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New Anglican Church Faces Fiscal Challenges
hen the Anglican Church in North America launched last year, founders were clear on what they didn't want to be: the Episcopal Church.
But as the ACNA marks its first anniversary, members are finding that carving out a new identity requires a good dose of patience, and more money than they have on hand.
The ACNA knows what it wants to be: a church-planting, soul-saving province officially recognized by other churches and leaders in the 77-million-member Anglican Communion.
Leaders reported some progress on those goals, but fiscal hurdles remain. Archbishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who leads the ACNA, said on June 8 that membership grew from 703 congregations to 811 during the last year, a step toward fulfilling his mission to plant 1,000 new churches within the first five years.
Meeting those goals, however, will mean surmounting financial challenges. The church's $1.36 million budget, approved by the ACNA's Provincial Council, counts on a new initiative to raise $500,000 within the next six months. If the fundraising comes up short, projects central to establishing the young church's identity may stall. "The vision for `Anglican 1000' is contingent on us being able to raise $500,000," said treasurer Bill Roemer, referring to the church-planting plans.
Delegates to the ACNA's first annual meeting said these early years are critical for establishing it as a dynamic alternative to the Episcopal Church, which has been wracked by internal disputes and losing members for decades. "The fear is that if we don't push forward with a mission effort, we're going to fall back to the old settled denominational pattern, which didn't serve the Episcopal Church well and won't serve us well, either," said the Rev. Tom Finnie, Rector of Christ Church in Midland, Texas.
Many parts of the ACNA, which is composed of a number of conservative Anglican bodies, split from the Episcopal Church in recent years after long battles over homosexuality and theological issues.
Some Anglican critics worry it threatens church unity to have overlapping jurisdictions for competing forms of Anglicanism in a single geographic area.
But the ACNA, which says it hasn't yet petitioned for official standing in the Anglican Communion, enjoys significant support in Africa and other developing regions.
At an April meeting in Singapore, delegates from 20 of the communion's 38 provinces affirmed the ACNA as "a faithful expression of Anglicanism" in a region they said is in need of one. The new church would need official approval from two-thirds of the world's nearly 40 Anglican primates and the imprimatur of a key Anglican committee before it could be granted membership in the communion.
Even within the ACNA, hot-button issues aren't entirely settled. Some ACNA dioceses ordain women as priests, while others regard the practice as un-biblical. "The ordination of women to the (priesthood) remains a matter that divides us," Duncan said in his state-of-the-church address. "Despite the deep theological and ecclesiological divide we have remained committed to each other, and have honored each other as our Constitution envisions."
Still recovering from emotionally bruising fights within the Episcopal Church, members of ACNA congregations seem to have little appetite left for pushing one another to conform. The council voted, for instance, to waive its size requirements for dioceses and accept new ones from the Great Lakes region and the South.
For now, the ACNA is focused on laying foundations. Task forces on topics from liturgy to prayer book and ecumenism reported to the council this week.
Chief Operating Officer Brad Root, a former entrepreneur, likens the organization to "a start up" in the business world; it aims to grow rapidly and all administrative systems need to be built from square one.
Delegates raised some concerns during discussion of the budget.
"It's said that staff expands to consume the money available, and this has been a problem in the Episcopal Church," said John Whelchel, a delegate from Atlanta.
Others put a finer point on how to be distinct from the church they left. "The longest report we have is about money, and the most time is spent on money," said the Rev. Karen Stevenson of Pittsburgh. "The concern is that we not repeat the mistakes of the past."