CANA and covenants in the Anglican communion
This week, seven Episcopal parishes in Virginia voted to leave the Episcopal Church(ECUSA/TEC).
Ironically and sadly, the more Anglican leaders try to keep the church to its famous Middle Way, the more the road seems to break off in different directions.
Some background: In June, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams suggested that the worldwide Anglican communion work toward a covenant of common teachings and beliefs. Those churches that accepted the covenant-to-be would become regular members of the Anglican Communion worldwide. Those churches that could not fully accept the covenant would become associate members.
Archbishop William’s solution amounts to diverting the Middle Way into two parallel tracks, both in full communion, but with the “regular roaders” allowed to control all the “traffic signs” via votes at the Lambeth Conferences and the “associate roaders” having no say over when they could merge with the rest of the traffic.
It is hard to imagine liberal Episcopalians settling for that kind of road.
Meanwhile, as Anglicans worldwide continue to discuss the two-track membership option, the Virginia parishes have found a short-cut out of ECUSA/TEC via the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) Exit.
CANA is not a separate, recognized entity within the Anglican community, as the Archbishop of Canterbury was quick to point out, but a mission operation of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. The Nigerian church, under the leadership of Archbishop Peter Akinola, has been involved in talks for some time with several ECUSA/TEC parishes for whom the appointment of gay Bishop Gene Robinson was the last straw. The formation of CANA and appointment of Bishop Martyn Minns to serve it, has created a way out of ECUSA/TEC.
There are lots of questions that CANA raises. For instance:
How will Anglican teaching about homosexuality eventually be decided and on what grounds? Anglicans are proud of their reliance on Scripture, tradition and reason to inform their faith. Conservatives argue that Scripture and tradition are being ignored too often; liberals say reason is not being applied enough. If liberals are two-tracked and have no say in developing a covenant of belief, how will Anglican teaching change, particularly on the most controversial points of women and gay clergy?
How “legal” is CANA? The Anglican communion has always frowned on “sheep stealing” between national churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s brief statement about CANA walked around that issue very carefully, merely clarifying where CANA stands within the Anglican communion. But whether ECUSA/TEC may take action against CANA is still unclear.
How will the loss of thousands of the Virginia Diocese’s most affluent parishioners affect ECUSA/TEC? The Diocese claims it own the the church buildings, worth an estimated $25 million. But how will the diocese support those buildings without the parishioners? And where will the CANA parish money go? [UPDATE: CANA says there is no expectation that money from CANA parishes will go to the Nigerian church or vice versa.]
Will CANA members be satisfied with their affiliation with the Anglican Church of Nigeria? Will, for instance, they be allowed to use their Episcopal liturgies in the BCP? Or will they be required to use Nigerian forms? [UPDATE: CANA says there are several liturgical forms that are used in CANA churches, including the 1929 and 1978 BCPs of the Episcopal church.] How will they feel about being affiliated with Archbishop Akinola, who has called for the criminalization of gay activity in Nigeria?
Finally, to what extent would a more conservative Anglican covenant affect Anglican-Orthodox relations? For some time, conservative Anglicans have seen communion with the Orthodox churches as doable. And how might a closer Anglican-Orthodox relationshiop play out in Anglican-Catholic dialogues?
Interesting points to ponder while the Christmas cookies bake, at least for this former Episcopalian.