The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) has welcomed the release of a general synod paper under the signature of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York that addresses the province-in-formation’s relationship to the Church of England.
In a statement released on 21 January 2012, the primate of the ACNA, Archbishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh said the province-in-formation was “encouraged by the desire of the Church of England to continue to embrace the Anglican Church in North America and remain in solidarity with us as we proclaim the Gospel message and truth as revealed in Scripture in the way it has always been understood in Anglican formularies.”
The document released online on 20 January 2012 urges inaction upon the synod in defining its relationship to ACNA, but also serves as a backhanded recognition the new North American province is part of the Anglican world.
Synod paper MISC 1011 entitled “The Church of England and the Anglican Church in North America”, comes in response to a private members motion presented to the February 2010 session of synod which asked the archbishops to clarify the Church of England’s relationship with the ACNA. The archbishops responded this question was more properly formulated into three distinct questions.
“What is the range of relationship with other Christian churches that is possible for the Church of England?; How does a particular local Church become accepted as part of the Anglican Communion?; and In what circumstances can the orders of another Church be recognised and accepted by the Church of England so that someone ordained in that church can be given archiepiscopal authorisation for ministry here?”
The archbishops responded that the first and third questions were governed by the canon law of the Church of England. Relations with other churches was governed by the actions of General Synod, the archbishops said, offering examples of the Porvoo Agreements with the Nordic Lutheran Churches, the Methodist Covenant and the Church of England’s links with the provinces of the Anglican Communion.
The reception or licensing of overseas clergy within the Church of England was governed by canon law and the “authorisation by the Archbishop of the Province is considered on a case by case basis and will take a number of relevant considerations into account” before an overseas cleric is licensed to officiate in the Province of York or Canterbury.
In answering the second question, the Archbishops conceded “the concept of membership of the Anglican Communion is not entirely straightforward”, noting the Anglican Communion was not a legal entity governed by statute or bylaws. The archbishops also acknowledged the political failure of the Anglican Consultative Council to create a mutually recognizable Anglican identity.
However, the archbishops did note the concept of an Anglican bishop might be defined by the standard set of who was invited to attend meetings of the Lambeth Conference. In 2008 Dr. Williams declined to extend an invitation to Bishop Martyn Minns of CANA on the grounds that his ministry on behalf of the Church of Nigerian in the United States violated the provincial boundaries of the Episcopal Church.
However, Dr. Williams also declined to invite Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire due to his status as an openly gay bishop – and the archbishop also declined to invite Dr. Nolbert Kunonga of Harare in light of his ties to the Mugabe regime. The Lambeth Conference standard was further weakened as the 2008 meeting differed substantially from its predecessors as it was transformed as a meeting of equals into an extended tutorial session led by the archbishop for the instruction and improvement of the wider communion.
The way forward, the archbishops noted was to maintain relations with the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. as well as maintain an “open-ended engagement with ACNA on the part of the Church of England and the Communion” – deciding not to decide the issue at this time.
Archbishop Duncan said he appreciated the “work of the Faith and Order Commission of the Church of England, whose report and recommendations to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York form the basis of the document now released for General Synod, and whose content substantially advances the same ends with the Church of England.”
He added that the ACNA had “demonstrated successfully to the GAFCON primates” that it “remains committed to our growing relationships with Anglican provinces outside of North America. Our biblical orthodoxy and ministries are strengthening our bond to our Anglican brothers and sisters around the globe. We are gratified that we are already in a relationship of full communion with many Anglican Provinces and look forward to expanding that circle.”