Leaders of 100,000 disaffected former Episcopalians will unveil a proposed constitution for a new 39th province of the Anglican Communion at a Dec. 3 ceremony at the evangelical Wheaton College in west Chicago.
The new province, which will contain significant portions of four breakaway Episcopal dioceses plus about two dozen churches in Northern Virginia, will be launched in early 2009.
“This is a huge step,” said Anglican Bishop Martyn Minns, one of the leaders who will sign the constitution as the head of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.
“The constitution will create a new Anglican church in North America that will have all the necessary features to be recognized as a province,” said Robert Lundy, a spokesman for the American Anglican Council, one of the constitution’s signatory groups. “Then it’ll be out of our hands.”
At least seven Anglican bishops - mainly Africans - are expected to recognize the new province immediately as having equal standing with the U.S. Episcopal Church, currently the only Anglican body in North America recognized by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
But conservatives declared at a Global Anglican Future conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in June that the recognition of a new province may be irrelevant.
“We do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury,” the conservatives’ statement said.
Rumors of an umbrella group that will take in all former and disaffected Episcopalians - who have been leaving the denomination en masse since the consecration of the openly gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003 - have been circulating for months.
On Saturday at a church in Boston, Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan and Kenyan Bishop William Murdoch, both of them bishops with two Anglican provinces, announced the Dec. 3 meeting. Greeted by a standing ovation, it was the first definite public announcement of the formation of a new Anglican province.
Recognition by significant numbers of the world’s 38 Anglican primates or archbishops could happen as early as February, when the primates will have their annual meeting in Alexandria, Egypt.
Seven GAFCON primates, representing more than half of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, indicated in June they will recognize the new province. Another five have joined them since then, Bishop Minns said.
Copies of the constitution will be handed out at the Chicago meeting. Bishop Minns said the member groups have reached a tentative agreement on ordaining women as priests, which some of the member groups oppose.
“We are working within the integrity of both views and respecting them and saying that’s where the church is right now,” he said.
The province likely will be headed by Bishop Duncan, head of Common Cause Partnership, the current name of the conservative network. He met Oct. 15 with Archbishop Williams, who instructed the Pittsburgh bishop to submit an application for the new province.
The Canterbury archbishop is in a tough spot no matter what he does, Bishop Minns said.
“If he recognizes us, he will incur the wrath of [the Episcopal Church] and if he does not, he will incur the wrath of other people,” he said.