Written by: Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner
Tuesday, November 18th, 2008
A new “province” for North American Anglicans is now promised to be “up and running” in the next month or so. It will comprise the 3-4 dioceses that have voted to leave TEC; the associations of various congregations that have left TEC (e.g. CANA) and those started outside of TEC from departing groups; it will also include congregations and denominations within the Anglican tradition that have formed over the past decades in North America. All of these groups now form part of an association called Common Cause.
The formation of this new “province” appears to be a fait accompli. It will presumably provide formal stability for the congregations and their plants who have left TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, as well as some kind of more easily grasped relationship with some other parts of the Anglican Communion. It is important to note, however, that such a new grouping will also not solve the problems of traditional Anglicans in North America , and that it will pose new problems to the Communion as a whole. As a member of the Covenant Design Group, committed to a particular work of providing a new framework for faithful communion life in Christ among Anglicans, I want to be clear about how the pressing forward of this new grouping within its stated terms poses some serious problems:
1. The new grouping will not, contrary to the stated claims of some of its proponents, embrace all or even most traditional Anglicans in North America. For instance, the Communion Partners group within TEC, comprises 13 dioceses as a whole, and a host of parishes and their rectors, whose total Sunday membership is upwards of 300,000. It is unlikely that these will wish to be a part of the new grouping, for some of the reasons stated below.
2. The new grouping, through some of its founding members, will continue in litigation within the secular courts for many years. This continues to constitute a sad spectacle, and is, in any case, practically and morally unfeasible for most traditional Anglicans.
3. The new grouping is, in the eyes of many, representative of diverse bodies whose theology and ecclesiology is, taken together, incoherent, and perhaps in some cases even incompatible. The argument can be made that this is no different than historic Anglican comprehensiveness as a whole; but under the circumstances of a new structural distinction and the challenges this brings, the incoherence constitutes a burden that not all traditionalists believes is prudent to assume. This warning bell has been sounded repeatedly by traditionalists.
4. There is a host of irregularities regarding ordination, representation, consent, and so on that is included among the members of this new grouping. Some of these are both understandable and inevitable under the circumstances. But they nonetheless constitute barriers for future reconciliation with other Anglican churches.
5. Will the new grouping actually be a formal “province” within the Anglican Communion, whatever name it assumes? Surely, it will be recognized by some of the GAFCON Primates. However, it will probably not be recognized at the Primates’ meeting as a whole or even by a majority of its members, and will be yet another cuase for division there. Nor will it be recognized at the ACC. Thus it threatens to be yet another wedge in the breakup of the Communion, even while there have been signs of coalescing efforts to restore the integrity of our common witness.
6. Such division on this matter among the Primates and the ACC will likely strengthen the position of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. They will move forward as continuing and undisciplined members of the Communion. All of this will merely hasten the demise of our common life, even among Global South churches themselves.
In the light of these clear downsides, it is unclear what is gained for Common Cause by seeking a self-styled “provincial” status.