Anglican tensions rise, blessing takes place, conservatives to plant churches

News from both sides of the Anglican divide over the blessings of people who have had a same-sex civil marriage will increase tensions.

The Melbourne Anglican reports that the blessing has already taken place of the couple involved in the debate over whether the Anglican Church of Australia (ACA) can bless civil same-sex marriages.

The church’s highest legal body, the Appellate Tribunal, recently ruled that dioceses (regions) could authorise the blessings.

“Bishop John Parkes, the retired Bishop of Wangaratta, blessed the marriage of retired clergy the Revd Dr John Davis and the Revd Rob Whalley using the liturgy approved by Wangaratta Synod in August 2019,” Muriel Porter and Mark Brolly report.

The service, delayed from September last year to await the Tribunal’s decision, was held on 21 November in St Paul’s Church, Milawa, where Dr Davis is the locum. [Locum is Anglican-speak for temporary minister]

“In a decision handed down 10 days earlier after more than a year’s deliberation, the Tribunal said that blessings approved by the dioceses of Wangaratta and Newcastle last year were not inconsistent with the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles of the Church’s Constitution, nor with the General Synod Canon Concerning Services 1992.”

Since the Tribunal ruled, statements by supporters of blessings have tended to emphasise goodwill and a spirit of unity in the ACA.

Expressing disquiet, though, are supporters of traditional marriage such as the Sydney Diocese’s Standing Committee.

This is taken to a higher level by “Commitment 2020“, a manifesto issued by GAFCON Australia, a coalition of conservatives in the ACA. (Editor’s note: hat-tip to David Ould). GAFCON is a worldwide network of conservative Anglicans that represent a majority of Anglican churchgoers worldwide.

While urging restraint upon their supporters, the GAFCON “Commitment 2020” says:

  • Some bishops and dioceses will go ahead with blessings (and this Eternity reports notes it has already happened).
  • This will mean that some Anglicans will wish to disaffiliate from the ACA.
  • GAFCON will use the processes of the ACA in an attempt to “uphold and promote the biblical doctrine of our Church”.
  • GAFCON will try to link people in Liberal dioceses with GAFCON ones and explore “Alternative Episcopal Oversight” or agreed terms of separation.
  • Marginalised people in ACA will be contacted by GAFCON “Ambassadors”.

An important part of Commitment 2020 is addressed to those who will choose to disaffiliate (and is worth quoting directly.

  • “GAFCON Australia will provide a Mentor for support and encouragement to congregations, clergy, or groups of Anglicans who are considering disaffiliation from their bishops and/or dioceses.”
  • “If a sufficient number of churches and clergy disaffiliate from the ACA, GAFCON Australia will seek the approval of the GAFCON Primates Council to establish an Extra-Provincial Diocese (EPD) for Australia authorised by the GAFCON Primates.
  • “The GAFCON EPD will be a parallel jurisdiction with the existing Anglican Church of Australia and have a geographic spread across the whole country. It is not envisioned that this will include Anglicans from Dioceses where sound doctrine is upheld.
  • “The GAFCON EPD will be governed by its own Constitution and Canons, appoint a Registrar, and will elect its own Bishop, who will ordain, license, and pastor its clergy and congregations.
  • “The GAFCON EPD will establish links of communion with orthodox bishops and dioceses within the ACA, as well as among the GAFCON Global networks. It will seek to establish new churches in areas where there are few orthodox Anglican Churches.

In Australia, an “Extra Provincial Diocese” would be a parallel structure for conservatives. The term implies that this new diocese would operate in either each state (or province) or territory, or Australia as a whole. (Editor’s note: “Province” in ACA means “state”, but also “national church” in Anglican speak. Tasmania is an Extra Provincial Diocese in the ACA, but the proposed EPD would operate across the nation.)

As noted above, Sydney and the other existing conservative dioceses would not be part of the new structure.

As predicted by Eternity, a complex “semi-detached” future awaits the ACA.

It is worth noting that a parallel diocese has been an early demand or request by GAFCON in places such as Aotearoa/New Zealand or England. When refused by the Anglican Church in those countries, it has led to an entirely seperate structure being set up.

“Commitment 2020” establishes that in setting up an independent structure, GAFCON Australia is seeking permission from the worldwide GAFCON leaders rather than from the ACA’s leadership.

GAFCON calls supporters to prayer, clergy to faithful preaching and for people to join GAFCON.

In other Anglican news, Josephine Inkpin, a transgender woman priest who has been lecturing in theology at Brisbane’s St Francis College, has accepted a call to Pitt Street Uniting, a prominent progressive church in the Sydney CBD.

“I’m grateful to the UCA for its provision of permission to serve, allowing me to take up a wonderful call,” she tells Eternity.

“I’ve loved Queensland but it will also be lovely to be back in touch with all kinds of people in and around Sydney, not least our closest family.”

Inkpin, married to Penny Jones, is one of two publicly transgender priests in the ACA.

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