Conservative Anglicans who cut ties with The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – are moving quickly on the formation of a new Anglican body in North America.
Groups of breakaway Anglicans are releasing a draft constitution to their new structure on Wednesday and the rival body to The Episcopal Church is expected to be officially up and running by the middle of next year.
One of the key leaders in the move is the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, who heads one of the more prominent breakaway groups called CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) – a missionary branch of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. The Christian Post caught up with Minns, who has traveled nearly 300,000 miles in the past two years visiting conservative Anglican congregations, on Sunday at Truro Church in Fairfax, Va., to hear his thoughts on the breakaway movement and how Anglicanism in America may be splitting up and diversifying the way several other mainline denominations have already.
CP: It’s the second anniversary of the Anglican District of Virginia (which is part of CANA). Over these past two years as these churches in Virginia cut ties with The Episcopal Church and more have joined this “conservative movement,” if you will, out of the national church, what would you say has been the greatest challenge?
Minns: I think the challenge has been to keep focused on doing Christian ministry and not get caught up in reacting or being sort of overwhelmed by all the various litigation and the pushes and pull. I think we’re doing pretty well. I think people are keeping focused on the importance of the Gospel. So that’s been the challenge.
CP: Were there any surprises during those years?
Minns: I think I’ve been surprised by how many people were willing to pay a price for their faith. In this country it’s fairly easy to be a Christian as opposed to other countries where it’s quite challenging. But I’ve been surprised and pleased by how many folks were willing to step out and risk everything.
CP: And what have you found the most rewarding?
Minns: I find it really rewarding to visit congregations of people that are really seeking to follow God, to hear God and to do God’s will. It’s really rewarding to see especially the children who really are dedicated to … who are enthusiastic Christians and want to make a difference.
CP: Has the Archbishop of Canterbury offered any recognition of CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) and your position as missionary bishop?
Minns: Not any formal recognition. But then again, we are part of the Church of Nigeria so in that sense, his recognition isn’t strictly necessary. But he’s stuck in a hard place because on the one hand, he wants to keep everything together but he realizes that the American church is headed off in a direction that the rest of us won’t go. He’s also limited in terms of his authority in this country, so I think he’s trying to stay quiet and stay out of it.
CP: In your message today you mentioned the new province that’s forming, saying it’s happening more quickly that you expected. Why is that?
Minns: Well, just a lot of people with lots of different opinions, coming from different backgrounds, like the Reformed Episcopal Church has been separated from The Episcopal Church for more than a hundred years, so overcoming that takes a lot of work. And then we’ve got different strands, different groups that have different opinions on things so I thought it would take a lot longer to overcome some of those differences but we’re really doing quite well.
CP: Is there something in particular that pushed or accelerated the creation of this new structure?
Minns: I think in some ways yes. The fact that these large groups, what they call the dioceses, left added some impetus to that. And then I think the Jerusalem conference was such a tremendous positive experience. When they said “we want you to get organized in America, so get on with it,” so we had essentially been given the challenge to do this.
CP: I need a little clarity on some of the structures. CANA is a body for churches in all of North America and it recently established a second district, the District of the Great Lakes. It seems that CANA is already serving the purpose of this new emerging North American province.
Minns: I think in some ways we’re modeling that but we’re also part of a much bigger picture. But you’re absolutely correct. We’ve already started working on the structure that’s needed.
CP: So CANA would just be a part of the new province that’s forming?
Minns: Yes. I think, for example, the Great Lakes or this District of Virginia could very well – because we’ve already got them working in this kind of organized way – could very well quickly become a diocese within the new church. We’re not sure how that’s all going to work yet but what I’m saying is we’ve been doing the work of helping people get organized and work together so that that’s a better preparation essentially for the new church. You’re right, it is confusing because we started with lots of different strands and now we’re trying to bring them all together.
CP: Critics of the new province say it will be a cause for more division in the Anglican Communion, with some bishops recognizing it and some not. Your thoughts?
Minns: The division’s already there. Division has been there since 2003. I think we’re trying to overcome that division and bring people together so I think there will be less division in this country. There is a division in the Communion. I think that was highlighted at the Lambeth conference when 230 bishops wouldn’t show up. The division’s there. We’re trying to find a way to overcome that and become less divided. I think there’s some people who’s wanting to pretend it’s not there yet … they just hope it’ll work out but the reality is there and I think we’re saying we want to be practical and find a way forward.
CP: How important is it for this new structure to be recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury? Some say without recognition, it’s not following Anglican tradition.
Minns: I think part of the problem right now is that the Anglican Church is a global church. It started as an outgrowth of England. But in that sense, I think we’re not post-colonial. We’ve now passed that whole colonial era. So I think what we’re looking for is a structure that reflects that where there’s genuine authority given to people other than the Archbishop of Canterbury. For example, the primate of the Church of Nigeria, there’s 20 million members there. It’s a far bigger province than any other province. The idea somehow that he has to ask permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury to do anything is a bit silly. It’s also a bit of the old colonial mindset. So I think there’s need for some new structures. And I think that’s what we hope will come out of this. We’re an international church and yet right now the leadership still looks like the old British Empire. So that needs to change.
CP: Would you say this new province is based on theology, as the bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada suggested? Traditionally provinces have been based mainly on geography so how unusual would that be to create one based on theology?
Minns: There’s always been some variety in the Anglican Communion. And I think, for example, in New Zealand right now they’ve got three overlapping – their provincial structure is based on ethnicity, which I think is not a good thing, to be honest. I think what we’re saying is that there’s a theological heart to what we’re doing but there’s a variety there. I think obviously it is geographic in a sense, since it’s in North America. There’s a common set of theological assumptions that unite us but we’re not all jumping out of the same box. There’s also good variety there. But it is a threat. I think part of what’s happening right now, and you must have been watching this from a media standpoint, the world is shifting. It used to be very tiny little boxes. People lived in little boxes. They didn’t move around very much. But now it’s far more diverse, I mean look at the student body of George Mason (University), for example. They’re people from all over the world. And the way we connect to each other is through networks now. I think that’s good. It’s exciting. I think this is reflecting that.
CP: Would you compare what’s happening here with other denominations, such as Baptists. There are a number of Baptist groups in America, such as the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention and the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. For Anglicans, we’ve mainly associated Anglicanism with The Episcopal Church here in America but is that being diversified now with new bodies?
Minns: I think you’re right. I think what happened is it used to be kind of a broad mixture of folks. But what happened is some pushed the envelope too far and so as a reaction some said we can’t go that far, we need to come out and at least have some definition to what we believe. I grew up in the Baptist church; I’m aware of how easy it is for them to kind of get narrow and narrower to what’s acceptable. That’s a danger. But I think hopefully we can get a balance so there’s some diversity but still with some common themes that hold us together.
CP: Can you briefly describe what the identity of this new province would be?
Minns: I think I would say, the labels we’d use are orthodox, Anglican, mission-minded, biblically-centered … I would say it’s basically a fairly traditional Anglicanism with a passion for mission.
CP: Next month, the draft constitution is being released for the new structure. So when will be the official establishment of the new province?
Minns: Depending on how it’s received, I’m not sure how it’s going to be, but my guess would be some time in the middle of next year we’d have a constitutional convention where we’d actually launch. This essentially is just getting the framework set up but then we’ll actually have the celebration in the middle of the new year.
CP: And how many would be a part of that new province?
Minns: I think 700 to 800 churches would be a part of that and we estimated somewhere around 100,000 people are presently within the various Common Cause Partners.
CP: Regarding another matter, the Episcopal presiding bishop recently inhibited the bishop of Fort Worth after that diocese voted to split. But the Fort Worth bishop rejected the inhibition and said the presiding bishop has no authority to do so. I thought that these conservative bishops wanted out of The Episcopal Church so why does it matter to them if they’re inhibited if they don’t want to be part of that national church?
Minns: Part of the problem is some of the language that’s used. It’s not a matter of saying “sorry, you’ve left.” At that point, people would be okay. But what they’re saying is “we will remove you from the ministry of the church.” Essentially The Episcopal Church is part of the whole church so somehow the language they use in suggestion that you’re no longer even validly ordained – I think that’s where they get criticized.