The first annual meeting of a flourishing breakaway Anglican group opened Thursday, marking the "coming of age" for the orthodox Anglican initiative, said one bishop.
Hundreds of clergy and lay delegates representing more than 60 congregations in the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) converged in Herndon, Va., for the first council addressing the current state and future growth of the orthodox group.
"This is the first time that we have been able to gather so many CANA clergy and lay leaders together and I would be most remiss if I did not express my personal gratitude to all of you for your remarkable faith," CANA missionary bishop the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns said in his opening address Thursday. "Your willingness to step out of the boat and become part of this community of faithful Anglicans called CANA is a source of continuing encouragement."
Presiding over the council this weekend is Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who set up CANA in the United States as a missionary initiative of the Church of Nigeria - one of the largest provinces in the global Anglican Communion. CANA is now a body for realignment or what Akinola called a place to provide a spiritual home for those discontent in The Episcopal Church – the U.S. branch of Anglicanism – and its liberal direction in Scripture and theology.
In his "State of the Church" address, Minns retraced divisions in the Anglican Communion back to 1998 during the decennial global Lambeth Conference when a resolution rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture was passed. The resolution provoked strong dissent from many in The Episcopal Church.
"'No one can tell us what to do!' was a persistent reaction," Minns explained about the U.S. Anglican church's reaction. "Very quickly that was translated into a much more aggressive embrace of non-biblical views on human sexuality and, in general, a diluting of the Gospel to the point where it was barely recognizable as traditional Christianity."
In 2003, The Episcopal Church widened rifts when it consecrated its first openly gay bishop – V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Some Episcopal leaders also affirmed the practice of same-sex blessings.
"These specific actions revealed that those in control of The Episcopal Church were ready to separate themselves from the 'faith once and for all delivered to the saints' and embrace innovations that were essentially a new religion," Minns said. "This was a step too far for many orthodox believers."
Minns was consecrated last year as the first full-time bishop for CANA as the breakaway group grew with congregations seeking to be biblically faithful and remain a part of traditional Anglicanism, they contend. CANA now numbers about 60 congregations and over 100 clergy in 20 states and with a total average Sunday attendance of approximately 8,600.
Rapid growth, however, presents some challenges to the diverse breakaway body. The question of women's ordination has come up and while CANA has committed to the full participation of women in the leadership of the church, dissenting voices have been raised among the conservative members. Minns proposed that the group continue allowing women clergy while still honoring the position of those unable to support women's ordination. A task force has been set up to continue work on this issue.
Several CANA congregations in Virginia are also currently involved in a multi-million dollar property battle with The Episcopal Church. Lawsuits were filed against 11 churches that disaffiliated with the national church. The first of two trials concluded last month and breakaway leaders are confident they will keep their church properties.
Despite the challenges, CANA members are moving forward with "great joy and conviction that this is the right thing that God has led," said Minns in a conference call Thursday.
To date, five of 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion have recognized CANA as a provincial structure, reported Minns. And he is optimistic that they will receive Communion-wide recognition.