The Anglican Church in North America will be formally founded next week, challenging the legitimacy of the U.S. Episcopal Church and posing a dilemma for the worldwide Anglican Communion over who represents Anglicanism in the United States and Canada.
When 232 delegates to the ACNA convention at St. Vincent’s Cathedral in Bedford, Texas, approve the organization’s constitution and canons on Monday, Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan will become archbishop for this “emerging” 39th province of the communion, consisting of several groupings that have left the Episcopal Church over issues related to sexuality and biblical authority.
A ceremony celebrating Bishop Duncan’s installation is set for June 24 at Christ Church in the Dallas suburb of Plano, the ACNA’s largest parish, with more than 2,000 members. Also among the ACNA’s members are 11 Northern Virginia parishes, including the historic The Falls Church and Truro parishes, which left the Episcopal Church to found the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.
At a news conference in December, Bishop Duncan said God is “displacing” the Episcopal Church in favor of the ACNA. The Texas gathering is the conservative alternative to the Episcopal Church’s triennial convention next month in Anaheim, Calif.
There is no precedent in the communion for a country to have more than one recognized province, and Episcopalians who back the move have maintained that the U.S. and Canadian churches no longer preach and believe historic Anglicanism.
The formalities cap a six-year progression out of the 2-million-member Episcopal Church by Episcopalians over the U.S. church’s increasing doctrinal liberalism, which has prompted many to leave to other denominations, though others have hung on in the hope a conservative alternative would arise.
ACNA spokesman Peter Frank said the gathering will be inspirational instead of legislative. “This is really about mobilizing people to do mission at the local parish level,” he said.
Speakers will include such non-Episcopalians as Rick Warren, the pastor of California’s Saddleback evangelical megachurch, and Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America. Also attending will be the Rev. Todd Hunter, a church planter for the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMIA), one of the 28 groups represented at ACNA.
Episcopal Church spokeswoman Neva Rae Fox said the denomination was “aware” of the gathering and officials were concerned that one of its active bishops, Peter Beckwith of the Springfield, Ill., diocese, may be participating.
A message left at Bishop Beckwith’s office was not returned Tuesday.
More than 70 of the Episcopal Church’s 110 dioceses are in serious financial straits, and its membership is dropping precipitously, with an average Sunday attendance of 727,822.
The ACNA, with an average attendance of 100,000, is quickly adding congregations and forming new dioceses. Its numbers go beyond the adherents of 13 of the 38 provinces that belong to the Anglican Communion.
The new group has several hurdles, not the least of which is that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the Anglican Communion, has yet to recognize the ACNA as a legitimate Anglican alternative to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
However, when Bishop Duncan met last Oct. 15 with Archbishop Williams, the archbishop instructed the Pittsburgh bishop to submit an application for the new province.
Independently, seven overseas Anglican archbishops have recognized the ACNA, with most also cutting ties with the U.S. Episcopal Church. This could aggravate existing conflicts in the worldwide communion by adding the issue of who recognizes what North American church.
Of the four dioceses that have left the Episcopal Church and joined the ACNA en masse, each one is fighting the Episcopal Church for rights to millions of dollars in property the dioceses have taken with them.
In three of those dioceses - San Joaquin in Sacramento, Calif.; Quincy in Peoria, Ill., and Fort Worth, Texas - Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori has appointed alternate bishops to replace those who have departed. In Pittsburgh, she has acknowledged and recognized a standing committee appointed according to the Diocesan Constitution.
• A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori’s involvement regarding the newly appointed standing committee of the Pittsburgh diocese. She played no role in the selection, appointment or election process.