Anglicans Realigning: The State of Play

First the Primates of Rwanda and Southeast Asia installed an American bishop, then the Primate of Nigeria followed suit, and now the Primate of Keyna has as well. Reportedly, Archbishop Orombi of Uganda is also considering appointing an American bishop and setting up a missionary church in the United States.

What does this all mean? Is it part of a larger plan by the Global South Primates? Or is it instead a sign of a splintered conservative opposition to the Episcopal Church? All is still quite unclear, but this morning, the Washington Post has a useful analysis of the current state of play:

The Anglican archbishop of Rwanda was first, then his counterpart in Nigeria. Now Kenya’s Anglican archbishop is taking a group of U.S. churches under his authority, and Uganda’s archbishop may be next.

African and, to a lesser extent, Southeast Asian and Latin American prelates are racing to appoint American bishops and to assume jurisdiction over congregations that are leaving the Episcopal Church, particularly since its consecration of a gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.

So far, the heads, or primates, of Anglican provinces overseas have taken under their wings 200 to 250 of the more than 7,000 congregations in the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism. Among their gains are some large and wealthy congregations — including several in Northern Virginia — that bring international prestige and a steady stream of donations.

The foreign influx is a consequence of the rift in the 2.3 million-member U.S. church, and explanations of what it’s really all about depend on what side of that divide you’re on, said the Rev. Ian T. Douglas, a professor of world mission and global Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

“It can either be read as the next step in a grand plan to replace the Episcopal Church, or it can be read as a splintering of the conservatives and a competition for who is going to be the real leader of disaffected U.S. congregations,” he said.

Bishop Martyn Minns, former rector of Truro Church in Fairfax City, who left the Episcopal Church and was installed last month as a Nigerian bishop, denied that the African prelates are competing for leadership, prestige or donations. He said they are working together to help Americans who want to remain faithful to the church’s traditional teachings.

“There’s lots of work for all of us,” he said. “This is not just one province sticking its nose in. It’s the Global South collectively saying ‘We’ve got to do something’ because of the crisis in the U.S. church.”

But a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, James Naughton, said the proliferation of “offshore” churches “makes it clear how difficult it is going to be for the conservatives to unite, because each of these primates wants a piece of the action, and none is willing to subjugate himself to another.”

. . .

At the same time, the foreign archbishops and their newly minted American bishops are courting the wrath of the archbishop of Canterbury. The leader of the Anglican Communion, the 75 million-member family of churches descended from the Church of England, registered his disapproval of Minns’s installation last month by announcing that he will not invite the CANA leader to a global meeting of all Anglican bishops next year.

Minns said he was “not surprised.” He said a steady erosion of traditional Christian teachings in the United States and Europe, combined with the explosive growth of former missionary churches in developing countries, has flipped the historic pattern of missionary activity.

“And frankly,” he said, “the old institutional structures are having trouble coming to grips with those realities.”

Read it all. And be sure to read W. Nicolas Knisely’s analysis as well.

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