If the over 3,000-strong ‘Plano-East’ meeting January 9–10 just south of Washington, DC, was an example, the network of faithful Episcopalians emerging within the Episcopal Church (ECUSA), but outside its official structure, was even then becoming – as one speaker put it – ‘a force to be reckoned with’.
It was still ten days before its official launch, but the new Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (NACDP) was already starting to be treated as the legitimate US branch of the Anglican Communion by several Anglican provinces and even other Christian bodies, said Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan and other principals at Plano-East in Woodbridge, Virginia.
Sponsored by the DC and Virginia chapters of the American Anglican Council (AAC), Plano-East was called as a follow-up to October’s Dallas (Plano) meeting – where some 2,700 conservative Episcopalians gathered to stand for the faith and seek a way forward following the watershed Episcopal General Convention. But registration for the Virginia meeting well exceeded that of the Texas conference.
‘We are here to worship Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ and to ‘gather and unite around his leadership,’ the Revd John Guernsey, Rector of All Saints’ Church, Woodbridge, told the enthusiastic assembly at the city’s huge Hylton Memorial Chapel.
‘We are here for solid biblical teaching, for fellowship and mutual encouragement,’ to ‘offer hope’ to the next generation, and to gain insights into Anglican realignment and the emerging NACDP, he said. The meeting also drew attention to some worthy orthodox ministries, several of them making a difference overseas.
‘We are here to pray for our broken church,’ Guernsey went on. ‘We are not here because of what we are against, but of what we are for: the transforming love of Christ,’ he said. He welcomed any persons present who may disagree with the AAC. Guernsey reported that the Plano-East throng included bishops, clergy, laity, seminarians, persons of all ages, ‘from 45 dioceses in 25 states including, praise God, New Hampshire.’
Test of commitment
It seemed a good gauge of the nascent Network’s gathering strength, in the wake of ECUSA’s consecration of Gene Robinson, a non-celibate homosexual, as Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire, and approval of optional same-sex blessings.
While those decisions capped some 25 years of liberal revisions in ECUSA, they were for many the most biblically clear-cut. Seen by most Anglicans worldwide as defying not only the plain teaching of scripture but settled doctrine and widespread appeals, ECUSA’s actions have quickened a process of realignment in which many American conservatives are striving to remain linked to the Communion’s faithful majority – and vice versa. At this writing, 11 (of 38) provinces had declared broken or impaired communion with ECUSA’s liberal leadership, while maintaining support for biblically orthodox Episcopalians.
The new NACDP is even said to have the encouragement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. But, while it seems highly unlikely that he would presently support the designation of it as a ‘replacement’ for ECUSA – an unprecedented step – he may ultimately face a hard choice on that score.
The most remarkable recent illustration of the change taking place came in a stinging letter to ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, in which the Ugandan Anglican Church – which earlier cut ties with ECUSA – turned back the US Church’s plans to send a delegation to the installation of Uganda’s new presiding bishop. It also saw ECUSA’s offer of aid as an attempt to buy Uganda’s silence and cooperation for its unbiblical policies.
‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale, even among the poorest of us who have no money,’ the letter declared. ‘Eternal life, obedience to Jesus Christ, and conforming to his Word are more important,’ said the Ugandans – who invited Network representatives to attend their archbishop’s installation instead.
‘That is radical stuff,’ the Revd Martyn Minns, rector of Virginia’s Truro Church, Fairfax, told Plano-East participants. Minns said the Ugandan event would be attended by Bishop Duncan, NACDP’s Moderator, and Dallas Bishop James Stanton, and others. (The leaders left for Uganda after the formal inauguration of the Network January 20 at Christ Church, Plano, where participants included representatives of a dozen dioceses.)
The new network also got a boost from a ‘group of senior bishops’ which Minns told Plano-East attendees is now prepared to exercise episcopal ministry to ‘marginalized’ or embattled parishes across diocesan lines – with or without the permission of the local ECUSA bishop. In an understatement, he observed that providing unauthorized episcopal ministry, while pastoral in intent, ‘may cause some controversy.’
Though there was speculation that the line-crossers may include foreign bishops – canonically untouchable by ECUSA. Minns did not name names, and neither would other AAC spokesmen.
Notably, ‘adequate episcopal oversight’ for conservative parishes in hostile circumstances – a provision that is critical to the new Network’s viability – has the backing of Anglican primates (provincial leaders), who indicated at their October meeting in London that they will monitor the provision of such oversight via the Archbishop of Canterbury’s role as consultant in the matter. Still, it appears virtually certain that there will be a need for bishops willing to cross lines without permission. Already, ECUSA and AAC officials are stalemated over a draft bishops’ plan that provides no override of the local bishop if he/she fails to permit ‘adequate’ episcopal ministry (‘adequate’ being judged by the recipients).
We are ready
Episcopal bishops are to discuss a plan for ‘supplemental’ episcopal care at a March meeting, but ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has indicated he is unwilling to yield on the matter of an override, or to cede ‘oversight’ to someone other than the diocesan bishop. Griswold also claims that Archbishop Williams insisted that the issue must be worked out within ECUSA, inferring that conservatives cannot expect help from Canterbury.
Meanwhile, the need for a ‘theologically orthodox’ bishop grows urgent among conservative ECUSA parishes, many of them ‘experiencing continuous and often intense harassment from their diocesan bishops’, said the ACC, which has provided an application process for parishes seeking alternate episcopal care.
Though, clearly, it will not be all smooth sailing into uncharted Anglican waters, Minns described the Network as a means of upholding historic faith and maintaining a bridge to the world-wide Communion. What it will do is ‘give hope and a place to belong for Anglican Christians in North America who are committed to a biblical worldview and a biblical way of life,’ Minns said.
Around the Communion and ecumenically, he said, the Network ‘gives us a way to connect with those sisters and brothers around the world … who will no longer recognize the current leadership of [ECUSA].’‘Could it be a replacement for ECUSA? Only God knows, but we’ll be ready.’
Auburn Traycik is the editor of The Christian Challenge, the premier traditionalist journal of news and comment in the United States. www.orthodoxAnglican.org/TCC.