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An Introduction to the Constitution and Canons of ACNA

An Introduction to the Constitution and Canons of ACNA

By Bishop Robert Duncan
June 8, 2009

Bishop Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh and moderator of the Common Cause Partnership gives his view on the proposed Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church in North America

How do we renew what was best about the tradition that produced us? How do we not repeat the patterns that subverted our life as a biblical and missionary province? How do we adapt learnings from the vibrant newer branches of the Anglican Communion? How do we restore our role as the bridge among and between the various denominational expressions of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church? How do we have both freedom and accountability? How can we be truly catholic, truly evangelical, truly charismatic and truly conciliar in a 21st century context - both North American and global? These are all questions that shaped the deliberations of the Governance Task Force, and the wider consultations the Governance Task Force undertook, and that resulted in the Constitution and Canons proposed for ratification at the inaugural Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America.

The Constitution and Canons go much further than anyone imagined possible just a year ago. The key figures in this great advance were the Anglican Archbishops of the Global South, in general, and the GAFCON Primates Council, in particular. It was they who challenged us to move beyond the loose federation known as the Common Cause Partnership toward what could be seen as "a recognizable province of the Anglican Communion." They truly believed that we were capable of a much higher degree of unity for the sake of Gospel (evangelical) truth, with a much greater similarity to general Anglican (catholic) practice. Their unwillingness to simply accept our early effort, in favor of a far more mature expression of provincial life, proved an inestimable gift.

As I reflect on all that is behind the work now to be considered for ratification, six principles stand out:

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 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.

When you have a question about why something is done in the way proposed (as over against 'the way we have always done it'), ask yourself whether it is not one or more of these six principles at work.

The charge to the Governance Task Force was to provide a strong skeleton around which a living Church could be built. I believe the GTF, whose work was greatly strengthened by contributions from all the members of the Common Cause Leadership Council in meetings in December and April, has given us a very good starting place to be assessed as a characteristically Anglican Province.

The skeleton allows a place for sub-provincial jurisdictions like the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Mission in the Americas. The same provision allows for the distinctives of culture, history and law that separate the United States and Canada, even providing a way that Canadians might be drawn together as a proto-Province within our larger Province. It gives far more place to the laity of the Church - half the Executive Committee, half the Provincial Council and likely two-thirds of the Provincial Assembly (once voting youth delegates are factored in) - and bishops don't own the property. Giving is a free exercise, the tithe is upheld, force is not a way forward.

One further comment: "under stress regress." We are specifically trying to re-constitute a Church whose chief concern is the mission, rather than governance. The notion of a Provincial Assembly focused on mission rather than governance is among our deepest hopes. Very specifically, we do not want to repeat the General Convention (USA) or General Synod (Canada) experience. This is where the notion of "ratification" at Assembly derives. Our vision is for fairly straightforward up or down votes on articles and canons. If the Provincial Council has discerned it rightly, and we have significant consensus, a matter is ratified. If not, the matter is sent back to Provincial Council for more work. Most things, if not easily agreeable, can wait another year or two.

Constitution and Canons are not meant to be exciting, only a framework. What is exciting is the rebirth of the biblical, missionary and united Anglicanism in North America for which so many have prayed for so long and that the proposed constitution and canons represent. This is a new Province. It is not a new Church. Our hope is that the Anglican Church in North America is the re-constitution of a faithful (that is, biblical, missionary and united) Church in Anglican form.


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