Church of England stops short of links with breakaway U.S. Anglicans

February 10, 2010
canterbury cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England, 23 Dec 2009/Suzanne Plunkett

The Church of England stopped short of recognising a new conservative church in North America on Wednesday, avoiding possible embarrassment for the main Anglican church in the United States.

But some evangelicals in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) said they were encouraged by the decision of the General Synod, the CoE’s parliament, for the archbishops of Canterbury and York to report back on the break-away church’s progress next year.

Some members of ACNA, formed in opposition to pro-gay members of the official Anglican body in North America, said they had not expected any kind of recognition from the Anglican mother church for another five years.

“We are hopeful on this,” Kevin Kallsen, an ACNA member from Connecticut, told Reuters.

The synod voted to “recognise and affirm” the desire of those who have formed ACNA to remain within the Anglican family, amending a private member’s motion brought by Canadian-born CoE lay member Lorna Ashworth.

She had called for the synod to “express the desire” that the CoE be in communion with ACNA, saying its members had been unfairly treated for maintaining the Anglican faith in doctrine, practice and worship as they saw it while opposed to those who have embraced “erroneous teaching”.

acna logoACNA, which includes both evangelical and Anglo-Catholic Anglicans in the United States and Canada, was founded in June 2009 after breaking ranks with the Episcopoal Church (TEC) over the issues of gay and women clergy.

It says it has united about 100,000 Anglicans in 742 parishes. TEC, which questions those numbers, has more than two million members.  During the debate, the synod was told by the Right Reverend Mike Hill that “Anglicans around the world are watching today”.

The day before, Rowan Williams, who as Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head of the Anglican Church, had told the synod the issue of gay and women clergy had knock-on effects on other Anglican provinces around the world.  “The present effect of this is chaos — local schisms..,” he said. He also said he was profoundly sorry if he had been “careless” in giving the impression that he undervalued gays in the Anglican Communion.

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Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams leads a Christmas carol service at Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England, December 23, 2009/Suzanne Plunkett

But the feeling among synod members was that it was too early to commit itself to the motion.  Long-standing division between liberals and conservatives in the United States had already fragmented TEC by 2003 when it consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop known to be in an openly gay relationship in more than four centuries of Anglican Church history.

An early attempt to stifle the debate failed despite a synod member arguing that so many claims and counterclaims had been made by the interested parties that truth had become politicised.

The synod also voted to carry the amendment that it was aware of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States and Canada.

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