Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Choosing the Right Words

So, the Church of Nigeria – Anglican has officially recognized the new ecclesial entity, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Well, we knew that was coming, didn’t we? The fellow travelers have been working hard at this and saying it was coming for some time now. The Church of Nigeria has considered communion with the Episcopal Church “broken” for some time now; and changes made to their constitution in 2005 simply codified that, if implicitly. Their efforts at missionary work in the United States, which in part laid the foundation for the ACNA, demonstrated that they felt there was no relationship with the Episcopal Church to be injured. So, now they have confirmed their effort to support this new body, which is intended to replace the Episcopal Church, in their esteem if not in any institutional sense.

So what should we say to these things? What should we say now that what has been predicted, even desired for some time, has now come to pass?

Nothing. To this, right now? Nothing.

It’s not that this doesn’t annoy me. It annoys me as it annoys many. I’m as annoyed as anyone when partisans suggest that I’m not Anglican, or even Christian. I’m annoyed when partisans proclaim the 700 or so congregations and 100,000 or so total members in such a way as to suggest that all were once Episcopalians, and that all – congregations and members together – have all left the Episcopal Church since General Convention in 2003. I’m not saying that none have. I am saying that most of those congregations, and many of that 100,000 were never Episcopalian; and many of those who were left long before, over Prayer Book and ordination of women.

But, we’ve known this was coming. We’ve known it at least since the Hope and a Future Conference of the Anglican Communion Network in November, 2005. In that gathering Henry Orombi called for the participants to “come out,” saying, “We will support you.” Peter Akinola said, essentially, “What are you waiting for?” And Robert Duncan said, “There’s no way for these two conflicted faiths to live under the same roof.” Sure, they took more time than I expected – more, too, I think than they expected. But we’ve known it was coming.

And, it doesn’t really have that much of an effect on us. That is, I think most of those who will leave the Episcopal Church have already left the Episcopal Church. Periodically, I read someone who speaks of hosts leaving, or of the Episcopal Church “bleeding out;” but it’s basically rhetorical excess. Instead, we have a new church institution on the block – and, since ACNA wants to incorporate some of the smaller groups that left over the past 40 or so years, perhaps that will result in fewer institutional structure, rather than more. As regrettable as some might find it (including the Archbishop of Canterbury), the Anglican tradition in North America is entering a state like the Orthodox tradition in North America: a variety of churches representing different facets of the same tradition, nominally acknowledging one another (which is better than some of the active sniping of the past) and going about their business. For a generation and more there have been churches calling themselves Anglican, existing initially in contradistinction with the Episcopal Church; and after some tension at first, having little or no impact on the Episcopal Church. A generation or more hence our successors will likely see this in much the same way.

Oh, there are some property disputes to settle, and plenty of rhetoric to exchange, but those will pass. Undeniably, the relationships among the national and provincial churches that now make up the Anglican Communion will change; but we will all adjust. Eventually, all of us on all sides will discover that we have something more important to be concerned about, something that speaks more to our sense of mission than fractiousness and fragmentation within the Anglican tradition.

Now, some things will indeed be harder in the short term. I’m going to be particularly interested to see just what Archbishop Williams says this summer to the General Convention about the Covenant he so desires. With this much damage already done, and a strong sense among some here that his attitude of “institutional communion at all costs” has largely contributed to this, the Covenant may be a hard sell.

But what should we say to this event?

Nothing. At this point, there’s nothing new, nothing shocking, and really, nothing to say.

Well, except, “God be with them, and with us. God be with us all.”

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