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Survivors on the Border

Survivors on the Border
The Anglican Network in Canada: Protest, Providence, and Promise in Global Anglican Realignment (Anglican House Publishing, 2021)


By the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll
November 25, 2021

There's an old riddle that goes like this: "A plane crashes right on the U.S.-Canada border. Where do you bury the survivors?" Well, at the Lambeth Conference in July 2022, there will be bishops from the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and bishops from the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) present. From Canterbury's point of view, there were no survivors from the crash that occurred in 2008, when the Anglican Church in North America was formed, including North American Anglicans from both sides of the border.

The burial was premature. We survived! The ACNA will be holding its Provincial Assembly this summer and electing its third archbishop. The Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) has just elected a co-adjutor bishop at its diocesan synod. ACNA membership stands at about 125,000, of whom about 8,000 are from Canada in 80 multi-cultural congregations. The province is recognized by the majority of the world's Anglicans, including the provinces of the Gafcon movement and of the Global South Anglican Fellowship.

Having said this, it is worth noting that the confessing movements that led to the formation of ACNA at first ran on separate tracks north and south of the 49th parallel. I must confess that I for one, as a chronicler of many events in the Episcopal Church in the 1990s and 2000s, was barely aware as to how Canadian Anglicans emerged out of the Anglican Church of Canada. Hence the value of the current collection of essays in The Anglican Network in Canada for many of us in the States.

The collection, under the chief editor, historian Dr. George Egerton, is divided into four sections: Foundations; Anglican Essentials; Crisis, Rescue and Realignment; and Growth and Fruit. Each of the fourteen essays is written by a participant in the realignment.

Realignment is a polite way of describing the events of the past thirty years. The lead essay in the collection is an address in 2009 by Dr. James Packer on "Church and Schism: Episcopacy in a Time of Heresy." The late Jim Packer, as I see it, was one of the two prominent Anglican Evangelicals of the last half century, along with John Stott. His movement out of the ACC in 2008 and subsequent excommunication was an act of courage and theological integrity that inspired others and legitimated the formation of both the ANiC and ACNA.

He begins his essay back in England in the '60s with the dispute with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who urged Evangelicals to leave the Church of England. Packer comments:

I would tell him that I should continue an Anglican, certainly until the Church of England denied the authority of the Bible and the terms of the gospel in an explicit way or, of course, until the Church of England threw me out.

He continues:

since I have emigrated to Canada, all of that has happened. In the Diocese of New Westminster in western Canada, the authority of the Bible and the terms of the gospel have been explicitly denied by the bishop.... And as for being thrown out, well, I have been thrown out.

Dr. Packer goes on to sketch a basic biblical ecclesiology, from which he defines a doctrine of heresy and schism. As regards the split in North America he concludes:

Is this schism? Short answer--no, it is not schism, if you take the word schism in its New Testament sense.... "Guard the gospel" is the word of wisdom, which must ever be our mantra and set our course. When the authority of scripture is abandoned and a particular pattern of behaviour, from which the gospel explicitly calls men and women to repent, is treated as a mode of holiness, how can one not, however regretfully, take some form of action?

If Jim Packer was the theological mentor of the realignment in Canada, Canon Tom Robinson was its political driver. A Canadian, Robinson had strong ties with Evangelicals in England, having served on John Stott's staff at All Souls Langham Place. Robinson came back to Canada to found Barnabas Anglican Ministries (BAM), which was the Canadian branch of John Stott's international fellowship (EFAC). Robinson was a brilliant networker and brought together Canadian Evangelicals, traditionalists and charismatics to sponsor the Anglican Essentials Conference in 1994 with its accompanying Montreal Declaration and the book Anglican Essentials.

I find it interesting that English Evangelicals had a lesser role to play in our Episcopal realignment, where charismatics and Anglo-Catholics had had a stronger impact (e.g., Fellowship of Witness, which was EFAC-USA, made little impact). It is also interesting that the American Anglican Council (AAC) developed largely independent of the Essentials movement and adopted its own confession, "A Place to Stand, a Call to Mission." From what I recall, there was little communication between Canadians and Americans leading up to the Lambeth Conference in 1998. In the succeeding decade, each church had its bȇte noires, Bishops Jack Spong and Gene Robinson in the States and Bishop Michael Ingham in Vancouver, and each movement came to the fork in the road as to whether to stay or to go. In Canada, one group called "Federation," favored continued working within the ACC, and the other "Network" foresaw, reluctantly, the need to separate; in the States, the loyalists called themselves Communion Partners, while the separatists began with "First Promise," which spawned the Anglican Mission in America, and led finally to the Anglican Communion Network.

The Canadian "Network" leaders Don Harvey and Charlie Masters, both of whom have chapters in this book, became the first two moderator bishops of ANiC, and shortly after Lambeth 1998 they began to work cooperatively in the Common Cause fellowship with Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh and with international bishops like Greg Venables from South America. While originally it was thought that Canada would become a separate province in the realignment, Bishop Harvey generously offered to unite the churches under Bob Duncan as the future archbishop.

Since then, Americans and Canadians have discovered close spiritual and ecclesiastical bonds. Note that two Canadians teach at Trinity School for Ministry, and another Canadian, Paul Donison, is rector of Christ Church Plano, which has just been designated ACNA's pro-cathedral.

The collection of essays in this volume is necessarily diverse and occasionally overlapping, but the very personal and ad hoc nature of these memoirs is part of their attraction.

These leaders are the survivors of a sad but necessary "tear in the fabric" of worldwide Anglicanism. At the same time, survival is only part of the story. It is clear that the movement they initiated is now taking root, and as the next generation of leaders takes the reins, the words of the prophet ring true: "The surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward" (Isaiah 37:31).

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll is Professor Emeritus at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, and former Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University in Mukono. He has written essays on the Anglican realignment in The Global Anglican Communion (2018) and collaborated with Bishop John Rodgers' Zoom Memoirs (2021), both published by Anglican House.

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