Conservative Anglicans Create Rival Church
In a history-making gesture, conservative evangelical Anglicans, deeply alienated by the decline of the U.S. denomination, sounded a shofar to herald the creation of the Anglican Church of North America.
On a snowy Wednesday evening, about 1,000 worshipers, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, gathered in Wheaton, Illinois, for a worship service to celebrate the creation of the new entity, which comprises 656 congregations, 800 clergy, 30 bishops, and 100,000 people in regular worship. They represent the evangelical, charismatic, and Anglo-Catholic traditions within Anglicanism.
During a pre-service press conference, Bob Duncan, the former Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh and now archbishop-designate for the new church, told news media that he expects the Episcopal Church (TEC) to continue its decline and that in time, the new province will come to replace it.
He said, "The Lord is displacing the Episcopal Church."
This year, TEC leaders have seen the decades-long downward spiral continue in both attendance and finances. By some estimates, attendance and membership are declining by 1,000 people per week. Many dioceses are cutting budgets and staff, and drawing down endowment funds to maintain operations. The denomination has about two million members. It is spending millions of dollars on court actions to prevent individual churches and dioceses from pulling out.
Schism or the Beginning of Healing?
Many Episcopal leaders see this move by conservatives as schismatic. At the Wednesday press conference, one reporter asked if church historians would point to this meeting as the clearest mark yet of the moment when the Anglican split became final. Cynthia Brust, director of communications for the Anglican Mission in America, replied, "Today is the day that the Anglican Communion began to be healed."
Over the last 10 years, the worldwide Anglican Communion, representing about 75 million Christians, has been embattled due to controversies over sex, power, theology, and money. The 2003 consecration of the openly homosexual Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire was one of many flashpoints.
The centerpiece of Wednesday's service was public affirmation of the Jerusalem Declaration, drafted by 1,100 conservatives, including 291 bishops, this past June when they gathered for GAFCON, the Global Anglican Future Conference. The declaration condemns "overt heterodoxy" as well as the lack of discipline against anyone teaching a "false gospel," such as full inclusion for noncelibate homosexuals.
After the bishops at Wednesday's service signed the declaration, hundreds of worshipers lined up to sign it as well. At the beginning of the service, a young man walked to the center of the stage and blew a shofar that had been purchased in Jerusalem. The service was punctuated by ecstatic worship and two standing ovations for Duncan, who was removed from Episcopal office by his former fellow bishops in September. Duncan is among four diocesan bishops who have taken their dioceses out of TEC. Those four dioceses are in San Joaquin, California; Quincy, Illinois; Fort Worth, Texas; and Pittsburgh.
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, top leaders adopted a provisional constitution that will allow continued existence for current organizations, continued oversight by overseas archbishops from South America and Africa, the use of different prayer books, and the ordination of women.
It commits the leaders to involvement in a diocese, cluster of churches, or a church-based network within the new province. The constitution creates a provincial council, a tribunal, a joint operating budget, and the office of provincial archbishop.