frgavin on July 13th, 2011

Sydney Nichole Thomas reports in World Today

Anglicanism has begun a global and North American reformation, according to Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), who recently delivered his annual state of the church address, describing the growth and challenges faced by orthodox Anglicans. Duncan serves as both head of the ACNA and bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The worldwide Anglican Church has 39 provinces, and historically the Anglican province in the United States has been the Episcopal Church. But because of the theological and numerical decline of the Episcopal Church, American Anglicans hope the ACNA soon will be recognized as an alternative province.

As a province-in-formation within the worldwide Anglican Communion, the ACNA unites 100,000 Anglicans in nearly 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada and represents four former Episcopal dioceses.

Deep disagreements have strained the international Anglican Communion, which represents 77 million Anglicans worldwide.

“The North American Anglican Church, chiefly represented by the Episcopal Church, was in a drift away from classic Christian orthodoxy for nearly five decades,” Duncan told me. As a result, Anglicans have split into more than 40 different groups since the 1960s. “Around the year 2000,” he explained, “Anglicans began to determine that it was time to bring these fragments together.”

When many distressed congregations started leaving the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, they aligned themselves with provinces in what’s known as the global south, including Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and South America. The Anglican Church of Rwanda, for example, commissioned the Anglican Mission in the Americas in 2000, while the 20 million-member Anglican Church of Nigeria sponsors the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

Because the provinces in the global south have faced persecution, “the Churches in Africa and Asia know what they stand for,” Duncan said. “They have been clear about what constitutes the Christian faith.”

In 2008, five primates from Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and South America met with the archbishop of Canterbury to formally propose that the ACNA become the 39th province in the Anglican Communion. Although having two provinces in the same geographic region upsets the Communion’s traditional governing structure, North Americans desired to add a province rather than break away from the church entirely.

Duncan hopes that the ACNA will serve as a bastion for orthodoxy in North America, and provided some indicators he found encouraging. For example, in spite of property lawsuits, the ACNA grew from 706 to 952 congregations during its first 18 months, and of the nearly 250 new churches, at least 130 were new church plants.

But within the emerging ACNA province there has been debate over women’s ordination. “We agreed when we came together that North American Anglicans would reflect global Anglicanism, which is disagreed on this matter,” Duncan said.

While Anglicans agree that women can serve as deacons, they differ on the question of women’s ordination to the presbyterate (priesthood). Anglicans do not believe that women should ascend to the episcopate (bishop).

“I personally have ordained women to the diaconate and priesthood,” said Duncan. “The issue is not first order in doctrinal import.”

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