The Church of Nigeria, the largest province in the Anglican Communion, has become the first to formally accept a new orthodox province emerging in North America.
Although official recognition from the entire 77 million-member Anglican Communion is expected to take years, the Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria resolved unanimously to be in "full communion" with the emerging Anglican Church in North America and recognize it as a branch in the global body, according to an announcement on Friday.
Bishop Robert Duncan, who is to lead the Anglican Church in North America, praised the decision.
"In this one action, leaders representing every diocese in the Church of Nigeria, which in turn count as members more than a quarter of the world’s Anglicans, have declared themselves to be full partners of the Anglican Church in North America," Duncan said in a statement.
"They have stated clearly that we stand together on the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible, the historic creeds and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as our only Savior and Lord," he stated.
Duncan and a host of conservatives in North America as well overseas had been calling on The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – to repent and get back in line with traditional Anglicanism and Scripture, particularly since it consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003. But the conservative group saw little hope that the U.S. body would change direction from what breakaway Anglicans claim to be a departure from Christian orthodoxy.
Conservative parishes and groups – representing 100,000 Anglicans – that severed ties with The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are now forming the Anglican Church in North America, which is seen as a rival body to the already existing national churches.
The move for a new national Anglican province in an area where a national church already exists is unprecedented. While some have criticized it as a means for further division, breakaway Anglicans see it as a way of preserving unity in an already splintering communion.
Anglicans in the Global South, including leaders from the Church of Nigeria, had urged the formation of a new province to unite those disaffected with the U.S. and Canada bodies and had already expressed their support and blessing.
Friday's announcement, however, is the first time formal recognition to the emerging structure was given by an Anglican province.
In addition to accepting the new province, the Church of Nigeria plans to send a delegation to the Anglican Church in North America's inaugural Provincial Assembly, which is being held June 22-25 in Bedford, Texas.
The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, who leads the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) – a breakaway group and a founding member of the new province – believes the Church of Nigeria's decision "will strengthen the unity among those in the U.S. who wish to remain faithful to their Christian beliefs while remaining in good standing as part of the worldwide Anglican Communion."
"Our continued prayer is for Anglicans across the world to be able to stay faithful to orthodox beliefs within the Anglican Communion," Minns said in a statement Friday. "This decision by the Church of Nigeria formalizes that hope."
Meanwhile, the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who is considered the spiritual leader of the communion, has said that it will take years for the new province to gain official recognition from the rest of the communion.
The Anglican Church in North America unites some 700 Anglican parishes in North America into a single church. The new province includes the Anglican Coalition in Canada; the dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy and San Joaquin; the Anglican Mission in the Americas; the Anglican Network in Canada; the Convocation of Anglicans in North America; the Reformed Episcopal Church; and the missionary initiatives of Kenya, Uganda, and South America’s Southern Cone. Additionally, the American Anglican Council and Forward in Faith North America are founding organizations.