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ACNA and CANA: The Baling Wire Unravels, and Some Thoughts About Ethnicity and Churches

They put a good face on a messy situation:

Archbishop Foley Beach, Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, and Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), have signed an agreement regarding the status of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) dioceses in both provinces…

The agreement provides that CANA become solely a mission of the Church of Nigeria but allows each of the three dioceses (Cana East, Cana West, Trinity) to make its own decision regarding its provincial relationships.

Each diocese will amend its constitution and canons as necessary, and may request to be a ministry partner of the alternative province. Both provinces are thankful that this resolution has been reached and look forward to continued collaboration in Gospel ministry, sharing full communion as provinces in the Anglican Communion.

One is led to recall Greg Griffith’s observation about North American Anglicanism when he swam the Tiber:

…the promise of the orthodox Anglican movement outside of The Episcopal Church never materialized either. Populated as that movement is by many good people, it has the institutional feeling of something held together by duct tape and baling wire.

Although the ACNA has made some progress from that, the multiprovincial origins of ACNA make things like this inevitable.

Getting past the baling wire, the core issue here is whether a church should encourage the development of ethnically specific congregations or even dioceses within its structure.  This is a problem that the ACNA, whose leadership mostly comes out of a monochrome (and socio-economically undiverse) Episcopal church, are really not prepared to deal with.  The CANA Trinity Diocese is mostly made up of Nigerian immigrants, who are very much products of the “old country” by language and custom.  They would like that idea expressed in their leadership, and the old country responded by appointing four bishops on its own, something that created a brown pants moment for the ACNA leadership.

So is it right?  Let’s look at the usual suspects at this blog.

It’s been forgotten, but at one point the Roman Catholic church in this country seriously considered organising itself along ethnic lines of the places its immigrant laity came from, i.e. Ireland, Italy, Germany, France, etc.  They opted not to, and although we have had ethnically predominant parishes the structure is uniform.  The main result of this was to buttress the hegemony of the Irish, with all the ups and downs that comes with it.

With the Church of God, Pentecostal in doctrine and worship but episcopal and centralised in government, the formation of ethnic “dioceses” and structures from the outset has been the norm.  The downside to that is that you end up with ethnic “enclaves” in the church, which tend to isolate these churches.  The upside is that you can put your congregation at arms length from the domination of the Scots-Irish, whose own priorities are driven by the peculiarities of their own situation.  That started with the African-American churches; the largest group which have their own structure today are the Hispanics, not as homogenous a group as people think.

Some of this, especially now, is the result of variations in cultural assimilation.  When people come here at the start, they have their own language, customs, etc.  As time passes and the children grow up here, they will shift to a different idea.   The result of this are the multicultural churches (usually medium to large churches) which are more common in American Christianity than their “woke” opponents would care to admit.  In this respect churches such as the CANA Trinity Diocese are transitional in nature (isn’t everything on this side of eternity?)

Getting back to the ACNA and CANA, the rigid ideal of purely territorial dioceses is one that dominates the thinking of many in the Land of the Apostolic Succession.  It was broken by the way the ACNA was cobbled together, and the realities of ethnically diverse Christianity, which requires both putting people together from all places and all races into one church and accommodating the specific needs of different groups, make this ideal impossible on a practical level.  This concord isn’t the best way to address the current reality, but given the way things stand in the ACNA, it’s just best to tighten and repair the baling wire and hope for the best.


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