By George Conger
POISED to fracture over the thorny issue of institutional loyalty towards the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) emerged from its annual council meeting with a degree of unanimity and confidence not seen since the aftermath of the Gene Robinson consecration in 2003.
As the Sept 30 deadline for the US House of Bishops to respond to the Dar es Salaam communiquÃ© approaches, the ACN voted not to take precipitous action and to wait upon the direction of the Primates of the Anglican Communion.
The Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, Gregory Venables challenged the delegates ”˜not to hold back’ challenging them to choose between a ”˜Christian church or a comfortable church.’
He said he had ”˜dealt eyeball to eyeball’ with the leaders of the American church and had ”˜no illusions’ left. But encouraged their resolve saying, “It ain’t us who left it. We are the Anglicans.”
While the conservative group’s financial position remains precarious and its members face increasing legal and canonical pressure from hostile dioceses and the national church in New York, the factional differences that seemed ready to split the coalition were overcome and a late night compromise reached between those seeking to stay and those seeking to quit the Episcopal Church.
The meeting opened with a somber presentation from the ACN’s moderator, Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan on the state of the Episcopal Church. Seventeen ACN leaders, including four bishops, had quit the Episcopal Church in the past year he said.
Speaking at times directly to the video cameras broadcasting the proceedings to viewers watching on the internet, Bishop Duncan argued that the Episcopal Church was bound for Hell.
He also chided the Archbishop of Canterbury, saying Dr Williams’ efforts had been ineffectual.
The crisis of faith and order within the Church had ”˜tested’ the Anglican Communion, he said.
Some had concluded the Anglican Communion was ”˜finished’, but he believed the ”˜vision of the Anglican Reformation’ was still possible but ”˜requires new ecclesiastical structures.’
The ”˜American Province’ of the Anglican Communion “is lost, and something will have to replace it,” the Pittsburgh Bishop said. The Episcopal Church’s property litigation campaign showed ”˜they were taking their stuff to Hell.’
“Never ever had Dr Williams spoken on behalf of the orthodox,” Bishop Duncan said, adding that his ”˜voice has not been used for the things of the Communion.’
A ”˜cost of this ecclesiastical revolution’ could very well be ”˜his historic office,’ he concluded.
Bishop Duncan acknowledged the bishops of the ACN were divided, saying the ”˜principal disagreement is a tactical disagreement’ of how and when to proceed.
During the afternoon business session Dallas Bishop James Stanton expressed unease with proposals before the meeting to form a “Common Cause Partnership” with groups outside the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Stanton argued it was ”˜problematic’ to proceed with changes to the language of the ACN charter that could be interpreted as placing the Network outside of the Episcopal Church. The meeting agreed to postpone debate to the next day, and to address structural changes and the proposal for formal alliances with non-Episcopal groups at the same time.
While the public proceedings were cordial, behind the scenes the ACN’s various factions pushed their agendas. Those who had quit the Episcopal Church sought an immediate pull out, arguing that there was no likelihood the US House of Bishops would comply with the Primates’ demands.
Against this, representatives from the dioceses lobbied to work with the Primates’ time line and take no action until after the Primates’ deadline. Proposals for a precipitous withdrawal from the Episcopal Church prompted Dallas to suggest it could be forced to withdraw from the ACN if it adopted a secessionist agenda at the meeting.
However, a compromise was proposed that the ACN would retain language pledging to ”˜operate in good faith within the Constitution of the Episcopal Church’ while adopting a bylaw that affirmed that Network affiliates outside the Church were not required to submit to its constitution.
The compromise was accepted unanimously, and the meeting went on to adopt the partnership agreement and to elect Bishop Duncan to a second term as moderator.
–The Church of England Newspaper, August 3, 2007, edition, page 5