Schism, Revival, and Alphabet Soup: The Anglican Communion Today – by Hunter Van Wagenen
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This post is a part of Rookie Anglican, a blog dedicated to Making Anglicanism Accessible.
One of the things that makes explaining Anglicanism so hard for North Americans is the fact that there are so many different groups with so many different names (and accompanying acronyms) and histories.
Why is there an ACNA (or is it AMiA?) when there’s already a TEC (or is it ECUSA)? What’s so special about Canterbury? And why does there seem to be such a strong African influence in these North American Anglican churches?
A Global Family
The spread of Anglicanism through colonization and mission deserves its own essay or five, but for our purposes it is helpful to point to two historical points.
First, Canterbury was the first see (archbishop’s headquarters) in the British Isles and has thus been considered with deference and respect among the other archbishops entrusted with the rest of the Anglican Communion.
Second, archbishops in the Anglican Communion have no governing authority in other provinces. For example, the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot make rules for the province of Kenya. Each province has the freedom to worship according to its own needs, and none may encroach on the others.
Because of the autonomy each province has in its government and worship, it is more fitting to think of the Anglican Communion as a family than a coalition or federation. Like a family, each province shares a certain DNA (worship of the Triune God according to the Book of Common Prayer, proclamation of the Gospel, episcopal polity, and heritage in England) that binds it to the others more than any code or law.
Like a family, the Communion has a system of values and code of conduct; if one diocese or province breaks it, the wrongful party is dealt with in patience and love.
Such a break with the family values led to the current landscape of Anglicanism today both in North America and around the world.
Over the course of the 20th century, more and more of the leadership in the West grew liberal to the point of denying key points of the Christian faith, and many of the orthodox- and evangelical-leaning churches under these leaders found themselves under increasing pressure to conform.
Those who refused either left the Anglican Communion or had their leaders driven out, which sparked something unprecedented: the primates of other provinces offered to give oversight to these expelled priests and those from their churches who were willing to leave behind their property owned by the Episcopal dioceses. The churches that left the Episcopal Church became missionary churches under African archbishops.
Trial and Revival
The event of leaving the Episcopal Church sparked a period of evangelism and renewal within those churches that found themselves under African leadership. Their newfound partnership with the churches in Rwanda, Uganda, and Nigeria (among others) and, for many churches, their nomadic status as congregations convinced key leaders in North America that God was at work and calling on the Anglican Church to be busy about evangelism and planting new churches rather than staying settled in historic buildings.
So many churches were planted that eventually the primates agreed that these North American churches ought to have North American leadership, and so they consecrated an archbishop over a new province, which was immediately recognized by the majority of the Anglican Communion and gradually accepted by many of the other provinces.
The Way Forward
Unity remains the goal of most leaders in the Anglican Communion, but without repentance on both sides and agreement on the fundamentals of the Gospel, it will not happen. Two provinces existing in the same geographic region is unprecedented, but so is the Episcopal Church’s defiance of the rest of the Communion. It is painful in a family to have to take sides or oppose a brother or sister, but some things are too important to overlook.
Alphabet Soup: Anglican ABCs
The remainder of this post will focus on the alphabet soup of acronyms you’re likely to see swirling around the news or in Anglican circles. There are a lot I won’t cover due to space and my own limited knowledge, but this list should cover the most prominent ones. If you get nothing else from this post I hope this list will help you navigate through more of the terms and jargon of the Anglican Church.
- TEC or ECUSA – The Episcopal Church (formerly Episcopal Church USA), the historic province of the Anglican Communion in the United States.
- ACNA – The Anglican Church in North America, formed in 2008 and accepted by representatives of the majority of the Anglican Communion, includes dioceses in Canada and Mexico. Though its inclusion as the 39th province in the Anglican Communion has not been officially stated, Archbishop Foley Beach was given a vote at a gathering of primates in January of 2016, a de facto acknowledgement of his status as a primate.
- GAFCON – The Global Anglican Futures Conference, which met for the first time in Jerusalem in 2008, approved the creation of the ACNA and has represented the majority voice of the Anglican Communion in opposing the liberal policies of the Episcopal Church.
- AMiA – Anglican Mission in the Americas, now just called The Mission, was an early – and the largest – group that broke off from the Episcopal Church in the early 2000s and received oversight from Rwanda. In 2012 its leadership broke abruptly from Rwanda and it now exists as a missionary society.
- PEARUSA – Province de L’Eglise Anglicane au Rwanda USA was formed in 2012 by those in AMiA who did not wish to leave Rwandan oversight, and thus existed as an extension of the Rwandan Anglican Church for four years, incorporating fully into the ACNA in June of 2016.
- REC – The Reformed Episcopal Church is a break-off group from the Episcopal Church that formed in 1873 to preserve, as its name suggests, Reformed and evangelical theology from what its leaders saw as overly Catholic tendencies in the wider Episcopal and Anglican Church. While not technically a part of the Anglican Communion, the REC is a member of the ACNA.
Final Thoughts – A Note from the Author
The brief history I present in this post is very much from the side of a member of the Anglican Church in North America.
Having grown up in the Episcopal Church, I saw it at its worst when the bishop of north Florida stripped my church of its building and refused to sell it back – a fairly common occurrence in many dioceses – and that has shaped my view of history.
A lot of people, leaders and laypeople alike, on both sides of the schism have been badly hurt, and though I believe the leaders of the ACNA and GAFCON movements are on the side of the Gospel, I recognize that we too have failed at times to speak and act in the grace of Jesus Christ.
All that to say, it’s impossible to find an unbiased account of the events in the Anglican Communion over the past hundred years, but I hope mine is helpful when taken with however many grains of salt are necessary.
Read Hunter’s previous piece: Episcopal Polity: How the Anglican Church Takes Care of Business.
Hunter Van Wagenen is a graduate of Beeson Divinity School. He serves as a transitional deacon and curate at Church of the Redeemer in Greensboro, NC. After he completes his curacy he will, Lord willing, move to Spain with his bride Stephie to do evangelistic work.
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