Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Nigerian Shell Game

Mark Harris points to the new web site for Nigeria's CANA mission, for which Martyn Minns will be consecrated bishop on August 20.

What is CANA? That's difficult to say, as the definition keeps moving. Let's see if we can follow it.

We first hear of it in a letter from Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria on April 7, 2005:

...After much prayer and careful discernment with appropriate colleagues and advisors over the last two years, and in full consultation with the Nigerian congregations in America, together with the enthusiastic endorsement of the Episcopal Synod and the Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) we announce the formation of the Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America.

This Convocation will function as a ministry of the Church of Nigeria in America. Our intention is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada but rather to provide safe harbour for those who can no longer find their spiritual home in those churches. While it will initially operate under our Constitution and Canons, it will have its own legal and ecclesial structure and local suffragan episcopate. I will be asking the next General Synod of the Church of Nigeria, which will meet in September 2005, to make the necessary constitutional amendments.
(emphasis added)
Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America, which will not "challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA," but provide a "safe harbor." Keep your eye on that, as the name and the mission is going to start shifting, and things are going to get much messier.

Next we have a press release from Nigeria, dated September 15, 2005:

...The Constitutional change also allowed the Church to create Convocations and Chaplaincies of like-minded faithful outside Nigeria. This effectively gives legal teeth to the Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in Americas (CANA) formed to give a worshiping refuge to thousands in the USA who no longer feel welcomed to worship in the Liberal churches especially with the recent theological innovations encouraging practices which the Nigerians recognize as sin. (emphasis added)
The "Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America" has morphed into "Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in Americas," which may seem like a subtle change to allow for the catchy acronym "CANA". Note that it is now offered to "thousands in the USA" with a reference to "Nigerian sin" to infer that maybe it is still a mission to Nigerian Anglicans in America, but just maybe it is something more.

The next shift is seen in a letter from Archbishop Akinola dated November 16, 2005:

...Earlier this year we announced CANA - a mission of the Church of Nigeria, a Convocation for Anglicans in North America. We see this as a creative way to provide pastoral and episcopal care for those alienated by the actions of ECUSA. As we said in our letter of April 7th, 2005, “Our intention is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA or the Anglican Church of Canada but to provide safe harbour for all those who can no longer find their spiritual home in those churches.” While CANA is an initiative of the Church of Nigeria it is our desire to welcome all those who share our faith and vision for the Church. (emphasis added)
So now the "Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in Americas" has shifted to the "Convocation for Anglicans in North America," and "welcomes all those who share our faith..." Is it becoming obvious what is going on here? If its not clear yet, allow another piece by Mark Harris, written at the time of this subtle metamorphisis, provide a bit more clarity.

As a reminder, the Windsor Report, released in October, 2004, and claimed by Akinola and Minns as the standard by which TEC will be judged, contains this recommendation:

We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own:
* to express regret for the consequences of their actions
* to affirm their desire to remain in the Communion, and
* to effect a moratorium on any further interventions.
We also call upon these archbishops and bishops to seek an accommodation with the bishops of the dioceses whose parishes they have taken into their own care.
We further call upon those diocesan bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) who have refused to countenance the proposals set out by their House of Bishops to reconsider their own stance on this matter. If they refuse to do so, in our view, they will be making a profoundly dismissive statement about their adherence to the polity of their own church.
One must assume that this clear admonition is the primary reason for the subterfuge (is CANA Nigerian or American?). Apparently, the need for the shell game has ended. Minns makes the following statement on the CANA site:

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria attempted to meet the needs of Anglican Nigerians in this country himself. But, he soon realized that maintaining a vital mission in the US could not be sustained without the presence of a domestic church structure and a local bishop. Thus, my election as CANA's missionary bishop.

Archbishop Akinola is also well aware of the pastoral crisis that ECUSA has caused for Anglicans of all races and ethnicities in the US. And so, he is committed to seeing that CANA is welcoming of everyone-whether they're from Nigeria or not-who believe in the uniqueness of Jesus the Messiah, the authority of the Bible in our lives, and the historic faith of the Anglican tradition.
It's also interesting to note that the mailing address of this new mission/Convocation/Province/denomination called CANA is the same as that of Truro Church, which is supposedly a parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

What an unusual sequence of events. Undoubtedly they have developed as the situation shifted, without any overall plan. We can never suggest all of this was done intentionally, as that would be dismissed as the ravings of a "conspiracy theorist", complete with tin foil hat.

Regarding the shell game, the operator is sometimes called a thimblerigger or shell man. His collaborator is referred to as a shill. Just a bit of trivia that may be helpful to know one day.

J.

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