Dividing the Faithful
Congregations leaving the Episcopal Church (TEC) over scriptural authority have had little trouble finding new oversight. More difficult has been achieving unity among the departed. The most hierarchical Protestant denomination has become a potpourri of missions, convocations, and networks.
Traditional Anglican polity requires that congregations submit to the leadership of a bishop. In December 2006, nine Virginia churches left TEC and aligned with the Convocation of Anglican Churches in America (CANA), a U.S. mission launched by Nigerian primate and outspoken conservative Peter Akinola. One month later, Christ Church in Plano, Texas, announced its affiliation with the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), an outreach of the Rwandan archbishop. Also in January, a dozen churches in Southern states requested oversight from the Kenyan archbishop. Anglican primates from South America and Uganda are also overseeing several former TEC parishes.
The congregations left TEC for similar reasons. The conservative exodus that began in earnest after the 2003 consecration of openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson gathered momentum following the June 2006 election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, a liberal, as presiding bishop. But some prominent conservatives, such as Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, have remained with TEC in an attempt to reform it from the inside.
The new Anglican outposts differ in structure and aims. AMiA, the oldest and largest group, started in 2000 and has grown to nearly 100 congregations. It focuses on church planting in order to reach those with no church affiliation. "Our objective is to be the Anglican mission in America," said Charles Murphy, missionary bishop and chairman of AMiA, "not the Anglican refuge in America."
CANA, meanwhile, seeks to provide a stable ecclesial home for escaping congregations. Its ultimate goal: the creation of a 39th Anglican province in North America, a conservative alternative to TEC.
The organizations also differ on finances. AMiA sends a portion of congregations' tithes to its founding province in Rwanda. CANA has rejected such an approach, fearing the wealth disparity between American and Nigerian congregations might create a skewed relationship.
"There are no strings attached with CANA," said Martyn Minns, missionary bishop of CANA. "Any funds to be raised here will be used to do ministry here. [We're] not a sort of cash source for an overseas province."
Congregations' choices about where to re-affiliate reflect their new organizations' setup and goals. A large and growth-minded congregation with 2,200 weekly worshipers, Christ Church went with AMiA. Truro Church, a historic parish that once counted George Washington's father as a member of its vestry, chose the more traditional church governance of CANA.
But differences between the groups do not equal disunity, Minns stressed. Personal friendships and a common cause bind the new organizations together, he said. Minns and David Anderson, president and CEO of the American Anglican Council, foresee the groups collaborating more closely in the future.
"In the evacuation of Dunkirk some got into yachts, some into fishing boats, some into naval vessels," Anderson said. "This is an evacuation of the faithful out of TEC. But the purpose of the evacuation is to reassemble."
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