On the evening of Wednesday, June 21, at Christ Church Cathedral, Plano, TX, Provincial Council 2023 began with an opening worship service as delegates from across North America and guests from beyond gathered. Throughout the two day conference, they listened to ministry updates and presentations, and heard how the province is doing. They were also able to fellowship and pray, vote on various amendments to the Constitution and Canons, and visit exhibit tables to learn more about the province’s ministries. You can find all of the ministry updates here in the Provincial Council Dropbox.
On Thursday morning, the Dean of Christ Church and Trustee of the American Anglican Council, the Very Rev. Paul Donison, spoke about the unity of the Church by the Holy Spirit as taught in Paul’s letter to Philemon. Relating to others on the basis of family changes everything, said Dean Donison, and seeing the Church as a family bound together by the Spirit rather than viewing relationships in the Church on other terms, is one of the keys to keeping her unity. He used the story of Onesimus to show how class, along with race, gender, and other distinctions, can no longer keep people away from free access to the new Creation found in Christ and the new community that was built through Him.
During the Archbishop’s Address, Archbishop Foley Beach gave a short summary of the ACNA’s participation in GAFCON Rwanda this past April and spoke briefly about the various ministries of the province. Archbishop Beach said, “It seems that there are as many diverse callings as there are Anglicans. It’s a beautiful thing to see our people at work for the Lord’s Kingdom…and doing God’s work in God’s world.” He also announced leadership transitions with four dioceses having successfully passed the torch from one bishop to the next. There were also international consecrations of bishops for GAFCON with the ACNA’s participation. “God is taking this small vessel, ACNA,” he said, “and pouring out an abundance of his favor and grace to use us to touch lives all around the world.”
Archbishop Beach also addressed the disagreement between the Provincial Office and the Provincial Tribunal. He summarized the situation and voiced his dismay that the statement he sent to every member of the province regarding the tribunal’s recent decision caused so much controversy and angst. He reiterated the validity of the opinions at hand and the divisions those differences have caused while at the same time stressing that, though the differences are strong, all parties involved are united in good faith and in their love for Christ. He also announced a new amendment, later to be presented by Archbishop Emeritus Robert Duncan, that would address the role of the Provincial Tribunal moving forward. Archbishop Beach also offered an apology. When speaking of all the members of the tribunal who are elected by Provincial Council he said, “I do not doubt that they all want the best for this province, even when we must grapple with significant disagreements on important issues.” He then restated the fact that the College of Bishops has found a way forward through this “constitutional crisis.” You can watch the Archbishop’s address to Provincial Council here.
During Thursday’s afternoon session, Archbishop Emeritus Robert Duncan explained the new amendment pertaining to this conflict between the Provincial Tribunal and the Office of the Archbishop. When the College of Bishops met on Tuesday, Archbishop Duncan said we faced a constitutional challenge. The question was, who can help us through what we faced? It is unusual for the College to propose an amendment directly to the Provincial Council, but the College thought the timing appropriate and moved forward. The amendment is to Title IV, Canon 5, Section 4. The bishops agreed to insert one phrase into Section 4 relating to courts. The phrase would narrow the “original jurisdiction” of the Provincial Tribunal regarding matters in dispute at the beginning of Title IV disciplinary cases. The bishops were concerned that having the tribunal involved in the process while the charge or “presentment” is being shaped could endlessly occupy the tribunal with pre-trial motions that questioned the process. Archbishop Duncan noted that the bishops were concerned about some people making “mischief” of the church’s disciplinary process. The new amendment maintains the role of the tribunal as the final arbiter of disputes concerning the constitution and canons but narrows that role to an appeal in Title IV cases following a conviction. The amendment was passed but not without some outspoken concern.
Archbishop Duncan suggested that those in the council ask questions about the implications of the proposed amendment but resist the temptation to wordsmith or improve it. The chancellor of the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, Charles Philbrick, voiced the strongest objections to the proposed wording of the amendment, based primarily on the speed and suddenness of the proposed amendment’s presentation. He also objected to the limitations the amendment would put on the “judicial branch” of the church to check the “executive branch” and its use of power. The response of the College was to show that the amendment was simply a first reading, a proposal that would give council delegates time to review it before voting on it again in a year. The narrowing of the tribunal’s original jurisdiction would preserve what the framers of the ACNA’s Constitution originally intended, namely, to keep the tribunal as the “ecclesiastical court of final decision” in any constitutional dispute. But Professor Samuel Bray noted that there are trade-offs. On the one hand, this will prevent a floodgate opening with pre-trial appeals to the tribunal. On the other hand, it also gives away the right to an authoritative early resolution of a question before going all the way through a Board of Inquiry; Courts for the Trial of a Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon; and appeal to the Provincial Tribunal, and then having to start the whole process over. “Sometimes,” he said, “a stitch in time does save nine.”
Others voiced support for the proposed amendment. The Rev. Canon Phil spoke in support of the amendment but with the added caveat that the Provincial Tribunal can and should be used as a resource when constitutional questions arise during the process. The tribunal has the authority to issue non-binding statements of advice on any issue put forward by the Provincial Office or the College of Bishops including whether a “presentment” meets the requirements of law. Without seeking the opinion of the tribunal along the way, it is possible for the entire process to play out and have a conviction thrown out on appeal due to an error in the process itself which would be an irresponsible waste of time, effort, and money. Approval of the amendment will require all bishops to be “scrupulously conscientious” in making sure presentments are lawful. He also encouraged all governing bodies involved in disciplinary processes to make use of the tribunal’s non-binding opinions when questions arise during the process in order to avoid reversals of convictions. After this discussion, the proposed amendment was approved as is to be put forward to the Governance Taskforce in preparation for next year’s council where the amendment can be perfected before ratification by Provincial Assembly.
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey presented during Friday morning’s session on behalf of the ACNA Governance Taskforce. You can find the full Report of the Governance Task Force (GTF) here. Canon Phil described the work of the GTF including its consultation with the ACNA Adult Sexual Misconduct Task Force in developing best practices for dioceses in responding to, reviewing, and investigating accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power by church leaders, lay and ordained. He went on to outline the work of the GTF in the next year leading up to Provincial Council and Assembly 2024. This will include developing minimum standards for dioceses and a full review and amendment of our Title IV church disciplinary canons (laws). This left only three minor canonical changes for approval by Provincial Council 2023: the definition of “days” in our canons, the requirement of all diocesan bishops to include any changes to their constitution and canons in the annual report to the province, and conforming language in the canon on the Inhibition of the Archbishop to be consistent with the canons on the Inhibition of Bishops.
After the GTF presentation, Lee Hilts presented the Treasurer’s Report on the annual budget. He began by reminding the council of God’s faithfulness. Diocesan giving is above budget and operational expenses are less than budget. The major challenge, however, has been the high cost of the Title IV investigation in the Diocese of the Upper Midwest which was covered by the increased giving and an additional loan. Mr. Hilts also revealed the generous financial support that provincial initiatives have received through designated and restricted funds. There were also three new finance committee members announced. He reviewed the budget highlights for 2023-2024. The financial information presented can be found here.
Next year’s Provincial Council will be coupled with Provincial Assembly, a momentous occasion where many important decisions will be made, and the province’s continuing work in ministry will be celebrated. The province’s third archbishop will be elected, in addition to the ratification of the amendments that have been proposed by the council over the past few years. Provincial Council and Assembly 2024 will take place June 24 to June 28 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.