More bishops, fewer dioceses and the future of women clergy were amongst the main topics of debate at the Anglican Church of North America’s College of Bishops meeting this week in Orlando.
Bishops from the conservative province in waiting in North America in the Anglican Communion approved the election of two additional bishops for the PEAR-USA Network. The Rev. Quigg Lawrence will lead the Atlantic Regional Network and the Rev. Ken Ross the Western Regional Network, while the Very Rev. Clark Lowenfield was elected bishop of the Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast – a diocese in formation.
The bishops also confirmed the election of the Rt. Rev. Charlie Masters as bishop coadjutor of the Anglican Network in Canada and approved the translation of the Rt. Rev. Frank Lyons from the Diocese of Bolivia to the Diocese of Pittsburgh as assistant bishop.
Time was also spent in mending fences amongst the College between the three former members of the Anglican Mission in America and the wider ACNA, following the protracted break up of the group.
A report on overlapping dioceses and episcopal jurisdictions was also presented to the College. A communique from the meeting stated the ACNA sought to bring the church into conformity “with historic Anglican practice. The goal of the work is to organize each region for the long-term sustainability of the movement in recognizable, godly Anglican Church structures.”
The bishops received a map showing the location of each of the ACNA 951 congregations, which enabled the bishops to identify 11 regions of overlapping mission work among the various jurisdictions of the Province.”
While no diocese or group was slated for elimination, the bishops’ communique stated the challenge of overlapping jurisdictions “will result in enhanced collaboration, responsive structures and ministry oversight, with better sharing of resources, clearer communication and more profound unity in the mission that we share.”
Responding to calls from a number of dioceses and jurisdictions to address the issue of women’s orders – the ACNA permits dioceses to ordain women to the diaconate and priesthood, but not to the episcopate – the bishops announced a six step study process.
The task force will begin its work, the report said, by exploring the history of Biblical interpretation, and then move to a study of Scripture, doctrine and tradition.
Phase 4 of the report will discuss “the Task Force will discuss the arguments, pro and con, related to the ordination of women, considering the relevant Scriptural texts and historical arguments, and reviewing studies conducted within and without the Anglican tradition.”
The document will be then passed to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans Theological Commission for review and comments. Views on women’s orders in the overseas church are divided, with some provinces – Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, the Sudan – in favor, while Central Africa, Southeast Asia and the Southern Cone do not support women in all orders of ministry.
After review by the FCA, the final report will be brought to the bishops for action “in a timely manner.”
Women’s orders remain a hotly contested issue within the ACNA. At the ACNA’s assembly held in Ridgecrest, North Carolina last year, activists on both sides of the question pressed their views on the wider church. One bishop told AI that while he appreciated the importance of the work that will be undertaken by the task force, he did not believe it would have an immediate impact as most minds have already been made up on the issue.
Reports from other committees and task forces were presented to the bishops during the four day meeting, while daily Bible studies were led by the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir Ali.
While the question of women’s orders, overlapping jurisdictions, Prayer Book revision and liturgical reform elicited opposing views from the bishops, one source said the bishops nevertheless sought to maintain their unity.
“Throughout the week,” the communique said, “the Bishops pursued healthy ways of working together that foster greater unity in Christ while honoring the diverse styles and ministries of the dioceses.”