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Church of England Debates ACNA and Diocese of South Carolina at Synod

Church of England Debates ACNA and Diocese of South Carolina at Synod
Our response should be deliberate, and not hasty concerning TEC's Civil War, says Bishop

By David W. Virtue
November 20, 2012

The Church of England will maintain good relations with both sides of the ecclesiastical divide in North America even as the civil war in The Episcopal Church escalates and the majority of the Diocese of South Carolina recently left the national church body.

Speaking for the church's Council for Christian Unity (CCU), Guildford Bishop Christopher Hill said the Church of England seeks to maintain good relations with all sides in the Episcopal Church's civil war and would take no "hasty" actions at this time.

Two questions were asked at General Synod on Monday. The Bishop of Guildford answered both.

Miss Prudence Daily of the Diocese of Oxford asked, "Has consideration been given to whether the Church of England is in full and unimpaired communion with Bishop Mark Lawrence and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina?"

Mrs. Lorna Ashworth of the Diocese of Chichester then asked, "Following the recent issue of a Certificate of Abandonment of the Episcopal Church in relation to the Rt. Rev Mark J Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina, and recognizing that Bishop Lawrence has been one of the declining number of theologically conservative bishops who has sought to remain and to keep his people within TEC, in the light of paragraph 6 in the statement offered to the Synod in GS Misc 1011 in 2011 by the Archbishops, are there any plans to consider proposing to the Synod fuller recognition of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) than has been considered to be appropriate up to this point?"

Bishop Hill said he would answer both questions "together".

"The withdrawal from the Episcopal Church of most of the clergy and people of several dioceses, led by their bishops, after diocesan convention decisions, is a development novel in kind as well as in scale," he responded.

"Our North American sisters and brothers have been often involved in a litigious and sometimes acrimonious debate. We should try to remain on good terms with all parties and avoid inflaming matters further. Our response should be deliberate, and not hasty."

He added that as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York noted in General Synod Misc. paper 1011, "The creation of the Anglican Church in North America raises questions of recognition of orders - ministry - as well as a relationship of communion.

"The former question is in some respects simpler, because the considerations are more objective, and it is also the more pressing, by reason of requests for transfer. Nevertheless there are some matters that require clarification before any decisions can be taken.

"Clergy ordained in several churches with which we are not, or not yet, in communion are seeking permission to minister in the Church of England. The Council for Christian Unity has therefore established a small group to offer advice to the Archbishops through the Faith and Order Commission on the relevant issues. The question about the Anglican Church in North America's orders (whether it is a church and whether its orders are such, whether they such that we can recognize) will be addressed in that context. This will necessarily involve direct engagement with the Anglican Church in North America which was envisaged in the Archbishops General Synod miscellaneous paper that I have referred to," he noted, adding "that will be the context for subsequent exploration of relationships between our churches."

Bishop Hill said that on Saturday, a Special Diocesan Convention endorsed the South Carolina withdrawal from the Episcopal Church. The Bishop stated that their position would be to remain within the Anglican Communion as an extra-provincial Diocese. The Episcopal Church, on the other hand, maintains that General Convention consent is necessary for any withdrawal. So the legal and indeed theological and ecclesiological position is extremely complicated. And it is absolutely not certain.

"It has therefore not been possible to consider the consequences for our relationships at this immediate stage. And, in my view, any statement just at this point would be premature."

Saturday's vote to affirm the secession of the Diocese of South Carolina from the Episcopal Church was the second time the church has withdrawn. In 1861, the diocese withdrew to join the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. The Nineteenth century secession had no impact on the relations between the Church of England and the South Carolina clergy or diocese.

One conservative blogger said the Church of England needs to tread very carefully regarding its relationship with the breakaway Anglican Church in North America. Any recognition of a collective body of this nature could set unworkable precedents for all sorts of schismatic groups.

"The ANCA in its war with the Episcopal Church is desperate to see itself as 'the' Anglican body in the United States and seriously covets recognition by the parent C of E. As a move towards this the ANCA has successfully hijacked Provinces such as Nigeria and Uganda, which despite their frequent condemnatory comments remain in communion with Canterbury.

"However, the ecclesiastical situation in the United States may be compared to a free market competitive economy, quite unlike ecclesiology anywhere else. It is prone to permanent fissiparous tendencies as the competing breakaway Anglican bodies ANCA/AMiA/CANA etc. already indicate. If any of these are recognized there could be no end to divisions.

"Most telling will be the guest list for the enthronement of Justin Welby, which Primates are on and which are not. The big question will be whether Robert Duncan will get a ticket? Whilst Welby is still fresh and relatively unknown he will have quite a lot of authority. I hope he exercises it carefully otherwise he'll have a rotten time of it, sadly just like his hapless predecessor."

While the Church of England might or might not recognize ACNA and/or The Diocese of South Carolina, it still does not answer the question as to whether the Anglican Communion through the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) would recognize either group. The answer would be a decisive "no". Canon Kenneth Kearon has already indicated that The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are the only legitimate Anglican bodies in North America. It is one reason why Archbishop Robert Duncan has never applied for membership in the exclusive club

Certainly any recognition of either the ACNA or the Diocese of South Carolina by a Western Anglican body and not just the Global South would be considered a plus cementing the breakaway Anglican groups as legitimate ecclesiastical bodies.


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