A group of about 70 Anglican conservatives on Wednesday released a proposed constitution for a new Anglican province in the United States that will directly compete with the 2.1-million-member Episcopal Church.
The new Anglican Church in North America consists of various groups of conservatives who have split from the denomination over issues of biblical authority since the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop, including four whole dioceses of the Episcopal Church.
On Wednesday night, the new church released its provisional constitution and provisional canons. They declare the group part of “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church,” confess to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and declare “eight elements as characteristic of the Anglican Way, and essential for membership.”
The eight elements include confessing the Bible as “the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life”; accepting the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of the Church of England, from 1562; and affirming the Global Anglican Future Conference Statement and Jerusalem Declaration of June 29.
The move challenges the Episcopal Church’s status as the only Anglican body in the U.S. recognized by the archbishop of Canterbury. The 77-million-member Anglican Communion has 38 provinces around the world, of which the U.S. Episcopal Church is one. The new province will include conservative Canadian Anglican churches to rival the Anglican Church of Canada.
The possibility of a 39th province for conservative North Americans has been discussed for years. Only now do its founders say they have enough people on the ground - about 100,000 - to bring it about.
“The Lord is displacing the Episcopal Church,” Bishop Robert Duncan said at a news conference in Wheaton, Ill., where the proposed constitution was drafted. He noted that membership and attendance in the Episcopal Church have been declining for years.
“We are a body that is growing, that is planting new congregations, that is concerned to be an authentic Christian presence in the U.S. and Canada,” said Bishop Duncan, who leads the breakaway Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and is expected to be archbishop of the new province.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams - whose approval is essential for the Anglican Church in North America to gain legitimacy and standing within the Anglican Communion - does not appear likely to recognize the new group.
On Friday, he will meet in London with the Anglican Primates Council to discuss the would-be province. There is no precedent in the communion for a country to have more than one recognized province, though traditional Episcopalians who back the move have maintained that the U.S. and Canadian churches no longer preach and believe the historic Anglican religion.
Among the member groups is the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a missionary branch of the Church of Nigeria that includes 11 Northern Virginia parishes now involved in a potentially historic property lawsuit with the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of Virginia. The proposed constitution of the new church specifies that the local congregation is the basic unit and its proposed canons say all property is held by the parish.
Leaders of the communion’s recognized North American churches dismissed the new group.
The U.S. and Canadian churches are “the recognized presence of the Anglican Communion in North America,” said the Rev. Charles Robertson, adviser to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the U.S. Episcopal Church.
In votes taken last year and this fall, the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy and San Joaquin voted to leave the Episcopal Church and join with the Latin American province until a new North American province can be formed.
The world’s Anglican archbishops meet Jan. 31 to Feb. 6 in Egypt, where some of the more conservative prelates are expected to endorse the Anglican Church in North America.