A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


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.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

FYI - No money from parishioners or CANA goes to the Anglican Church of Nigeria or the Archbishop. All contributions remain in the United States. Thought this might help clarify.You can read more here:

Perhaps we are closer to an Anglican Rite.Finally, the Mass in English!

One important item to note: The 'foreign' bishops have not been 'border crossing' and 'sheep-stealing', they have been contacted by individual parishes, missions and individuals, to provide orthodox Anglican coverage. I am not aware of any congregations who have been approached by any overseas bishop.

The slow but ineluctable disintegration of the Episcopal Church is simply a result of the de facto Nihlism that continues to leach through every component of contemporary society. If memory serves me, did not Nietzsche predict this kind of thing?, Not of course relating to the Episcopal Church, but about the norms of civilization in general?

Chip, thanks for making that clear. There is more info on CANA's presence in the U.S. on its Web site, which I've added to the original post.I'm sympathetic to the conservative wing of the Episcopal Church on many counts; they have had to swallow a lot of changes in the past 30 years that did not reflect their beliefs nor the mainstream of Anglican beliefs worldwide.But wouldn't you agree that the "sheep stealing" is viewed somewhat differently by ECUSA/TEC? There's still a whole other "shepherd" in the flock, even though some of the "sheep" invited him in, no?Providing a way out of ECUSA, in my view, only makes both factions dig their heels in further. Though maybe those heels are dug in so far they can't be extricated. It's sad.

Not to hog my own thread, but I wonder if Bob would care to enlarge on this a bit more:"The slow but ineluctable disintegration of the Episcopal Church is simply a result of the de facto Nihlism that continues to leach through every component of contemporary society."I'm not optimistic about the future of the Episcopal Church, but I think there are more specific reasons for its problems than nihilism.

Hello All,Interesting thread. Two thoughts.First, by way of clarification, it is my understanding that the issue is not "gay clergy" but rather gay clergy that wants the right to marry partners and bless gay unions.Second, as far as the concern about sheep stealing goes, I got a chuckle out of the news article at this link I laughed out loud when I read it.Peace all,Greg

Perhaps TEC's liberalism is, in fact, a result of its conservatism. When elite opinion changed in the last two generations (what we used to call the emergence of the 'New Class'), the Episcopal church simply followed suit. Their post-Christian identity, as Bob called it, can be explained by the fact that they are mirroring the trends of the cultural elite of which they are/were a part. Just one reading of the sign of the times.

CANA = Anglican verson of Catholic "Personal Prelature."Either a bishop is the ordinary of his geographic diocese and all that it contains, or he is not.

Jean:My use of the term "de facto Nihilism" was meant to convey the "transgressive" nature of an increasingly large segment of our (high and low) culture. It starts in philosophy and and from thence into theology and on out into the popular culture.Of ourse it could be argued that "transgressivist" positions aren't necessarily Nihilistic since Nihilism is not the automatic opposition to civilizational norms but simply the assertion of the sovreignty of the individual as regards moral choices.

Greg, the homosexual issue is two-fold. Conservative Episcopalians object to "actively" or "partnered" gay clergy. Celibate gay clergy have been allowed. And they object to the blessing of gay unions, which has been done by both gay and straight clergy.In the past, conservatives ignored what happened at the parish level in more liberal locales, making it clear that actively gay clergy and gay union blessing would not happen in their churches.The appointment of Gene Robinson, though, made it impossible for them to ignore the issue because it affected the church at the national level.I haven't seen numbers, but my guess is that most conservatives don't actively oppose women's ordination. Jimmy Mac gets to the heart of why I find CANA distasteful. But I think conservatives would argue that if ECUSA had considered their arguments more thoughtfully, they wouldn't have CANA in their backyard now.

Amy Welborn had a post on this the other day. She wrote:"...This is really such an interesting story for all of us, Anglican or not, to follow - especially us RC's. The very visible tensions, fracturing and now near-schism in the Anglican Communion (illustrated not only by this move, but by the statement by hundred of English evangelically-oriented Anglicans that they would not accept oversight from or support bishops they define as liberal.One of the points to take away is this: This is what some want the RC Church to look like. No, not the schism, but the more "liberal" Episcopalian mindset. That's what people really want. That would solve our problems. Undoubtedly some do want that, and on a practical level, live out their faith and beliefs in a way that's closer to ECUSA than to traditional Roman Catholicism. But on an institutional level - it's quite instructive to study what's happened with ECUSA and the Anglican Communion and find that the "new thing that God is doing" as advocates of the "reappraising" persepctive like to put it - is not functioning as a source of unity. There seems to be something about a disengagement from traditional Christian faith and its traditional sources that doesn't exactly pack them in..."

Wrong as I think liberal Episcopalians have been in many areas, I can't bring myself to laugh at them or gloat over the victory of orthodoxy as do the folks over at Midwest Conservative Journal.I still think of the Anglicans as my "family," and it hurts me to see them tearing themselves apart. Doesn't any rift in the body of Christ diminish us all?

A Catholic, I married an Episcopalian in her "low" parish in 1975, and we attended each other's Sunday services for a number of years. I remember when some of the more outspoken members of my (ex-)wife's parish --- including her pastor --- referred to female ordinands as "priestesses." I lived through the implementation of, and controversy surrounding, the revised BCP. My son was, in fact, "baplitized" (his word) in the Episcopal Church although he would eventually attend far more Catholic masses than Episcopal holy communion services (until he stopped going to church altogether --- maybe a phase for some twenty-somethings?).Anyway, I once saw the Lord's wish that all his followers be "one" as his desire that all Christians be ultimately under the spiritual authority of the pope. "I once saw..."Not anymore. I'm reminded of the passage in Luke 9:22 where one of the Lord's disciples complains, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow in our company." Without relying on legalities, technicalities, etc., Jesus replied simply and directly, "Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you." Based on my (admittedly) rather cursory and superficial knowledge of church history, I would have to say that the bulk of our differences within the worldwide Christian "family" today arise not from our interpretations of the gospels but, rather, from all the historical man-made accretions that have darn little to do with the words and actions of Jesus in the gospels. For lack of a better way to put it right now, I see a lot of false pride as well as sincere --- but misguided --- efforts at unity or, more precisely, "our" understanding of church unity.Why do people switch Christian denominations? Why do "seekers outside the faith" join one particular Christian body and not another? I think it's because they want to be associated with a fellowship of believers and a body of belief that will help them live out, as best they can see, their relationship with the Good Lord.Is the Anglican Communion being ripped apart, or might recent developments be the work of the Holy Spirit? Is dissension within the ranks of the Catholic Church the work of the devil, or is it the work of the Spirit? I now think such developments are the latter. As my former pastor used to say, the (Catholic) Church is like a big old rotten egg, and the pope and his "orthodox" helpers are scurrying about this egg with ladders, scaffolding, and tape in hand, trying to keep it together. Their efforts are, in the end, going to be futile. Nothing can hold back the Holy Spirit, the source of life in our church and, I would have to add, the larger Christian community. On this point, maybe Benedict will get his "smaller but purer" church, but such a result will likely be of no consequence when all is said and done.Rather than trying to become "one" (big communion) as we Catholics have traditionally understood it, perhaps we need to wish our fellow Christians well, allow things to unfold, wait for the dust to settle, and remember the words of Our Lord, "Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you." Let the gospel message be our ultimate authoritative guide, remember the Second Greatest Commandment of love for neighbor, acknowledge the legitimacy of different paddle strokes for different folks in the Christian barque (God knows our weaknesses and differences), put our trust in the Captain who will surely get us to our heavenly destination, and refrain from doing or saying anything that would give the "other" any reason to be "against" us.If this is so-called "relativism," I'm all for it!

I note that the New Year's edition of Newsweek features a person in numerous areas who will make a difference in 2007. The Who's Next person in religion for 2007 is Bishop Katherine Schori who indicates she'll do everything possible to bring folks together in her Church.In the mail today came the Coomonweal Associates newsletter. It featured a piece on Andrew Greeley's address on Chicago in October in which he noted, among other things, that the Church's hierarchy is out of step with folks in the pew (who continue to hang in) on issues of sexual morality and the role of women.I'd like to hope Joe is right that the Spirit is at work in all of this.

Good Riddance:The Episcopalian split promises a stronger church.By Astrid Storm"Which is all to say that, in doing what they did, when they did it, and with whom, these churches appear disorganized, impatient, and uncouth. To quote William James, the ideal pairings of "fervor with measure, passion with correctness" seemed distinctly lacking in their actions, and it's very hard to imagine many other churches following their lead. . . ."

I do not think we should make light of this situation. Our disagreements are not superficial. What some consider sin others consider sacramental; what some consider the work of profound evil others see as the work of the Holy Spirit. A Church cannot enjoy unity for long with disagreements that go all the way down.We are not immune to what is happening in ECUSA. What is now happening there de jure is in many respect present within us de facto.

mlj,"What some consider sin others consider sacramental; what some consider the work of profound evil others see as the work of the Holy Spirit."Can you mention some examples. (I am asking purely for my information and would have sent this as a direct mail to you, if you had provided an email address. Others may already know what you mean, so you could just send a mail to me, if you so feel)

David, thanks for the link. It will be interesting to see in the long term how these conservative Episcopalians/Anglicans fare under an African bishop whose views on homosexuality are seen by a growing number of Christians in the West as homophobic, maybe violent, and anything but charitable. On the latter point, I'm reminded of Philip Jenkins' two recent books on the growth of Christianity in the global south. Indeed, a reliance among many African, Asian, and Latin American Christians on a literal reading of the Bible might justify or mandate putting women "in their place," i.e., below that of males. In addition to the sanctioning of homosexuals and subordination of women, I'd guess we'd also see other religiously influenced political and social practices that would strike Americans and Europeans as downright uncivilized. How the "proper folk" in the breakaway Virginia parishes might fare or feel in the long run under an African prelate with "traditionalist" views (perhaps in the extreme!) will be interesting to see.MLJ, while I concur with your basic assessment, I do not think people should compromise on their respective firmly held beliefs about what constitutes truly Christian doctrine and behavior. Even the official Catholic "line" is that, in the end, one must follow his or her conscience even if it is wrong. Since Vatican II, even religious liberty has been a fundamental tenet of the church.I agree with your view that "a Church cannot enjoy unity for long with disagreements that go all the way down." I would only add, however, that any such "unity" might very well constitute a sham if such disagreements cannot be resolved. When people have well founded differences of belief on ordination of women, homosexual unions, papal/episcopal authority/prerogatives, etc., we really do end up with only a superficial unity that lacks much in the way of substance. I think you're right: we have de facto fractures in the Catholic Church. If we extend this line of thinking to fellow Catholics on the left and right who have parted company with Rome, we have de jure separation, as well.For me, a critical question is, What kind of "unity" does Jesus want? Everyone ultimately under the pope? Or something else? I think the latter. We need to reexamine a lot of man-made institutional policies, practices, and structures that bear little if any resemblance to what can be found in the gospels and the earliest of the ancient Christian communities. We should examine the spirit of the gospels to ascertain what they may have to offer us in dealing with issues such as homosexuality, role of women in the church, responsibilities of ecclesial leaders, authority, etc. I don't see separation among various Christian communities as a scandal (after all, even the Jews and Muslims have their different branches based on doctrinal or other differences). Separation does not per se prevent dialogue or efforts toward reconciliation and genuine unity. We see this truth today in Catholic dialogue with the Orthodox, Anglicans, and other Christian bodies. We have dialogue with non-Christian faith traditions. As I mentioned earlier, I once was concerned about (the appearance of) unity under Rome. Not anymore. I think God will continue to watch over all of us throughout the bad and the difficult as well as the good and the easy. I just don't know how he does it :)

I read an article on the Nigerian archbishop at the head of the CANA movement that these churches joined (I think that's right, anyway). What is illuminating and disturbing is that the archbishop's view on gay people (or rather, the emphasis he places on his disdain of gays) is not really so much embedded in Christian doctrine, so much it is a reaction to Islamic expansion in Nigeria. In other words, this a perverse form of two religions competing for adherents by outgunning each other in their demonization of homosexuality. As the archbishop has said, if his church shows sympathy to gay men and women it will die because his adherents would rather be Muslim than in communion with gay people.

The specific quote was as follows:"One of Archbishop Akinolas principal arguments, often heard from other conservatives as well, is that Christianity in Nigeria, a country where religious violence has killed tens of thousands in the past decade, must guard its flank lest Islam overtake it. The church is in the midst of Islam, he said. Should the church in this country begin to teach that it is appropriate, that it is right to have same sex unions and all that, the church will simply die. "This isn't much of an argument from theology.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment