Transition of leadership is always a testing time for organisations.
This is certainly true for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which came into being in 2009. Following the consecration to the office of bishop of a man who was in a samesex relationship, those who could not accept this within a Christian church formed a new church, faithful to Anglican teaching. It was recognised by the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON), which first met in 2008 in Jerusalem.
Not a proper Anglican
Their first archbishop, the Most Revd Robert Duncan, had been Bishop of Pittsburgh in The Episcopal Church (of the United States of America) prior to ACNA’s split from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and so was already a fully ‘recognised’ Anglican bishop. His elected successor, the Most Revd Dr Foley Beach, was not a bishop in TEC or anywhere else. So some could argue that he was not a proper Anglican bishop.
Archbishop Welby’s advisers appear to have taken such a view. Only days before Archbishop Beach’s investiture on 9 October the Church of Ireland Gazette published an interview with Archbishop Welby.
Welby pulls plug
In 2010 the Church of England General Synod had recognised and affirmed the desire of those who formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family. Since ACNA is not yet a member in the formal list of the churches of the Anglican Communion, the Synod agreed to explore what relationship ACNA might have with the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.
The smoke signals were thought to be favourable. But it appeared that Archbishop Welby held that ACNA was an ‘ecumenical’ partner and therefore closed the explorations. Some suggest that Archbishop Welby was misquoted and that there is more to say. ACNA was so ‘upset’ about this that Archbishop Welby’s letter of ‘greeting’ to Archbishop Beach was left unread at his investiture.
Instead Bishop Greg Venables, former primate of the Southern Cone of Latin America brought warm greetings from the Pope. ‘He wrote to me just a few days ago and said when you go to the United States please, in my name, give my personal congratulations and greetings to Archbishop Foley.
‘Assure him of my prayers and support at this moment and in the future as he leads the Church at this very important moment of revival and mission’.
This is, of course a greeting to an ecumenical partner and one of the ‘separated brethren’. Archbishop Welby’s view appears to be much the same. His statement may have been determined by lawyers for whom the question is whether ACNA clergy and bishops are ‘proper’ Anglican clergy.
Archbishop or Confession
To emphasise the point made in the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration that Anglican identity does not depend on recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury – but is rather a matter of biblically faithful confession – seven primates of the Anglican Communion (Kenya – chairman of GAFCON Primates Council, Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda Jerusalem and the Middle East – chairman of the Anglican Global South network, Myanmar, and Southern Cone) present at the service received Archbishop Beach ‘ as a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion’.
Following the installation, these primates issued this statement: ‘We, the undersigned primates, were honoured to participate in the joyful investiture of the Most Revd Dr Foley Beach as Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, and to receive him as a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion … the heart of our calling is to share the transforming love of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We celebrate that the Anglican Church in North America shares in that same mission and purpose. We and our Provinces will continue to share in gospel work together, and pledge our continued partnership with the Anglican Church in North America to pursue the work of Christ’.
Prebendary Charles Marnham, rector of St Michael’s Chester Square, London said at the investiture: ‘ACNA should be in no doubt that you have many friends in the Church of England who admire and respect your costly, courageous and principled stand in recent years’.
Archbishop’s real view
What is the real view of Archbishop Welby? He strongly affirms his opposition to same sex marriage. ACNA has stood for this Anglican teaching, in the USA, often at great cost to their clergy and to the loss of their church buildings. Yet institutionally Lambeth seems unwilling to recognise them as a Church which is a member of the Anglican Communion.
What might lie behind Justin Welby’s apparent uncertainty about ACNA? Membership of the Anglican Communion is not an administrative issue but a confessional one. The bodies that can make such a decision are the Lambeth Conference, or the Primates Council on its behalf. Due to the disfunctionality of both the Lambeth Conference (not being held in 2018) and the Primates Council, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the only current functioning locus of the Anglican Communion. He is trying to make it more collaborative by consulting personally with all the primates and until that is done he will not take these confessional decisions.
Vinay Samuel writes: ‘The GAFCON primates, as the only visible group at the moment, are following the right route in taking that decision. But more than ad hoc recognition is needed. The Anglican Communion Primates Council needs to be properly constituted so that such decisions can be made. The question is whether the Anglican Communion Primates Council can meet any time soon’.