AMiA identity, procedures still in formation

January 30, 2002

They're not a 'separate church,' AMiA leaders insist, but part of the Anglican Communion, through connections with the Anglican provinces of South East Asia and Rwanda. They're not a province, although their 'Solemn Declaration and Constitution and Canons' refers to them as the 'Anglican Missionary Province of North America.' They are, technically, missionaries from the Anglican provinces of Rwanda and South East Asia, though no one in their US leadership has lived in either Africa or Asia and few have visited there.

When the group became official just a month after the Episcopal Church's General Convention in July 2000, with a charge from its authorizing primates to 'go ahead full steam' in 'any part of the USA, no limits,' some enthusiasts predicted they would add 80 congregations before the end of their first year. But by September, 2000, only 17 congregations had signed up, most of them portions of ECUSA congregations with a long history of conflict with their bishops, not all of it doctrinal.

Resentment over the 1979 passage of the 'Dennis Canon' instituted by General Convention also motivated some of the clergy and laity. Title 1, canon 7, § 4 of the Episcopal Church canons is an express trust provision which states: 'All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located. The existence of this trust, however, shall in no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise existing over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons.' Many conservatives continue to feel the canon was passed in order to limit the ability of traditionalist congregations to control their property after General Convention approved the ordination of women.

By the first AMiA Winter Conference, held at Pawleys Island in January, 2001, they claimed 21 congregations totaling 5,000 members, although officials said they had fielded 'hundreds of inquiries.' Six months later, at the Denver consecrations of four new bishops, their membership was given as 8,000 members in 37 congregations. As of January 2002, the official number of congregations has increased to 40, but the number of congregants has remained the same.

'Practical diversity'

Although its Constitution and Canons calls for a 'provincial synod' or representative assembly of bishops, priests, deacons, and laypersons, the AMiA has not yet held such a synod. Decisions appear to be made by Archbishops Kolini and Yong in consultation with an AMiA Council of Bishops and a Standing Commission, neither of which is elected by the AMiA's membership. None of the currently half-dozen AMiA bishops were elected by a diocese gathered in convention, as is the rule in the Episcopal Church. But there are no dioceses in the AMiA to elect bishops, at least not yet. Its six bishops govern by 'affinity' rather than geography, and congregations are invited to choose which one they prefer to minister to them.

There are women among its priests and deacons, but AMiA's leaders at its inception declared a two-year moratorium on the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate until completion of a study of the 'appropriateness' of women's ordination, chaired by Rodgers. Since the AMiA is in dialogue with anti-women's ordination organizations such as Forward in Faith and 'continuing Anglican' bodies such as the Reformed Episcopal Church that decline to accept women as priests or bishops, the issue retains the potential for a future rift.

At present, the group engages in what is called 'practical diversity': those congregations that don't accept women are clustered under Rodgers and the Province of South East Asia, those who do under Murphy and Rwanda, and all-male Eucharists are the rule at corporate gatherings. Should the AMiA eventually decide not to ordain women, its canons effectively leave the issue of existing women clergy to attrition; should it affirm them, however, opponents of the practice are invited to remain or leave with no financial penalty either way.

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