. By Wednesday, Bishop Bob Duncan will emerge as Archbishop of a new North American Anglican Province, which this afternoon approved its own Constitution and Canons. It is now a social reality with a covenantal basis for making statements that amount to something besides the opinions of scattered individuals. It might even be possible for representatives of this new jurisdiction to make theological statements that a body of faithful can believe.
We also know that not every Anglican Province will recognize the new entity, beginning with the former sole proprietors of the Anglican franchise in North America, The Episcopal Church and The Anglican Church of Canada.
Critics will quip that Duncan's been maneuvering for a special title all along, and the other players for their several fiefdoms. But this criticism says more about the critics than it does about ACNA.
Liberal churchmen, by necessity, are in the religious game for the power and prestige. After all, what else is there? Since Christianity is irrelevant to liberals except as a way of promoting the UN, all that's left is power and privilege. Anyway, the new Anglicans don't need the liberals to remind them that conservative egos will be on parade over the next few days. This is not shocking news.
Here's what else we know about the emergent Anglican jurisdiction gathered in Texas: a lot, perhaps even most, of the other Anglican Provinces will recognize it. Some will no longer recognize the former proprietorships in North America, who are seen as having failed in their stewardship of the Gospel.
Seven hundred delegates and attendees will join for three and a half days of worship and fellowship. Internationally known super-pastor Rick Warren will address the assembly, noting the importance of ACNA on the American missionary scene. Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church of America will address participants on the historic significance of this moment relative to the mission of Christian orthodoxy--with both lower and upper case "o".
Anglicans and other onlookers, whether observing from the floor or distantly via internet, bring a jumble of expectations. Undefined expectations usually translate into disappointment, whether a lot or a little. Some will inevitably be disappointed, for example, if they are expecting ACNA to solve the riddle of being Catholic but not Roman. If we're wearing the hat of "history", we might speculate that the recent history of the Western Anglican Provinces has forced that riddle out into the open as wishful thinking, or perhaps a contradiction in terms.
In his opening address, Bishop Duncan made references to history. He referred to "a great Reformation of the Christian Church underway", involving "much of mainline Protestantism" as well as Pentecostals and Western Anglicans. Bishop Duncan described the attraction of Anglicanism to these Protestant brethren in terms of "the Great Tradition", the coinage of the late Robert Webber.
"This explains why there is such a keen interest in what is happening here these days among our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters."
The bottom line: God "is again Re-Forming His Church." Of course the Church's enemy the Devil "will attempt to lure us back to old ways and old hurts and old fights."
While this is a practical warning that everyone got, it goes beyond sound pastoral advice. It shows that the Archbishop-elect understands the moment, perhaps profoundly. The present moment is not a final reaction to TEC or post-modernity or North American secular culture. It is a time for reacting entirely to Jesus Christ, and not to "all kinds of idols and lesser gods" which typically have held North American Anglicans in thrall.
I spoke earlier about viewing the present through the appropriate lens. Bishop Duncan also spoke about interpreting events by looking through the right lens.
"All that is ahead is to be seen through this lens of Christ's atoning death and his glorious resurrection and ascension, and of the imparting of the Holy Spirit."
If he had said this apart from the new Reformation, it would have fallen flat. It would have been a platitude, predictable, not particularly elegant and certainly not revealing. But Duncan was not referring to the lens of traditional Christian piety. Tradition in the abstract is not the same as the Great Tradition, being more like the Great Proof Text. It could be that not many of us "traditionalists" have awakened to the living quality of Tradition. It could also be that this is the meaning, at least in part, of the history that now unfolds before our eyes.
The eternal truth of the Incarnation is the only thing that can level the field and make the present moment new. History might also be saying that, until now, we've all been asking the wrong questions. Hence, even our tentative answers are predetermined to be distorted.
"Turning us back toward one another and toward the global mainstream has been God's great and sovereign work." Sounds like a profound reflection on the meaning of History... or Tradition.
---The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for VirtueOnline.
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