Friday, June 22, 2012
A Conservative Evangelical View of the Anglican Church in North America—Part 3
By Robin G. Jordan
A fifth major barrier to conservative evangelical participation in the Anglican Church in North America are the provisions of the ACNA governing documents relating to the formation of dioceses and the provisions of the guidelines for application for recognition as an ACNA diocese or diocese-in-formation and how the Provincial Council and the Governance Task Force are interpreting these provisions and applying them. This is much an obstacle to participation as the barriers examined in Parts 1 and 2.
Article IV.4 permits dioceses to band together for common mission, or as distinct jurisdictions the sub-Provincial level. If the Anglican Church in North America was really committed to the organizational principle of subsidiarity, it would be making a concerted effort to organize its dioceses and other groupings into such jurisdictions based upon region or affinity due to common theology and shared vision of the church and to transfer to these jurisdictions the confirmation of the canonical status of the bishop-elect when a diocesan synod elects a bishop and the election of a bishop by a selection committee when the diocesan synod requests the election of a bishop by this method. It would also permit the chancellor of a diocese to confirm the canonical status of a bishop-elect. These practices are found in a number of Anglican provinces, including the Anglican Church of Australia and the Church in the Province of the West Indies. The only sub-provincial jurisdictions in the ACNA to date—the Reformed Episcopal Church and PEARUSA—were in existence before the dioceses or other groupings forming them affiliated with the ACNA.
Article IV.7 recognizes the right of each diocese to establish and maintain its own governance, constitution and canons not inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution and canons of the province. The Governance Task Force and the Provincial Council, however, have been limiting the free exercise of that right. The Governance Task Force has been discouraging applicants for recognition as dioceses of the Anglican Church in North America drafting their governing documents from establishing term limits for their bishops. The Provincial Council refused to approve the application of one grouping of congregations until it removed term limitation provisions from its governing documents. The ACNA constitution and canons, however, does not prohibit dioceses and other groupings from establishing a mandatory retirement age for its bishops and other forms of term limits. Nor do the ACNA governing documents prohibit dioceses and other groupings from creating review boards to determine on the basis of the bishop’s performance whether or not his term of office should be extended. The Governance Task Force has produced and the Provincial Council has approved a so-called “model” diocesan constitution and a so-called “model” set of diocesan canons. These documents either deliberately or erroneously misinterpret provisions of the ACNA constitution as applying to dioceses nd other groupings.
Article VII.1 states that member dioceses and dioceses banded together as jurisdictions retain all authority they do not yield to the province by their own consent. It goes on to state that the powers the constitution does not delegated to the province or the constitution does not prohibit to the dioceses or jurisdictions are reserved to the dioceses or jurisdictions. The Governance Task Force and the Provincial Council misinterpret Article VII.1 as permitting a diocese to voluntarily relinquish authority to the province in its constitution and/or canons. The ACNA model diocesan constitution contains provisions that require the standing committee to obtain the consent of the archbishop before it may declare the office of a bishop of the diocese to be vacant. The ACNA model canons contain provisions that make the archbishop the final arbiter of disputes between congregations and rectors. He can over-rule the ordinary of the diocese in such matters. In both cases these provisions represent serious infringements upon the autonomy of the diocese and the power and freedom of the diocese’s ecclesiastical authority—its ordinary and its standing committee. The ACNA constitution does not give the archbishop these duties and responsibilities nor does the ACNA canons under the provisions of Article IX.3: "The Archbishop convenes the meetings of the Provincial Assembly, Provincial Council and College of Bishops, represents the Province in the Councils of the Church and carries out such other duties and responsibilities as may be provided by canon [Emphasis added]." The reference to "canon" in Article IX.3 is clearly a reference to the canons of the province, not the canons of a diocese or other grouping. This is evident from its context. The Governance Task Force and the Provincial Council appear to be interpreting it to apply to the canons of a diocese or other grouping. As I note elsewhere in this article the Governance Task Force and the Provincial Council misinterpret as applying to dioceses and other groupings a number of the provisions of the ACNA constitution, which have nothing to do with dioceses and other groupings. Article VI.1 clearly states that the powers the constitution does not delegate to the province or the constitution does not prohibit to the dioceses or jurisdictions are reserved to the dioceses or jurisdictions. This qualifies the preceding statement that member dioceses and dioceses banded together as jurisdictions retain all authority they do not yield to the province by their own consent. The Governance Task Force and the Provincial Council appear to be taking the preceding statement out of context. The Governance Task Force and the Provincial Council’s misinterpretation of the constitution is a serious cause for concern.
Requiring the archbishop’s consent for the standing committee to declare the office of a bishop of the diocese vacant and making the archbishop the final arbiter of local disputes do not qualify as examples of the application of the principle of subsidiarity, of decisions being made locally, at the lowest level possible. Rather they are examples of the application of the principle of centralization, decisions being made by a central authority, at the highest level possible. There is a strong proclivity observable in the ACNA canons, the ACNA model diocesan constitution and canons, and the present archbishop’s actions to enlarge the powers of the office of archbishop to the point that in a number of areas they are approaching being papal in their magnitude. To give an archbishop such authority and for an archbishop to assume such authority, however, is un-Anglican.
While Canon I. 5.1 makes provision for the modification of the minimum requirements that a grouping of congregations must meet for recognition as an ACNA diocese, the Anglican Church in North America has not to my knowledge made public those cases in which the Provincial Council has waived these requirements and the basis upon which the waiver was requested, and the exact reason or reasons the waiver was granted. The guidelines for the completion of an application form for recognition as an ACNA diocese gives a number of factors that might be considered in granting a request for a waiver. The need to gather under the oversight of their own bishop a grouping of congregations sharing common views on a variety of key issues is not one of them.
The numerical standards in this section may explain why a number of ACNA congregations or dioceses have not submitted annual reports. Taking a head count every Sunday or passing an attendance register is not rocket science. An annual report listing membership, number of services, average Sunday attendance, number of baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals, and the amounts of the monthly plate and other giving does not require a tax accountant to complete. The reluctance to report these statistics may be related to the fear of higher assessments or loss of parish status or even loss of diocese status. The failure to gather this information points to more serious organizational problems.
The numerical standards in Canon I.51 embody a number of presumptions. One of these presumptions is that a 50+ average Sunday attendance is a reliable measure of congregational viability everywhere in Canada or the United States. Whether this presumption is correct is highly debatable. It does not allow for such factors as demographics of an area, the subculture of the target group, the church attendance habits of Christians in the area, and the size of the congregation. All these factors must be considered in interpreting average Sunday attendance.
I have examined the constitutions and canons of a number of Anglican entities. The Anglican Church in North America is the only Anglican entity to require a specific number of congregations with a specific average Sunday attendance and a total average Sunday attendance as two of the minimum requirements for the formation of a diocese of that church. Since 1789 the constitution of the Episcopal Church in the USA has prohibited the formation of a new diocese containing fewer than six parishes, or fewer than six presbyters who had been at least one year canonically resident within the bounds of the new diocese. The ECUSA constitution leaves to the diocese to determine the minimal requirements for a parish in the diocese. It recognizes that the diocese is in a better position to make this determination from its knowledge of local conditions.
The canons of the Anglican Church of the Province of the Southern Cone of America require that a new diocese must have at least eight formed congregations and eight congregations in formation and at least eight priests and eight lay leaders capable of leading the congregations. All of the priests and lay leaders must be legitimately licensed and have a least one year of residence in the area comprising the new diocese. The exception to these requirements is Bolivia as there exists only three formed congregations and three presbyters and three lay leaders in that republic. There is recognition that the minimum requirements for a new diocese established by the canons are not workable in Bolivia.
The proposed canons of the Anglican Missionary Province of North America permit five or more self-sustaining congregations in union with the church, with five or more presbyters of the church, each of whom must in charge of one of the congregations, to petition to form themselves into a diocese. The critical requirement is not the size of the congregation or its average Sunday attendance but its ability to sustain itself. One congregation may be able to do this with only forty habitual worshippers. Another congregation may require a much larger group of people to sustain itself.
Most Anglican provinces do not prescribe as a minimum requirement for the formation of a new diocese a particular number of congregation and presbyters, much less a particular average Sunday attendance for the congregations. The 2003 constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia has no such requirement.
The numerical standards in Canon I.51 also presume that the congregations in the new diocese will be organized on the conventional parish church model. They discourage the use of alternative non-traditional church models such as house church clusters and networks, cell churches, and ministry districts—clusters of congregations served by the same pastor or team of pastors. They consequently impede the Anglican Church in North America’s efforts to reach and evangelize unreached people groups in North America with fresh expressions of the church.
The numerical standards in Canon I.5.1 also discourage the launching of new works in areas that are predominantly rural and sparsely populated. They force the merger of groupings of congregations that have disparate and even conflicting interpretations of the Bible and favor equally incompatible church governance models. The problems attendant such mergers can distract the congregations from the task of fulfilling the Great Commission and negate the benefits of forming a diocese.
Canon I.5.2 with addition of the clause “…except as hereinafter set forth…” to the first sentence and the addition of a third sentence, “The structures of pre-existing dioceses are recognized…” modifies the provisions of Article IV.7. It is an example of a number of provisions in the ACNA canons that rather than being in the canons should be in the constitution. They are actually amendments to the constitution. Their legality is extremely questionable. They are doing more than providing the specific details of general statements made in the constitution. They are adding to its provisions. Otherwise, this section is superfluous. It only reiterates what Article IV.4 and Article IV.7 say.
Canon I.5.3 requires each diocese to establish a standing committee or its equivalent. The standing committee as envisioned in this section is a particularly American institution. Outside the United States the term “standing committee” is applied to a committee of the diocesan synod that carries on the work of the synod between its meetings. It is elected by the synod and is accountable to the synod and subject to its direction and oversight. A diocese may have a diocesan council that advises the ordinary of the diocese, coordinates the departments and other agencies of the diocese, and performs other functions. In the event of the absence or incapacity of the diocesan bishop or during a vacancy in the office of diocesan bishop due to his death, retirement, resignation, or removal an administrator or vicar-general convenes the diocesan synod to elect a new diocesan bishop and performs the administrative duties of the bishop. The administrator or vicar-general is usually a senior priest canonically resident in the diocese. Rather than allowing a diocese to adopt what it concludes would work best for it, the Governance Task Force and the Provincial Council required dioceses to establish a body, which may or may not fit into their particular model of governance. This is not even remotely an example of the application of the principle of subsidiarity. If the Governance Task Force and the Provincial Council had applied that principle, they would have left each diocese to determine for itself what would work best for it.
Canon I.5.4, like the additions to the constitution in Canon I.5.33 properly belongs in the constitution. It is an amendment to the constitution.
Canon I.5.6 states:
“A grouping of congregations that do not meet the minimum standards for diocesan status may apply to the Council for temporary Diocese-in-Formation status. With the majority vote of the Council, the Archbishop may appoint a Vicar General to assist the group toward final qualification as a Diocese of the Church. A Diocese-in-Formation shall be represented in the Assembly by its Vicar General and one (1) member of the Clergy and one (1) lay person. No Diocese-in-Formation shall be continued under this provision for more than five (5) years.”
Note that a majority vote of the Provincial Council authorizes the archbishop to appoint a vicar-general for a diocese-in-formation. As Canon I.5.6 is worded, the Council does not have any input into who is appointed, either by the appointment being made in consultation with the Council or by the Council confirming the appointment. The Council simply gives the archbishop leave to make an appointment. Note also that Canon I.5.6 does not require the archbishop to consult with the group in making the appointment or even to appoint someone from the group. The archbishop can appoint anyone that he likes. He can appoint someone whose theology, vision of the church, and preferred model of church governance differs markedly from that of the group. Since appointment as a vicar-general of a diocese-in-formation has become a stepping-stone to election as the bishop of the new diocese, he can appoint someone whom he would like to see become a bishop of the ACNA, someone who shares his theology, vision of the church, and preferred church governance model.
Canon I.5.6 does not specify what happens if a diocese-in-formation is not ready to become a new diocese in the space of five years. It may be forced to merge with another struggling diocese-in-formation whose theology, vision of the church, and preferred church governance model is markedly different from its own.
The guidelines for application for recognition as an ACNA diocese or diocese-in-formation contain a set of principles for the application process for a new diocese and a set of guidelines for the completion of the application form. The two organizational principles emphasized in the set of principles for the application process for new dioceses are formation around a bishop and geographic proximity. There is no attention to theological compatibility. Affinity is defined in terms of existing relationships, not in terms of common theology, shared vision of the church, and preferred model of church governance. No discussion of organizing to undertake those functions that exceed the capacity of the local congregation to undertake on its own—the principle of subsidiarity. This was the principle upon which the original dioceses of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA were organized. The diocese was a creature of the local congregations forming it and not the other way round. It was organized to support the ministry and mission of the local congregations. The bishop was a presiding presbyter who officiated at meetings of the diocesan convention and performed a number of other duties prescribed by canon. Emphasizing formation around a bishop is a departure from this principle and represents a partisan Anglo-Catholic view of the church.
The New Testament does not recognize the diocese as the church of Christ—only the local congregation; the body of believers past, present, and future in every part of the world and in heaven; and loose voluntary regional associations of local congregations. The latter was not organized around a bishop. Rather each local congregation has its own bench of elder-overseers.
Application of two organizational principles emphasized in this set of principles increases the likelihood that congregations and clergy with disparate and even conflicting doctrinal views on key issues will be enfolded into the same diocese. This in turn is likely to result in one group or party seeking to control the governance structures of the diocese and to make its doctrinal views on these issues the views of the diocese and causing tension and even strife in the diocese. For example, congregations and clergy who are opposed to the ordination of women may find themselves in a diocese dominated by congregations and clergy who militantly advocate women’s ordination. And visa versa.
The original version of the guidelines for the completion of an application form for recognition as a diocese contained this statement: “The presumption made by the Common Cause Leadership Council is that existing dioceses will be admitted as dioceses of the Province without regard for current ASA requirements or number of congregations.” The dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and San Joaquin were grandfathered into the Anglican Church in North America. The statement was dropped from subsequent versions of the guidelines. It is noteworthy that a diocese was erected for Forward in Faith congregations—the Missionary Diocese of All Saints. It did not have to undergo the application process.
The present version of the guidelines contains this statement, as did the original version of the guidelines:
“Article IV recognized the right of each grouping to establish and maintain its own governance, constitution and canons not inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Province. While not required at this time, future canons may require each grouping to write a constitution and canons in support of the Provincial Constitution and Canons.
It offers insight into the direction the Governance Task Force and the Provincial Council is moving—greater uniformity at the diocesan level, and if the model diocesan constitution and canons are anything to go by—modeling of the governance of the diocese upon that of the province, centralization of authority, and reduction of the diocese’s autonomy and its reserved powers.
In Part 4 I look at two other major barriers to conservative evangelical participation in the Anglican Church in North America—the provisions of the ACNA governing documents relating to property and finances.
A Conservative Evangelical View of the Anglican Church in North America—Part 1
A Conservative Evangelical View of the Anglican Church in North America—Part 2
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 11:18 AM