Every year, the Anglican Church in North America reviews the canonical laws by which it is governed. These canons are updated as needed in light of the needs and realities of the Province as it functions. They serve the growing vision and mission of the Province.
This year at the meeting of Provincial Council, a governing body of the Church, delegates met to discuss proposed canonical amendments formulated by the Governance Task Force, a body that receives and considers suggestions to better the governing documents of the Province. The Governance Task Force (GTF), led by the Rev. Cn. Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council, facilitated this process and presented the proposed changes to Provincial Council. The two main areas reviewed this year were the health of dioceses, particularly as it bears on episcopal elections, and the discipline of bishops.
With regard to dioceses, the Council passed changes in Title 1 Canon 5 to the definition of a diocese and the role of the Executive Committee in reviewing annual diocesan reports. The text clarifies what the minimum requirements are for a diocese, though it remains for the bishops to do further work on what should be included when the necessary structures of a diocese are put in place.
The Council also clarified the process of electing new bishops (Title 3 Canon 8). A bishop is not just elected to a diocese, but he becomes a bishop for the whole Church. Therefore, as representatives of the whole Church, the College of Bishops has a solemn duty to either affirm or not affirm a diocesan decision. The Canonical amendment provides greater guidance as to the boundaries of what the College is to consider when a new bishop is put forward.
Out of a previous experience of having to discipline a bishop, the GTF proposed a number of changes to the disciplinary canons (Title IV) that provide limited authority for the archbishop, checked by the consent of three of the five most senior bishops, to admonish or even inhibit a bishop pending a presentment, trial, voluntary submission to discipline, or dismissal of all charges. These changes were approved after much discussion.
This year’s multiple rounds of review and comments by the whole Province, beginning in March of 2021, on the work of the GTF involved the most participation of the Church to date. The members of the GTF are very grateful for all the thoughtful comments and suggestions received over the past few months. All of the Canons approved at Provincial Council 2021 are subject to ratification at the next Anglican Church in North America Provincial Assembly scheduled for 2024.