Wrap-Up on the ACNA Provincial Assembly
This last week has re-confirmed me in my convictions as an Anglican. I feel energized by the interactions I have had with clergy and lay people from around North America. I now have an even deeper admiration for the breadth and depth of traditional Anglicanism on our continent, and have developed a sincere appreciation for expressions of Anglican worship quite different from my own. I am very excited for the future of our Anglican tradition, and am delighted that I will be part of ACNA as it grows. (And it will grow!)
The installation of Archbishop Duncan on Wednesday night at Christ Church, Plano, was a joy to attend. The excitement in the air was palpable. And I have to admit that--despite misgivings I had walking in the door--the folks at Christ Church carried off a "blended" worship with astonishing elegance, calling upon elements from the Evangelical, Charismatic, and Anglo-Catholic expressions of Anglican worship in such a way that the entire service felt surprisingly coherent. The archbishop's homily was conversational but effective, and the actual installation ceremony was genuinely moving. Well done, Christ Church.
The mood among almost all of the delegates and "attendees" at the Assembly was very up-beat and the feeling of unity was strong despite differences on some points of theology and worship expression. Virtually all of the few negative comments I heard in the halls, which were also reflected on some social networking sites and blogs that I follow, were from opponents of women's ordination who are upset that the dioceses that do not ordain women to the presbyterate and episcopate were simply moving from one ecclesial structure with female priests (TEC) to another that has women priests (some dioceses of ACNA). Therefore, these critics contend, we are simply no better off than before (or they argue that ACNA is doomed to fail from the start because of its unresolved stand on the issue).
While I certainly understand the depth of feelings the issue of women's ordination stirs on both sides of the question, I urge my friends to have a little more patience. We have only just begun to journey together within ACNA. It will take time for people to get to know each other and come to trust one another's intentions. It seems quite wise to me to wait a bit before tackling this very thorny problem. To press the issue today risks destroying five years of hard work in bringing us together. Let us take a couple of years to get to know one another better, then do the serious theological and Biblical study necessary in order to come to a resolution all the parties involved can respect. A bit more patience and a time of rest after all we have already been through would surely serve us well right now. In the meantime, I am confident that in Archbishop Duncan we have a leader who will see that "both integrities" will be fully respected.
I am also aware that some of my dear friends are out there who, longing for immediate reunion with the Roman see, regard the formation of ACNA as a step away from their goal. These dear brothers and sisters (and I mean that sincerely) hope for some sort of special arrangement with the Vatican that would allow for creation of an Anglican Use personal prelature (or some similar structure), permitting significant numbers of Anglican parishes to enter into full communion with Rome without changing their common life and practice very much. Since ACNA clearly contains a sizable number of Protestant-leaning Anglicans who do not share this dream of immediate reunion with the Holy See, they would prefer that Anglo-Catholics have nothing to do with ACNA.
[In the interest of fairness, I should remind my readers of what I have often said on this blog in the past. While I have a high degree of respect for the Roman Catholic tradition generally, and for the present incumbent of the throne of Peter in particular, I cannot in good conscience become a Roman Catholic at present. For me the dogma of papal infallibility, combined with certain teachings of Rome on Marian doctrine, preclude my coming into full communion with the Holy See. I am by conviction an Anglican Christian of the "middling sort," as comfortable with the heritage of the English Reformation as with the heritage bequeathed us by the medieval Church. I am self-consciously a child of the Elizabethan Settlement. After the events of the last week I now have a strong sense that the ACNA is where I belong.]
To these dear friends I would say that ACNA may not be perfect, but it is a place to stand while you await the outcome you desire. Nothing I have seen indicates that your heart-felt longing for large-scale reunion with Rome will be satisfied any time soon. After all, the TAC has been pushing hard for such a thing for a decade now with no discernible results. And while there was a great deal of ink spilled about Anglican Use plans following the C of E's action on female bishops last year, I am aware of no concrete steps yet taken by Rome yet as a result of that momentous decision. The Vatican is not known for haste in taking action. History indicates that you may have many years of waiting ahead before the developments you hope for take place--if they ever happen at all. (And you must admit there are powerful liberal forces within the American Roman Catholic Church who would not be happy to see large numbers of traditionalist Anglicans being brought in via the Anglican Use and will work against such a development).
Would it not be better to muddle along in the company of a sizable number of traditionalist Anglican brothers and sisters, albeit ones with more Reformed sympathies than your own, than to go it alone for years to come in hopes that the Vatican might come through with a special dispensation in the end? Archbishop Venables has made it clear that the special arrangements made by the province of the Southern Cone are temporary and cannot go on forever. If the Southern Cone-affiliated dioceses must act to find a home, ACNA is the only clear path presently available to them. And ACNA allows for far more autonomy on the diocesan level than the old TEC structures did. If a diocese really wanted to pull out of ACNA in the future (which is, admittedly, not a thing I personally would hope for), it could do so with minimal interference. Why not come aboard ACNA now, even if you plan on departing in the future? Would the work of the Kingdom really be hampered by such participation? Surely being part of such a larger Christian body has benefits of scale for ministry. I would argue that the participation of worthy Anglo-Catholic prelates like Bishop Schofield, Bishop Ackerman, and Bishop Iker in the formation of ACNA indicates that they see the benefit in such large-scale associations, as do I.
Now that I have got that off my chest, I just want to say again what a positive experience this last week was for me. I am delighted by the spirit of unity displayed here and have much higher hopes for the future of orthodox Anglicanism in America today than I did a year ago. To God be the Glory!