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Church of England says no to full communion with breakaway entity

[Episcopal News Service] The Church of England has said it recognizes and affirms the desire of the Anglican Church in North America to remain in the Anglican family, but it is not yet ready to be in full communion with the breakaway entity.

An amended resolution passed Feb. 10 by General Synod, the Church of England's main governing body, said that ACNA's desire required further exploration by the "relevant authorities" in the Anglican Communion.

Bishop Michael Hill of the Diocese of Bristol, who proposed the amendment, told ENS that the debate had been charitable. "While it leaned towards issues of human sexuality, the real issue is about the process of reception with groups like ACNA," said Hill, a member of the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion's main policy-making body.

The passing of the motion hasn't resolved all the issues, he added. "It leaves the doors open but makes it clear that the church has to deal with these matters with due process and not in an ad hoc way."

Hill's amendment -- which received 309 votes for, 69 against, and 17 abstentions -- also invites the archbishops of Canterbury and York to report further to synod in 2011.

The original motion submitted by Lorna Ashworth of Chichester had called on synod to "express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America."

Several further amendments were proposed, and all but one failed.

American Anglican Council President David Anderson told ENS that he was pleased with the outcome, even though he and other ACNA members had hoped for Ashworth's motion to be carried. The AAC is a founding member of ACNA. Anderson, a former Episcopal priest, said he looked forward to furthering the conversation.

The Rev. Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, a U.K.-based LGBT advocacy group, said that Hill's amendment "kicks ACNA's desire for recognition into the long grass. But it did commit to something that is generous in recognizing their desires, but understanding that more needs to be done."

The ACNA is made up of individuals and groups that have left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, as well as those that have never been members of those two provinces. It includes entities such as the Reformed Episcopal Church, formed in 1873, and the Anglican Mission in the Americas, founded by Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini and Moses Tay, the now-retired primate of the province of South East Asia, in 2000.

In presenting her motion to synod and opening the two-hour debate, Ashworth said she had no hidden agenda. But a background paper that accompanied her resolution has been criticized for alleged misrepresentations of facts about property litigation and the number of bishops and clergy that have been deposed in the U.S. and Canada.

The Rev. Johannes Arens of the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds said during the debate that Ashworth's paper "makes accusations about a province that is not present. We should not meddle in internal politics of another Anglican church. It is particularly unfair to do this without any formal representation of that province."

Arens' argument echoed similar concerns from the Rev. Brian Lewis of Chelmsford, who in an e-mail to fellow synod members last week urged them to "give this debate the seriousness it deserves," noting that the resolution asks them "to intervene in the life of the Anglican church in another province in a way that we never have before."

During the debate, Lewis asked synod to think of those in the Episcopal Church "who feel hurt by those who have betrayed [them] and left. There are many people in this church who think about leaving. I think about it a lot, but I stay. It's painful, difficult and spiritually quite destructive, but I stay. There are Episcopalians who for very different reasons find it difficult to stay, but they stay … your primary responsibility [is] to those of us who stay."

Expressing his support for ACNA, the Venerable Norman Russell, archdeacon of Berkshire in the Diocese of Oxford, said he attended the entity's inaugural meeting in Bedford, Texas, as an observer. "I really wanted to see what was going on. My few days there were a time of spiritual renewal," he said, noting that there is spiritual renewal in the Episcopal Church, Anglican Church of Canada and ACNA, depending on the individual’s interpretation.

"The measure is not voting against the Episcopal Church or ACNA," he said. "We want to affirm that they are there and want to support them."

The Rev. Tim Dakin, general secretary of the Church Mission Society, said that synod "should proclaim it is in communion with all faithful Anglicans. The way we relate to those who are different from us reveals the sort of world we want. This is the challenge at the heart of the modern missionary movement. It is out of this messy process that something holy might come."

At different times during the debate, two procedural motions to end the discussion and move onto other business were defeated. The Rev. Canon Simon Butler of Southwark called for the debate's closure "because of the ninth commandment -- you shall not bear false witness," he said. "We've seen rebuttals and counter claims. It is impossible to determine the truth. We're in real danger of tearing one another down by making claims of one another that are untrue."

Several ACNA members, including Anderson and the Rev. Philip Ashey, chief operating officer of the AAC, have been attending General Synod as observers and lobbying its members at the invitation of the bishops of Exeter, Blackburn and Winchester.

Anglican Mainstream, a coalition of conservative evangelical Christians, hosted a lunch Feb. 9 for synod members to hear about ACNA's ambitions to be recognized by the Anglican Communion and its desire to "reunify the Anglican diaspora in North America," an observer at the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ENS.

Last week, Simon Sarmiento, a Church of England lay member and founder of the Thinking Anglicans blog, issued a paper rebutting some of the assertions in Lorna Ashworth's background paper, among which was the implication that 12 bishops and 404 clergy now associated with ACNA had been inhibited or deposed by the Episcopal Church.

"Only three bishops have been deposed recently and the total of ACNA-related clergy depositions to date is 170," wrote Sarmiento, noting that Ashworth's figures were derived from a document prepared by the AAC, a group he says has "campaigned relentlessly against the leadership of the Episcopal Church since at least February 2001."

Ashey, in turn, rebutted Sarmiento's claims.

Anderson, asked after the vote if he could ever envision reconciliation with the Episcopal Church, said "it may be for consideration by a future generation. But with the Episcopal Church having sued many of our members, it would make any future reconciliation problematic."

The Rev. Canon Charles K. Robertson, canon to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, told ENS following the debate that "we in the Episcopal Church do not interfere in the decision-making of other provinces in our Anglican Communion."

"We do, however, restate our ongoing commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the Five Marks of Mission as a member of the Anglican Communion. We also reiterate our concern with the decisions that have been made, and the one-sided image that is put forward by those who have chosen to depart from the Episcopal Church. We continue our concern with the foreign provinces which have consistently, and with impunity, actively interfered in the affairs of the Episcopal Church, even to the point of exiling faithful members of this church from their historic places of worship."

A set of "talking points" released Feb. 4 by the Episcopal Church's Office of Public Affairs sought to clarify some facts about ACNA.

"It is important to note that those who have remained in the Episcopal Church in those places where some have left include conservatives as well as liberals, persons on the political right as well as on the political left, and everything in between," the release said. "It is an inaccurate and misleading image that pictures those who have broken away from the Episcopal Church as the persecuted faithful, when in reality those who have remained have felt deeply hurt, and now in some cases are exiled from their own church buildings by ACNA."

Listening to the synod debate via a live audio feed provided by Premier Christian Radio, the Rev. Scott Gunn, a clerical deputy to General Convention and rector of Christ Church in Lincoln, Rhode Island, said: "While it is somewhat disappointing to see secessionists rewarded in their crusade to harm the Episcopal Church, I cannot find fault with synod's appreciation of the desire of some members of ACNA to join the Anglican Communion. I am pleased that synod has voted to take some time and see what happens with ACNA. Perhaps in a year, there will be some clarity on ACNA's intentions toward the communion."

The full text of the resolution follows:

That this Synod, aware of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada:

a) recognize and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family

b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and

c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.

-- Matthew Davies is editor and international correspondent of the Episcopal News Service.

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