A province is born
In the midst of Advent, while we prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the universal church witnessed another birth today. Gathered in Illinois, conservative Anglicans formed a new province. For my readers who don’t follow these things, a “province” in this context is a collection of dioceses (in Anglican terms, a province is usually connected with a national church, e.g. the Church of England or the Episcopal Church in the USA).
Today’s new province is different from others. It’s not based on geography; it’s based on theology. Some wags will claim that today’s action is unprecedented. They’ll say that the Catholic church has always maintained one province in a specific geographic region, so it’s illicit to form this new province in North America where the Anglican Church is already well established. There are all kinds of problems with this criticism. For one thing, Anglicanism itself overlaps with Orthodox and Roman Catholic dioceses. Even within Anglicanism, there are precedents for overlap, namely in Europe (ECUSA and C of E) and in this country. Everyone likes to forget that the Church of South India has peacefully operated here for decades.
What is unprecedented in today’s action is the creation of a province solely due to differences in moral theology. I grieve that the church has been torn asunder yet again. I am sorry that these Anglicans have chosen to walk apart from the rest of us. Of course, some of them had chosen to walk apart long ago. This new province is made up of a collection of disaffected Anglicans spanning well over a century. They include the Reformed Episcopal Church (formed in the 19th century over theological and ceremonial differences). They include CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America — based out of Nigeria). They include the former dioceses of San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and Quincy. They include people who are unhappy with ordained women, people who are avid Anglo-Catholics, and ardent Evangelicals. It’s a number of people who have two things in common: they love Jesus and they loathe the Episcopal Church.
Over the next couple of days, we’ll see some major drama. They plan to petition for recognition from the GAFCON Primates, who are meeting in London. (7WD can’t provide live coverage, because we’ve been banned.) Then these primates in turn apparently plan to ask for recognition from the Archbishop of Canterbury for this new province. Most watchers believe +Rowan Cantuar will not recognize this new province, nor will he support efforts at recognition at the Anglican Consultative Council or the Primates’ Meeting. I think that’s probably right, but the landscape is littered with people who have misread Rowan. I for one believe that if he does recognize the new province, life will go on for everyone, just fine. I don’t actually care very much, in terms of the ministry of the church I love. I wish the best for this new group, and whether they are in communion with Canterbury or not will not affect very much. I am 100% confident that recognition will not be withdrawn for ECUSA.
Penultimately, the Episcopal Cafe says this new entity isn’t a province, because it hasn’t been recognized as a province by any of the Instruments of Communion. I disagree. They are a province, and can call themselves that. They are not, however, a province in the Anglican Communion. Their Constitution does not seem to make this claim (based on my very quick survey). I’m one of those liberals who believe that people should be able to name themselves. For example, I will vigorously disagree if someone tries to tell me I’m not a Christian just because I’m not their brand of Christian. Likewise, just because this new entity is not a province in the sense that I’m used to seeing one does not mean it’s not a province. A province, after all, is just a collection of dioceses. And this new province is certainly a collection of dioceses. Granted, it’s a mishmash of dioceses who were not previously in communion with one another or recognized by Canterbury, but that’s neither here nor there.
Finally, this new province will not last long, I predict. Or at least it will begin to shrink. This is a collection of people who have splintered for generations of fine points of doctrine. They don’t agree on women’s ordination, baptismal regeneration, obedience to the 39 Articles, or liturgy. My prediction is that soon we’ll see (another) new province. And another. And another.
It’s all very sad. Remember, no one kicked these people out. They walked apart. I pray for the unity of the church. I pray that those who feel driven out will repent (literally, turn). And I pray that, where it is in error, the Episcopal Church will also repent.