The Church of England on Wednesday voted to recognize an Anglican body in North America that was formed by breakaway conservatives.
Bishops, clergy and laity approved a resolution that acknowledges the distress caused by recent divisions in churches in the U.S. and that further affirms "the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family."
The vote was taken by the General Synod, the national assembly of the Church of England, during its Feb. 8-12 meeting in London.
Though Anglicans in the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion have chosen to recognize the ACNA – which was established last summer by those who severed ties with The Episcopal Church (the U.S. arm of the Anglican Communion) – they rejected the original motion that would have declared the Church of England to be in communion with the ACNA.
Still, ACNA head the Most Rev. Robert Duncan said the vote "is very encouraging."
Duncan was among thousands of conservative Anglicans who made the unprecedented move of forming a new national Anglican province in an area where a national church already exists. Hundreds of parishes had left The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, discontent with what they saw as a departure from Christian orthodoxy and Anglican tradition.
The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have both been wracked by controversy over scriptural authority and homosexuality. The breakaway Anglicans saw no hope in reforming the two national bodies but wanted to remain aligned with the rest of the Anglican Communion.
Immediate support and recognition came from a number of Anglican provinces, including the provinces of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Nigeria. Individual bishops from England, Sydney and other parts of Africa also celebrated the ACNA – which represents some 100,000 Anglicans – and recognized it as authentically Anglican.
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, considered the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, at the time did not indicate his decision and said it will likely take years for the rest of the global body to officially recognize the ACNA.
In a debate Tuesday, Church of England delegates were told that the approving the resolution to affirm full communion with the ACNA would not constitute an attack on The Episcopal Church.
"I don't see it as an attack on TEC or the Anglican Church in Canada but an opportunity to be positive about ACNA and celebrate its presence and intentions, and to stand with it through its future," the Rt. Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, bishop of Winchester. "It is important Synod has the opportunity to understand the good and godly life of ACNA and the ways in which God is using it at present."
The resolution was introduced by Lorna Ashworth of Chichester, who assured there was no "hidden agenda."
After hours of debate and several amendments, the synod voted to provide initial recognition and to explore the matter further until next year.