Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Proposal for the Restructuring of the Anglican Church in North America

By Robin G. Jordan

The Anglican Church in North America, if I counted correctly, has only seven churches in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Episcopal Church has 37 churches in the Diocese of Kentucky and 36 in the Diocese of Lexington—a total of 73 churches in the Commonwealth. While the Anglican Church in North America may be expanding in some parts of the United States, it is showing negligible growth in Kentucky. One is prompted to ask, “How come?”

If the rest of Kentucky is anything like westernmost Kentucky, the region of Kentucky known as the Jackson Purchase, it does not offer good soil in which to plant churches that are High Church in their style of worship and Anglo-Catholic in their theological outlook. Ritualism and Anglo-Catholicism were strong influences in the Diocese of Kentucky from the 1830s through the 1970s. Episcopal churches in the Jackson Purchase are confined to the larger population centers of the region. With one exception all of these churches are located in a community that has a Roman Catholic parish. The one exception is located in a community that has a Roman Catholic parish in an adjoining community.

Episcopal Church expansion in the region occurred in three phases—in the nineteenth century, in the 1950s, and in 1980. No new Episcopal churches have been planted in the region since 1980. One of the churches, which was planted in the 1950s, closed in 2005.  There is only one self-supporting parish in the Jackson Purchase; the other churches are subsidized missions, except for the oldest Episcopal church in the region. It is a preaching station.

The last Episcopal church planted in the Jackson Purchase, the one planted in 1980, experienced a church split following the election and consecration of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire. The group of conservative Episcopalians that broke away from the congregation affiliated with one of the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions.  This group has experienced a number of splits of its own since that time and has been affiliated with three different Continuing Anglican jurisdictions. The Jackson Purchase’s two Continuing Anglican churches trace their origins to this group.

If any conclusion can be drawn from the experience of these two Continuing Anglican churches, it is that traditionalist High Church Anglo-Catholic congregations do not fare well in the region. Among the factors that may have contributed to their negligible growth is that the communities in which they are located are not diverse enough for them to find a niche for themselves in their respective communities. The two churches also have no connection with the communities in which they are located.  While the Episcopal churches in the region are not exactly flourishing, they are, with the exception of the preaching station, doing better than the two Continuing Anglican churches.

The three religious traditions that have the most churches in the region are Baptist, Church of Christ (Restorationist), and United Methodist. Liturgical churches are decidedly in a minority. Roman Catholics comprise 2% of the population. Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Lutherans form a much tinier population segment.

The seven Kentucky churches that are listed on the ACNA website are located in communities that have one or more Episcopal churches and where the Episcopal Church has enjoyed a measure of success in the past. The ACNA at least in Kentucky appears to be reluctant to reach and engage population segments outside those that have formed traditional constituencies of the Episcopal Church.

This only in part explains the weak ACNA presence in Kentucky. The Anglican Church in North America as it presently constituted is the wrong church to evangelize and disciple communities in the Commonwealth. It is too Anglo-Catholic, episcopal, High Church, and tradition-bound for most Kentuckians. It is not a good match with a large part of the Commonwealth. I would hazard that an Anglican Church that is more evangelical, more flexible, more Low-Church, more Protestant, and more synodical would be a much better match.

The problem is that North America at the present time does not have such an Anglican Church. It has the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church in North America, the Continuing Anglican Churches, and the Episcopal Church. None of these denominations fit that description.  

At the time of the formation of the Anglican Church in North America evangelicals were urged to overcome their misgivings and vote for the draft constitution and canons. What troubled them, they were told, could be fixed later. Later has come and gone and none of the things that caused them misgivings have been fixed. To put it plainly, they were duped.

Theological, both in doctrine and practice, they have no standing in the ACNA. They are not even recognized as a legitimate school of Anglican thought. Those who occupy the place of power in the ACNA want their expertise, their money, their numbers, and their zeal but they do not want their beliefs and values. In this regard these leaders are no different from the Episcopal Church’s leaders at one point.

Withdrawing from a denomination even for good reasons to form a new denomination is not easy or simple. Some folks have made an emotional investment in the Anglican Church in North America. They are not open to change with the risks that it entails. They do not see the need for another move.

One possible solution is to reorganize the Anglican Church in North America into two provinces. They would share the same name and the same geographic territory but would have entirely different doctrinal foundations, structures, forms of government, bishops, and rites and services. One province would be essentially the present ACNA; the other province would be more classically Anglican, faithful to the teaching of the Bible, loyal to the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies, and committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Rather than withdrawing from the ACNA, clergy and congregations could transfer to the province with which they have the greatest affinity.

Also see
A Proposal for the Restructuring of the Anglican Church in North America - Part 2

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

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