An American view of the prospects of ACNA v. TEC

Anglican Church in North America

anglican church in north americaOn October 9th, thousands gathered at the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta for the investiture of Foley Beach as Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).

You would be forgiven for never having heard of Dr. Foley or his church body. The ACNA is the largest single umbrella organization within the Continuing Anglican Movement, a diverse and incongruous collection of churches who have broken from The Episcopal Church, USA. The Continuing Anglican Movement has its roots in the Reformed Episcopal Church 1873, when a number of Calvinist Episcopalians reacted to the increasing influence of the Oxford Movement (Anglo-Catholicism) in the Episcopal Church’s hierarchy. The Reformed Episcopal Church broke off in the hopes of preserving the strictly Protestant interpretation of Anglicanism (called Evangelicalism) that had been dominant before John Keble, Edward Pusey, John Henry Newman, and their fellows led a renaissance in Anglican Catholicism from Oxford University. Today, the Continuing Anglican Movement encompasses Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical bodies alike, the majority of whom split from The Episcopal Church over the issues of women’s ordination, same-sex marriage, and actively homosexual clergy.

The ACNA has emerged as the almost undisputed rival Anglican body in the United States, claiming more than 112,000 members. Being such a new organization, it can be rather safely said that the huge majority are active members—not ‘lapsed’, as is common in The Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church, for instance—as belonging to the ACNA is a decision one must make very wilfully at this stage.

The ACNA has also found tremendous favour with the very conservative (and very rebellious)  Evangelical provinces of the Anglican Communion, namely the Church of Nigeria, the Church of Uganda, the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, and the Archdiocese of Sydney. All have called on the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Anglican Communion, to recognize the ACNA as the official communicant body in the United States and Canada, over the more liberal Episcopal Church USA and Anglican Church of Canada.

The investiture was filmed, and is available to view on the ACNA’s website.

It was a very telling ceremony, highlighting a number of the insecurities and dysfunctions at work both in the ACNA and in the Continuing Anglican Movement at large. There was a tremendous dissonance between some of the Anglo-Catholic elements (use of the thurible, organ music, relatively ‘high church’ vestments) and the profoundly modernist-Evangelical (guitar-led praise bands, Pentacostal-esque hand-waving). The former has to do with a timeless, particularly Anglican orthodoxy; the latter with a particularly twenty-first century, generically Protestant revivalism. Such an undesirable and unsustainable alliance can only exist in wartime, as twentieth-century history has proven. Should the day come when the ACNA replaces The Episcopal Church as the official Anglican body in the United States, without a common enemy the two factions will fracture the ACNA as surely as the liberal/conservative divide has torn apart The Episcopal Church. Such hasty and, frankly, weak repairs to American Anglicanism is not in the best interests of either Anglican or Christian unity.

Moreover, the African and Australian bishops have committed an offense more outrageous than any by the ‘liberal’ Episcopal Church, USA. The ACNA was, for quite some time, a number of ‘missionary convocations’ under the authority of those African primates. It is an appalling act of reverse imperialism to unilaterally dismiss unilaterally the authority of the American Church (The Episcopal Church), whose Presiding Bishop have no more or less power than the African Primates. To establish an Anglican mission within the jurisdiction of a pre-existing Anglican Church is to reject the legitimacy, not of a particular leader, but of the entire province. This is an unacceptable slap in the face of one’s fellow Anglicans, especially the conservative remnant within The Episcopal Church. The ACNA’s African and Australian patrons repeatedly accuse The Episcopal Church of threatening Anglican unity, but only the African and Australian provinces have attempted to interfere with, and undermine, the ‘offending’ parties’ authority. These are also, unsurprisingly, the same bishops who have threatened to withhold their support from the 2018 Lambeth Conference. There is no greater threat to Anglican orthodoxy, Anglican unity, or Apostolic Succession in the Anglican Communion than those rebellious primates and their conspirators in the ACNA.

As a traditional Episcopalian, I have suffered my share of grief in the midst of The Episcopal Church’s rampant progressivism. But as Roger Scruton points out in his elegy for the Church of England, Our Church, the single greatest threat to Anglicanism has always been schism and subdivision. The worldwide Anglican Church has weathered disagreements between Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals, conservatives and liberals, conformists and nonconformists, for centuries. By allowing these rival sentiments to work themselves out, by allowing different provinces and even different parishes to align with this or that camp, the Anglican Communion has grown to be the third largest Church body in the world. To pick the Communion apart now, either from the left or the right, is the only certain means of destroying Anglicanism entirely. Total uniformity is n0t only impossible—its expectation is un-Anglican. And history has proven (with the rise and fall of Puritanism, nontrinitarianism, and Quakerism, to name a few) that, rightly or wrongly, tremendous deviations from the Anglican centre never survive. As T.S. Eliot said, there are no lost causes, because there are no gained causes. Likewise, a restoration of orthodox Anglicanism is still possible—in fact, only possible—within the Anglican Communion’s apostolic hierarchy. We only need to abandon these shortsighted quick-fixes.

It took a Civil War and Cromwell’s Protectorate to purge radical Calvinism from the Church of England. As far as combatting heresies go, we have it pretty easy.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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  1. I’ve always considered Mr. Davis a conservative of the olde order, consequently it’s rather strange to read an essay where he opposes the efforts of those who seek to restore traditional and scriptural perspectives on marriage, ordination, etc?

    • Dear Mr Cheeks,

      You flatter me! And believe that I sympathize strongly with the desire to restore a traditional understanding of the Bible and liturgy in Anglicanism. But I’d hoped to approach the question of the ACNA a bit more objectively—more the structural weaknesses and contradictions that threaten their project—than my own thoughts. (Both, of course, are skeptical.)

      Personally, for what it’s worth, I believe the Archbishop of Canterbury is the source of Apostolic Succession for the Anglican ‘branch’ of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church—the other branches the Roman and Orthodox communions. And I believe that, if going around the ABC’s back about ordaining priests (as the ACNA and its patrons have done) doesn’t automatically invalidate the orders, it’s a dishonest, legalistic means of trying to restore the true doctrines of the Church.

      Having said that, if the ACNA was recognized tomorrow as the valid Anglican body in the U.S. by the Archbishop of Canterbury, I’d probably cross over. Though I’d still be opposed to the Pentecostal and Modernist inversions that have come over from Africa and Australia.


      This article – largely about the rise of ACNA in the U.S.A and Canada, as an emerging alternative to the local Anglican Churches known as TEC (The Episcopal Church in North America) and the Anglican Church of Canada – comes from the experience of M.W.Davies, who is obviously diillusioned with what has happened in the schismatic departure of dissidents from TEC and the A.C. of C., and their active encouragement by Primates of GAFCON and the Global South to form a rival Church in North America (ACNA) – now formally under the patronage of the Global South Primates – which includes various assorted other former groups of Anglican schismatics.

      Mr Davies’ view is obviously influenced by ACNA’s movement away from the traditional origins of Anglicanism in the Church of England’s provenance that acknowledges the Founding relationship to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the A.C.C., the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Council – as traditional reference points for membership of the world-wide Anglican Communion.

      He also mentions the fact that ACNA has been encouraged in its schismatic severance from the Founding Anglican Communion Body by several Primates of the Global South area who have formed their own quasi-Anglican sodality known as GAFCON. Aided and abetted by a former conservative Evangelical Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, the Gafcon movement erected its own standard of doctrine, which they named ‘The Jerusalem Declaration’ – which affected to disown & disaffiliate from those parts of the Church (including TEC and the A.C.of C.) that has already decided to embrace the cause of LGBTQ people by accepting them into the full membership and ministry of their Provincial Churches.

      This is a very worth-while article providing, as it does, a useful step by step marker of the events leading up to the present situation – also, from a conservative view-point, which might have been thought to have agreed with the formation of ACNA.

      Father Ron Smith


About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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