BEDFORD, Texas | Several hundred former Episcopalians, meeting in a school gym near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, ratified a constitution Monday for the fledgling Anglican Church in North America as a direct challenge to the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada.
About 800 people jumped to their feet and sang the Doxology, a hymn of praise, after the ACNA’s new leader, Archbishop-designate Robert Duncan, told the group that it had “done the work.”
“The Anglican Province of North America has been constituted,” he said.
Six years after the Episcopal Church approved the election of an openly gay man, V. Gene Robinson, as the new bishop of New Hampshire, a large chunk of the conservatives in the denomination are taking final steps to form a 39th province of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
“There is no one here who would go back,” Bishop Duncan said during a Communion service. “Though the journey took its toll, we know that we have been delivered, and have found that deliverance very sweet, indeed.”
Although Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the global head of the Anglican Communion, has not recognized the new province, he did send a representative, Bishop Santosh Marray, the retired bishop of the Seychelles. Nine of the world’s 38 Anglican provinces sent official delegations.
“There is a great reformation of the Christian church under way,” Bishop Duncan said. “While much of mainline Protestantism is finding itself adrift from its moorings … there is an ever-growing stream of North American Protestantism that has re-embraced Scripture’s authority.”
The new constitution included a preamble, core doctrines, founding members, the province structure and finances.
Whereas the Episcopal Church’s electing assembly, known as General Convention, meets every three years, the ACNA’s provincial assembly will meet every five years. Its archbishop will have a five-year term, much shorter than the nine-year term held by the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop.
The ACNA will also allow each congregation to own its property, in contrast to the Episcopal Church, which says the bishop of each diocese owns them. The Episcopal Church has filed multiple lawsuits against dissident Episcopalians who plan to keep their churches’ property as they leave the denomination.
Delegates broke into applause after they unanimously approved the article in the constitution ceding property to congregations.
“I doubt there’ll be any [law]suits among us,” Bishop Duncan joked.
On Tuesday, the delegates will debate the new province’s canons. Among other provisions, they forbid ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions. They will also require all bishops to be male, although each diocese can choose whether to ordain women, as some already do. The Episcopal Church has allowed female bishops for the past 20 years.
Twelve percent of the 228 delegates are from the Northern Virginia-based Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), one of 28 dioceses or groups that will be part of the new 100,000-member province. CANA claims 9,695 members, the bulk of them in Virginia.
Many of them were members of 11 churches that left the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in late 2006 and early 2007. Hugo Blankingship, the new chancellor for the ACNA, is the former chancellor for the Virginia Diocese and a Fairfax lawyer who belongs to the Falls Church, the largest of the 11 congregations.
“I think there is a good spirit of unity here,” he said Monday.
Bishop John-David Schofield, who led 90 percent of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., out of the denomination, said he was “thrilled” with the gathering.
“This represents more than 20 years of work and sacrifice,” he said. “It’s good to be part of a House of Bishops where there’s love, cooperation and a desire to support each other.”