Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Reflections on the Wheaton Provincial Assembly by Wendy Padgett

A reflection from California

There was quite an offset from the atmosphere I was expecting at the ACNA Provincial Assembly 2017 in Wheaton College, IL. There are deep divisions between various historical segments which came together to form the ACNA within the past decade. Some, such as the Reformed Episcopalians, who broke away in the 1800’s, believe deeply that women should not be ordained; some, such as our C4SO, have ordained women as priests. The compromise reached was that any woman deacon properly ordained within her own diocese could take part in a deacon’s role in the liturgy. There was no formal discussion of the issue as far as I am aware.

Another division is over how welcoming of homosexuals the ACNA and its congregations should be, and how that is affected by the types of decisions a homosexual person might make. As far as I am aware, that also was not on the agenda.

Part of various liturgical worship services was a surprise. A fairly wide and pretty predominantly non-traditionally Western Anglican selection of music and preaching was vigorously and joyously appreciated by apparently everyone there. Traditional hymns, and one plainsong, were printed in the bulletins with music, which I and many others appreciated. Some were printed with words only. Many songs that were unfamiliar to a substantial number of the assembled Provincial attendees were on overheads only. As might be expected, most of these were from the praise or charismatic segments. It was unfortunate that some of the songs, which were well-chosen, were not available in any form for the rest of us to take home to our congregations.

The points of disagreement among the various segments were not presented for discussion. Apparently, these will be discussed in non-transparent meetings elsewhere that are not open to the laity. Every session at this Assembly was open, including the budget discussion. (I planned to go, but was distracted by a chance to hear about hospitality for international students on college campuses.) The various Primates present met privately over meals.

The sessions had quite a strong emphasis on quick results: plant at least one new church a year, even giving up some of the parent church’s members to do so; pray following a prescribed formula, and heal immediately; when a rebel burns your house and shoots you as you run in terror, forgive him before your bleeding stops. I think it is accurate to say there were no sessions that focused on theological discussions. There was a presentation that talked about the difference between building a strong bond, and then expanding (Petrine church growth, the way Peter did it) and expanding rapidly, then going back to reinforce the bonds later (Pauline church planting, like the much-travelled Paul). Clearly the ACNA preference at this time and in these circumstances was on Pauline planting.

Strong interest was shown in the “how to” of using the new catechism. Substantial changes to the current version are promised; the subject of those changes was not stated. The production of the current version of the new ACNA catechism, To Be a Christian, was a closed process. A small group got together and produced a document that was supposed to be of use to parents in answering questions many children ask. However, the current draft looks a whole lot more like a lot of other catechisms, and very little like anything that would concern today’s typical American pre-teen. The initial document was produced in a closed process; apparently any changes will also be made in a closed process. The focus of the attendees at the sessions on the catechism was on how to present and teach it, not on its content. The young, dedicated people attending the sessions seemed to accept their role to be limited to the “how,” not extending to the “what.” Many young parents at the Assembly brought their toddlers and babies to the Plenary and break-out sessions.

In a small and quick but engaged conversation after one catechism session, I did get a hearing for my objection about the catechism’s not mentioning miracles. If there is any criticism a young Christian going off to college is likely to be called upon to answer, it is that our faith is full of fairy tales/miracle stories/folk lore/myths made up by the followers. The present version gives no attention to preparing our future college students for these kinds of challenges. It also gives no idea that the church has been around in many forms for 2,000 years, and has presented many different faces to the world. The ACNA appears to some observers to be a huge umbrella spread over a very wide range of believers. There are dismal forecasts that it cannot last long before pieces start to break away. GAFCON* was present and quite visible; an intelligent discussion of moving the worldwide Anglican Communion away from a spiritual leader chosen by the Prime Minister of England was presented in one session. From what I saw, none of the cracks and potential divisions in ACNA was visible.

*To explain GAFCON in a quick history, hopefully in the correct order. In the 20th century, every Province of the Anglican Communion accepts being in communion with every other Province. No Provinces overlap; geographical oneness exists.

Many Provinces are poor and cannot even send representatives to world-wide meetings without financial help. Other Provinces are rich. The Church of England, CE, and PECUSA, The Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, are the richest. The CE, is restricted in its actions because it is under the control of Parliament, and its staffers are civil servants. A fairly critical part of its funding, however, comes from PECUSA.

PECUSA puts lots of money into what it wants to have happen in the Anglican Communion. For example, it tells African nations that officials in Anglican churches there must divorce all their wives except one, and they must be accepting of homosexuality. In Africa, some divorced women become destitute, and homosexuality is still actively outlawed in some countries. In Uganda, for example, Anglican men who refused a king’s command to submit to homosexuality were executed, and are considered Christian martyrs.

PECUSA announces unilaterally that it is going to consecrate as Bishop a proudly practicing and advocating homosexual, Robinson, who is very nice and very well-liked by some people. Various members of PECUSA, various other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, and various others, beg PECUSA not to, or at least wait until the Anglican Communion has discussed it.

PECUSA proceeds to consecrate Robinson. It is rumored that the principals in the liturgy were wearing bullet-proof vests.

Some Provinces demand that the Anglican Communion exert ecclesiastical discipline because PECUSA rushed into consecrating a homosexual.

Canterbury oversees a request that PECUSA write a report.

Somewhere in here PECUSA works toward changing its name to TEC, The Episcopal Church, and begins to claim that it is not confined to the USA. TEC claims it is an international organization. Since it even today claims to be a Province of the Anglican Communion, and its claimed international reach crosses into other Provinces, this creates an issue to be resolved.

PECUSA writes a hand-waving report that says the Holy Spirit made them do it, the Holy Spirit has done a new thing that supersedes the Bible. There is a dearth of names, dates, places, or other specifics in the report.

The Archbishop of Canterbury says it has been helpful to PECUSA to go through the exercise of writing that report. Very few “people in the pew,” come to know any of this. The phrase, TEC has torn the fabric of the communion, comes into use.

By now, several Provinces have taken formal action to announce they are no longer in communion with PECUSA/TEC. TEC sues its own churches in civil courts, and kicks out members who do not comply with its new directions, contrary to its own canons. It spends tens of millions of dollars with no accounting for where the money comes from. The phrase, They can have the people as long as we keep the buildings, comes to be attributed to some officials of TEC.

A couple of African Provinces, and the Province of the Southern Cone, extend “episcopal oversight” to some American churches which can no longer in faith submit to their own Bishop.

GAFCON forms and issues the Jerusalem Declaration. Originally GAFCON is made up of Provinces of the Anglican Communion, but GAFCON has never been recognized as an official organization within the Anglican Communion.

Various segments of the American Anglican community, some who have long since left PECUSA/TEC, some who have recently and bitterly left, and some who have been non-canonically kicked out, combine to form ACNA with encouragement from GAFCON. The “episcopal oversight” from foreign countries is ended.

ACNA overlays TEC and the Church of Canada. This raises horrible problems of geographic unity.

Many Provinces recognize ACNA.

So ~~ TEC is still considered by Canterbury as a member of the Anglican Communion. TEC funds some of the Communion’s work. GAFCON members are members of the Anglican Communion, but GAFCON is not recognized by Canterbury as an Anglican organization. GAFCON opposes TEC and supports the formation of the ACNA. The ACNA overlays TEC and the Church of Canada, which adds to the issues of geographical unity initially raised by TEC. ACNA supports the Anglican Communion in principle, but is not a member. TEC opposes the Anglican Communion in principle, but is a member. However, GAFCON has called for TEC to be disciplined or even expelled.

Is that clear? If not, there is always Wikipedia, which discusses GAFCON and ACNA separately without explaining the relation between them.

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