Former Episcopalian leaders from across North America gathered in Bedford, Texas on Monday to launch the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), described as an “alternative” to the U.S. Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion.
The new denomination claims 100,000 members from several varieties of Anglican spirituality described as evangelical, charismatic or catholic. A union of eight groups, it is seeking recognition as part of the Anglican Communion.
The new denomination's constitution emphasizes biblical authority, church discipline and evangelical missionary outreach.
The Episcopal Church has been afflicted by controversies over theological and moral issues, including the authority of Scripture, the ordination of women and the ordination of an openly homosexual man as bishop.
Former Episcopalian Bishop of Pittsburgh Robert Duncan leads the group, which expected 300 delegates including 50 bishops for its meeting.
Bishop Duncan addressed a crowd of leaders in St. Vincent’s Cathedral, telling them that it is a “new day” in which God the Father is “drawing His children together again in a surprising and sovereign move of the Holy Spirit. He is again Re-forming His Church."
According to the Anglican news site VirtueOnline.org, the bishop warned those gathered that Satan will attempt to “lure us back to old ways and old hurts and old fights.”
On the topic of women’s ordination, Bishop Duncan said that Anglicans should be “in mission together until God sorts us out. It is not perfect, but it is enough.”
Discussing conflicts with the Episcopal Church, he said that many of those gathered have lost “properties, sacred treasures, incomes, pensions, standing and friends.” He called for a return to “muscular Christianity,” saying, “No cross, no crown. No pain, no gain.”
Jim Naughton, canon for communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., was critical of the endeavor.
“There's already a crowded marketplace on the right wing of the American religious spectrum. I think the challenge is to move beyond the events that spawned them,” he told USA Today.
Many overseas Anglican churches have sent observers to the assembly. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head prelate in the Anglican Church, has sent retired Seychelles Bishop Santosh Marray to the gathering as a pastoral visitor.
Ecumenical speakers such as Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California and Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America will offer keynote addresses later in the week.
Jeff Walton, the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Director of Anglican Action, said that the ACNA event was “remarkable” because it is uniting multiple churches rather than splitting off from an existing church.
“After over 30 years of splintering, traditionalist Anglicans are setting aside many of their differences in order to pursue common mission,” he said. “This is clearly not a schismatic quest for purity by a small group of discontents. Rather, it is a theologically diverse group that sees how much is held in common.”