Conservatives disaffected from The Episcopal Church will complete the historic task of creating their own branch of Anglicanism in North America this week with the ratification of its church laws and the installation of their first archbishop.
Leaders of the new Anglican province in North America, known as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), will complete the organization of their church body at their first Provincial Assembly, which begins Monday at St. Vincent's Cathedral in Bedford, Texas.
Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who led the network of hundreds of congregations that broke from The Episcopal Church for the past five years under the banner of the Anglican Communion Network, will be installed as the new church body's first archbishop on June 24 at Christ Church in Plano, Texas. Visiting bishops from as far away as South America, Africa and Asia, representing millions of Anglicans, are expected to attend the June 22-25 assembly.
"We look forward to celebrating the miracle that is the formation of a biblical, missionary and united Anglican Church in North America," Duncan said in the days leading up to the assembly. "This meeting is historic because it heals decades of division and represents the answer to many years of prayer. It will be a momentous time for orthodox Anglicans everywhere."
Leaders in the Anglican Communion Network – which will cease operation when the new province launches – had been calling on The Episcopal Church to repent and to get back in line with traditional Anglicanism and Scripture since it consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003. But over the past couple of years, Duncan and other conservative bishops saw little hope that the U.S. church body would change direction from what breakaway Anglicans claim to be a departure from Christian orthodoxy.
As a result, the theological conservatives announced last year their intention to form a rival North American province that would unite around breakaway 700 parishes – representing 100,000 conservative Anglicans – in North America into a single church.
Several primates, or leaders of national churches in the Anglican Communion, have expressed their full support and blessing for the formation of the new province as they said it demonstrates "determination of these faithful Christians to remain authentic Anglicans."
In a statement last December, the primates who had urged the formation of a new province during last summer's conference in Jerusalem called it a "necessary initiative" in order to unite those who are disaffected with The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada but are still faithful to the wider Anglican Communion.
"North American Anglicans have been tragically divided since 2003 when activities condemned by the clear teaching of Scripture and the vast majority of the Anglican Communion were publicly endorsed. This has left many Anglicans without a proper spiritual home," the primates stated.
Not all Anglican leaders, however, have supported the unprecedented move for a new national Anglican province in an area where a national church already exists. Some Anglican leaders have even criticized it, arguing that the move could create further division in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion.
But disaffected Anglicans say they see the creation of a new body as a way of preserving unity in an already splintering communion.
"Our hope is that the Anglican Church in North America is the re-constitution of a faithful church," Duncan said in a statement released this past Thursday.
So despite criticisms and the fact that it may take years for the new province to gain official recognition from the rest of the Anglican Communion, conservative Anglicans are determined to form a new home and move on with their mission as a united body.
"Our mission is clear. We are coming together because we are committed to reaching North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ," Duncan concluded.
During this week's assembly, the ACNA will ratify the constitution and canons drafted by its bishops, clergy and lay leaders at a meeting in suburban Chicago last December when they announced they were forming a new "province" - the Anglican term for their largest regional jurisdictions.
The preamble to the constitution says that orthodox Anglicans are "grieved by the current state of brokenness within the Anglican Communion prompted by those who have embraced erroneous teaching and who have rejected a repeated call to repentance."
"We believe that this Constitution is faithful to that call and consistent with the Historic Faith and Order of the Church and we invite the prayers of all faithful Anglicans as we seek to be obedient disciples of Jesus Christ our One Lord and Savior," it concludes.