January 8, 2010
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
The Church of England is to consider recognising a new conservative church in the US in a move that will place further pressure on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, as he struggles to keep his fracturing Communion in one piece.
The General Synod will debate a private member’s motion next month calling for the Church of England to declare itself “in communion” with the Anglican Church in North America, formed in opposition to the pro-gay liberals in the official Anglican body in North America.
The synod, dominated by evangelicals, could pass the motion by a 50 per cent majority, adding to the pressure on the primates and bishops to recognise the new church.
The motion, put down by Lorna Ashworth an evangelical from the Chichester diocese, comes after The Episcopal Church in the US elected a lesbian priest, Mary Glasspool, to be a suffragan bishop in the Los Angeles diocese.
A former adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Gregory Cameron, told The Times that he feared that were Canon Glasspool’s election confirmed in May, there would be a serious disruption in the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Gregory, one of the architects of the new Anglican Convenant, a new unity document now in its fourth draft, said: “We have succeeded in getting all the primates round the table at primates’ meetings so far,” he said. “I don’t think that would happen again if The Episcopal Church confirms the election of Mary Glasspool.”
The consecration of Canon Glasspool as a bishop would signal that The Episcopal Church (TEC) was not willing to sign up to the covenant.
Dr Williams said: “It’s quite important in this process to remember what the Covenant is and what it isn’t, what it’s meant to achieve, and what it’s not going to achieve. It’s not going to solve all our problems, it’s not going to be a constitution, and it’s certainly not going to be a penal code for punishing people who don’t comply.
“But what it does represent is this: in recent years in the Anglican family, we’ve discovered that our relations with each other as local churches have often been strained, that we haven’t learned to trust one another as perhaps we should, that we really need to build relationships, and we need to have a sense that we are responsible to one another and responsible for each other. In other words, what we need is something that will help us know where we stand together, and help us also intensify our fellowship and our trust.
“The last bit of the Covenant text is the one that’s perhaps been the most controversial, because that’s where we spell out what happens if relationships fail or break down. It doesn’t set out, as I’ve already said, a procedure for punishments and sanctions. It does try and sort out how we will discern the nature of our disagreement, how important is it? How divisive does it have to be? Is it a Communion breaking issue that’s in question — or is it something we can learn to live with? And so in these sections of the Covenant what we’re trying to do is simply to give a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts, recognising that they’re always going to be there.”
The next primates’ meeting will be in 2011 and member provinces have until the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in 2012 to sign up.
Dr Williams admitted: “The Covenant text itself does make it clear that at some point it’ll be open to other bodies, other Ecclesial bodies as they’re called, other Churches and communities to adopt this Covenant, and be considered for incorporation into the Anglican Communion.”
If TEC does refuse to sign the covenant, recognition by the Church of England of the Anglican Church in North America, led by Archbishop Bob Duncan, the deposed Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, could be a first step towards admitting it as a parallel or even substitute church in the worldwide Anglican family.
Peter Frank of the Anglican Communion Network said: “The 100,000 people worshipping in the 765 congregations of the Anglican Church in North America know themselves to be faithful Anglicans. We are delighted that the Church of England Synod has a resolution before it to declare us as faithful Anglicans and to state its desire to be in communion with us.”
Colin Blakely, editor of the Church of England Newspaper, said: “Many members of the Church of England share the orthodox beliefs of the Anglican Church of North America and would welcome their involvement in the Anglican Communion. There is nothing in the doctrines or ordinals of the Church to exclude them. However, the Anglican Communion has to address the issues concerning Anglican groups that are outside the normal structures. This is the real challenge for the Archbishop of Canterbury in the months ahead.”
David Virtue, of the conservative website VirtueOnline, said: "If the Church of England recognises the new North American Anglican Province it will be a major slap in the face at the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori. It will send a signal to liberals and orthodox alike that The Episcopal Church is no longer the only Anglican player in North America and it will also signal to the Primates that Archbishop Robert Duncan’s consecration is legitimate and recognised by the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
Giles Fraser, founder of the pro-gay Inclusive Church and Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, said: “I’m happy to be in communion with them. The question is, are they happy to be in communion with me?”