United in their aversion to the liberal drift of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, a group of conservatives in December launched a new North American branch of the Anglican Communion.
Leaders of the new conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) count about 100,000 members, including four dioceses that recently voted to leave the Episcopal Church. The existing U.S. and Canadian churches count more than 2.8 million members.
With their increasing acceptance of homosexuality and liberal theology, the U.S. and Canadian branches of Anglicanism have essentially removed themselves from the communion, the conservatives argue.
“Work done today marks five years of labor in attempts to get together,” said Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, who will lead the new church. “We have come together to form a province that could be part of the Anglican world.”
But a number of significant hurdles lie ahead for the Common Cause Partnership, as the conservatives' umbrella group is known. The self-declared province will need to
- gain recognition from two-thirds of the Anglican Communion’s 38 leading archbishops
- win the favor of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the communion’s spiritual leader
- overcome serious theological discord among its own members. The 11 groups that compose the new church include evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, charismatics, and others, who use different prayers, ordination standards, and organizational ground rules.
According to the ACNA’s constitution released in December, each diocese, cluster, or network in the newly declared province will have significant autonomy on women’s ordination and other matters.
But already, Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth, Texas, whose diocese seceded from the Episcopal Church in November, has declared himself in “impaired communion” with female priests ordained in Pittsburgh.
“It’s like starting a new business,” said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, a conservative leader from South Carolina who is not formally affiliated with the splinter group. “It’s a whole lot harder than people think.”
The Episcopal Church, meanwhile, is determined not to let secessionist conservatives take church property with them. Protracted legal battles will cost each side millions in lawyers’ fees.