Saturday, October 31, 2009

The ACC Provincial Synod

Denise and I spent the bulk of this week (Oct. 27th to 30th) at the Anglican Catholic Church's Provincial Synod in Richmond, VA. From my own point of view, it was a case of "and a good time was had by all" - especially as it was a meeting without rancour.

I was ordained in the ACC some fifteen years ago at a time when the Original Province was experiencing appreciable turmoil. Being an old ACC man, the Synod enabled me to renew some old friendships, and meet in person several folks from the ACC whom I have come to know well via the Internet. It was also very good for me spiritually to worship with a large group of Anglican clergy and layfolks not just from all-over the USA, but also from the UK, the Sudan, India, South Africa, South American and the Carribbean.

What was also interesting to me was the way in which the Anglican Catholic Church had matured in the years since I left. Whatever surface disagreements there may be are now underpinned by a much stronger loyalty to an organisation that has stood the test of both time and schism. The ACC was founded in 1977, and has now survived some thirty-two years. More importantly, it has also survived two messy schisms. The first, in 1991, occured when three domestic dioceses left to join the Anglican Church in America. More painfully, the newly created Traditional Anglican Communion chose to realign with the ACA rather than the ACC. In the reorganisation that followed, the remnant of the Traditional Anglican Communion that chose to remain with the ACC was organised into the Original Province, which then served the USA, Australia, and a few clergy in Canada. The ACC Province of India serving India, Pakistan and Burma suffered prolonged litigation at the hands of the Church of India bishops who had chosen to go with the new TAC. This was not resolved until 2002. A second schism followed in 1997 when a dispute in the College of Bishops escalated out of control and significant portions of five diocese left the ACC and reconstituted themselves as two small jurisdictions, one known as the Holy Catholic Church (Anglican Rite) and the other as the HCC(Western Rite); neither of these bodies have prospered. This coincided with a period in which three successive Metropolitans - Oliver Lewis, Dean Stephens, and John T. Cahoon - died in quick succession.

It has now been twelve years since the ACC was last afflicted with schism, and this period of stability has seen expansion. Firstly, the church has consolidated its position in the USA. Secondly, the ACC has experienced considerable growth in Southern Africa to the point where the division of present Missionary Diocese has been approved. The ACC has also received the Diocese of Aweli, Sudan, and has begun work in Rwanda and Kenya. The Province of India has also experienced a period of stability, and it recently elected a new Metropolitan, the Most Rev. John Augustine. This, coupled with the election of Bishops for the Diocese of the United Kingdom and Missionary Diocese of Australia and New Zealand has put the ACC back to where it was in the mid-1990s.

The ACC is often criticized by outsiders for its extensive Canon Law and procedures. However, it is difficult not to attribute some of the Church's present stability to the clarity of its Canon Law Code. It certainly avoids many minor disputes, and provides clear solutions to others. The meetings of both the full Synod and of the various houses of Synod were free from any sort of rancour, and I was impressed with the way in which even the budget - a controversial matter in any church organisation - was dealt with efficiently. Archbishop Haverland proved to be an excellent chairman - good humored and occasionally witty, who dealt with the usual procedural wrangles light-heartedly, and with grace. On the whole, I have to say that it was one of the most hopeful, and purposeful meetings of a Continuing Anglican Church that it has been my privilege to attend.


  1. Your grace,

    Thanks for the excellent and informative post.

    The point about the ACC canons is food for thought indeed. Though English temporal and spiritual law has historically been based on common-law models, and therefore, one might argue that the ACC code-law approach is inconsistent with Anglican patrimony, the acid test of any system of dispute resolution is practice.

    And, a code-law system can avoid perceived or actual "the rule of Law Lords or Bishops, as opposed to the Rule of Law" issue that can arise with common-law systems. Hence, the ACC may have found away to mitigate the fissiparous issue of "personality disputes" that has plagued the St. Louis Movement.

  2. I believe that the Cmmon Law approach worked well in England because the Church of England was so much part of the fabric of society. Therefore a lot of the centrifugal forces generated by personality conflicts used to break harmlessly on the shores of Statute Law and the Establishment. This gave the Church great stability, and tended to confine the role of Canon Law to the sacramental and worshipping life of the Church.

    In the Roman Church things are a bit different. Its international character and increasingly centralized form of government made some sort of international Canon Law Code a necessity. This was partly supplied by Rome giving authoritative and remakably consistent interpretations of existing local Canons. This acted as a sort of shock absorber allowing local disputes to be resolved in what was effectively a Papal Court of Appeal. Eventually this ad hoc system was superceded by the unified Canon Law Code of 1917.

    The Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons provided a single unified code from 1789 onwards, but its rather utilitarian origins left some pretty large holes. The sections on the governance of the Church have been partly reworked several times, and the Dennis Canon (1979) was a modern fix for the age old problem of who owns the property. Other loophole were either subsequently closed, or remain the cause of periodic dispute even today.

    The ACC took over something of the Roman model's comprehensiveness by creating a single unified Code. However this applied only to the Church in the USA initially. It was only with the aftermath of the founding of the TAC, and the absorbsion of the remnant of "the ACC Overseas" into the Original Province that the ACC Canon Law Code was internationalized. As such it has become a "shock absorber" helping to defuse rather than intensify the impact of the occasional disputes that afflict every church body.

    Another blessing for the ACC is that its College of Bishops is big enough (at least 10 bishops) and well-enough educated that it actually possible to discipline a bishop using the correct canonical procedures. In smaller juridictions it is impossible to discipline bishops - a group of clergy who are so often the source of the problem.

  3. Bishop Robinson,
    Thank you for your insightful comments. As a former ACC priest now affiliated with another jurisdiction, I continue to pray that the ACC and all the rest of us in the continuing movement may grow in maturity and common purpose.
    A Prayerbook Anglican

  4. P.S.,

    I believe your Grace is overlooking the first schism in which Bishop Dureson, the first consecrated at Denver, left the ACC to form the UEC. Perhaps, though, that schism was not so messy. At least, I don't recall any civil litigation. And, it seems as if that one might be healed in our time.

  5. Bishop Doren seems to have retired from the active Episcopate, and then come back to form the UECNA. He certainly had churchmanship issues with the wider ACC leadership at a time when most of those elevated to the Episcopate were from a Midwestern or West Coast Anglo-Catholic background, and tended to dress in a much more Romish manner than their theology might have suggested.