Hard and Honest Work: The 2014 ACNA Conclave

Former Archbishop Duncan characterized the 2014 Conclave to elect his successor as “hard and honest work” and a variety of other participants offered similar characterizations. The conclave ended with a unanimous vote electing Bishop Foley Beach as the second Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Given this unanimity, what can we discern about what was “hard” about the “work” of electing Archbishop Beach? I collated several sources to look at the process that ACNA used and will probably continue to use to elect its Archbishops in the future.

The ACNA Conclave

Prelude to the Conclave

In the months leading up to the Conclave, the College of Bishops and their congregations committed to prayer and fasting for the election. They also met with Dr. Cynthia Waisner, a consultant with a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change, whose LinkedIn profile says her expertise includes “systemic approaches to change.” 1Dr. Waisner had been involved since at least 2013 in facilitating group unity amongst the College of Bishops. “Their meeting in Orlando this January was of great significance. Cynthia Waisner of Catalyst Consulting had a big role in preparing for and facilitating their time together…Bishop Eric Menees shared about the covenant the bishops made for their relationships with one another: 1) Honesty, avoiding triangulation, discuss matters directly and not indirectly. 2) Avoid pressuring one another and politicizing things. 3) Focus on the things that unite us and not the things that divide us. 4) Do not threaten to leave if we don’t get our way. 5) Give each other the benefit of the doubt and not try to read in motives or agendas. 6) Speak for ourselves and not for unnamed others. 7) All of this would be undergirded with regular prayer for one another. Bishop John and The Rev. Meg Guernsey established a prayer chain for the college of bishops. 8) Think about others and recognize that our actions affect other people in other jurisdictions. 9) Spend special time getting to know one another, especially those close to us geographically. 10) Practice humility – it’s not about building up individual dioceses but about building the Kingdom of God and the ACNA.”

In their January 2014 Communique, the College of Bishops described the process leading up to the Conclave:

Archbishop Duncan then graciously absented himself so we could pursue facilitated conversation with Dr. Cynthia Waisner, who again served as our consultant. Seeking to avoid a political process, the bishops committed to a covenant of behavior and a season of prayer as we move toward the bishops’ conclave in June. The College of Bishops will have regular days of prayer and fasting in the coming months, and then gather the week before the Provincial Assembly to discern in prayer the one whom God is calling as successor to Archbishop Duncan

Instructions for the Conclave

The Conclave followed certain instructions for its proceedings, instructions that I have not seen in writing anywhere. They are not enshrined in ACNA canons and do not seem to be available for public scrutiny as of this writing. However, enough has been said publicly that we can discern the main outlines of the rules.

Bishop Neil Lebhar wrote about the structure of the Conclave prior to its beginning, and he outlined following steps:

As we meet as bishops in conclave, our process contains essentially three stages.

First, we will pray and discuss where we think the Lord is leading us as a Church, and what the corresponding role of the archbishop should be based on that vision.

Second, we will nominate bishops whom we think are gifted to lead in that next direction. Any diocesan bishop is eligible according the canons. Those nominated will of course have the freedom to withdraw their names.

Third, we will go through a prayerful series of ballots until one is chosen by two-thirds of the bishops. There will be no campaigning or pressuring. We will not be free to share the details of the nominations or balloting, but instead will be fully committed to support whomever is finally chosen.

Note the “fully committed” phrase, as it explains the final unanimity of support for Archbishop Beach. It seems that the candidate needed the two-thirds vote, and then the assent of all the bishops to present a united front coming out of the Conclave. Bishop Wood confirms this impression: “The challenge of that is that the ballot has to be unanimous. The challenge of that is, they are sinners, I’m a sinner, and we all have our own agendas, and we all have our own issues.”

The process described by the bishops points to similarities with the Roman Catholic Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (‘the Lord’s whole flock’), available here. For example, Archbishop Beach said, “We made a vow together before the Lord that we would be silent about our time in the Conclave.” Other bishops emphasized the commitment to silence about the proceedings. Bishop Ruch said, “…we made a pledge to each other that we would be confidential about all that occurred in what we called the Conclave…” 2From this video This is similar to: what Universi Dominici Gregis says:

I, N.N., promise and swear that, unless I should receive a special faculty given expressly by the newly- elected Pontiff or by his successors, I will observe absolute and perpetual secrecy with all who are not part of the College of Cardinal electors concerning all matters directly or indirectly related to the ballots cast and their scrutiny for the election of the Supreme Pontiff.

I likewise promise and swear to refrain from using any audio or video equipment capable of recording anything which takes place during the period of the election within Vatican City, and in particular anything which in any way, directly or indirectly, is related to the process of the election itself. I declare that I take this oath fully aware that an infraction thereof will make me subject to the spiritual and canonical penalties which the future Supreme Pontiff will see fit to adopt, in accordance with Canon 1399 of the Code of Canon Law.

So help me God and these Holy Gospels which I touch with my hand.

Universi Dominici Gregis also contains instructions for counting votes and burning ballots, called the “post-scrutiny.” I have seen no evidence of how this was handled by ACNA. Papal Conclaves require two-thirds votes for election. We know that no phones were supposed to be used during the sessions and we know the schedule that the bishops followed. Beyond this, I have not seen further details of the rule that they followed.

What Happened During the Conclave

While information on the actual proceedings is sparse, it is not totally lacking. The bishops roomed together, apparently two to a room. They ate together and spent the entirety of their days together. Bishop Steve Wood shared a room with Bishop Beach; Wood described the process:

Days began at seven in the morning and ended at 10:30 at night, we were locked in a crypt, under the Basilica of St. Vincent in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. We had our meals together, and the entire time was spent in prayer, and worship and in conversation.

He described the time to his parishioners: “It was rich. It was honest. We clearly saw the Spirit bring us to a profound unity.” Bishop Ruch described the time as, “unmanaged, carefully allowed freeing spiritual process in which we heard, I believe, from the Holy Spirit.” The schedule the bishops followed was:

DaySessionResult
19 JuneThursday nightPresentation only
20 JuneFriday morningNominating ballot
21 JuneSaturday morningNo decision
21 JuneSaturday afternoonNo decision
22 JuneSunday morningNo decision, or Beach reaches ⅔ here?
22 JuneSunday morningUnanimous decision for Foley Beach

On June 19th, the Thursday night session kicked the Conclave off with, “each of the bishops…given three minutes to share what was on their heart in regards to the church and their view of the direction and priorities for the next phase of our life together.” 3From Bishop Atwood’s comments can be found here. Archbishop Duncan said, “Every single bishop talked and said what he felt the challenges before the church were and the kind of person we need.”

The nominating ballot came on Friday morning, the 20th. Each bishop was allowed to nominate a candidate. I believe they were limited to one nomination per bishop, and the nominees were allowed to withdraw their names from consideration.

The nominating ballot came on Friday morning, the 20th. Each bishop was allowed to nominate a candidate. I believe they were limited to one nomination per bishop, and the nominees were allowed to withdraw their names from consideration. We do not have anything like a session-by-session, ballot-by-ballot breakdown of what occurred, but in general, we know that there was prayer, Scripture reading, and bishops sharing “words from the Lord.” Bishop Bill Atwood writes:

There was a lot of time for worship and prayer, with Scripture being both read and acclaimed as authoritative. There was also time for bishops to share their sense of “words from the Lord,” as distinguished from personal points of view for which there was also ample time to share. Each time someone spoke, there was time for weighing the words that had been given, seeking to honor not only our thoughts and decisions, but also to listen to what God was saying. Naturally, this is something which must be weighed very carefully and measured against Scripture, but the fact that God’s voice and guidance is taken seriously is a great encouragement.

Much of the time was spent articulating different senses of direction for the future of the church, and then resulted in an agreement of what was needed for the present. The process led to prayers of repentance and acts of reconciliation, prayers, brotherly hugs, and even tears. As relationships were strengthened, agreement on what next steps to take and how to engage challenges emerged. In many ways, this was a time of “being the church” and “doing the work of the church.” As trust increased consensus more readily grew, ultimately resulting in enthusiastic and unanimous selection of the new Archbishop.

Bishop Bill Murdoch tells us that a bishop said: “that unity in the church is more often a fruit of faithful prayer and work and living, rather than a destination imagined by the people of God.” 4Murdoch’s comments can be found here.

Archbishop Duncan provided another glimpse into what was said:

It was stirring at the conclave to hear about bishops and their wives who were giving 20% of their income to the work of God.

5Former Archbishop Duncan’s comment is from here.

At some point in the Conclave I am told that Bishop Ray Sutton was almost selected, he is said to have had the numbers required, which I assume means a 2/3 vote. However, there was a strong voice of opposition to his election and the bishops went back to work to find a candidate more suitable to the whole body. While I could speculate on the factions that may have opposed Bishop Sutton and the reasons why, I have no hard evidence on this, but we do know that women’s ordination was a bone of contention.

The fruit of getting back to work was the selection of Bishop Foley Beach. This means that Beach was acceptable to all the camps within the College, rather than simply two-thirds. Remember that a unanimous vote was mandated after the two-thirds line was crossed. It was not enough to simply get to two-thirds.

Bishop Lebhars’s wife, Marcia Lebhar, wrote:

The election. It was undoubtedly arduous and took every minute allowed for it. But all the bishops describe the process as open, transparent, loving. Along the way there must have been discussion over places of disagreement, but disagreement, if handled with the Holy Spirit, builds fellowship rather than destroys it. That was the testimony of the bishops.

I believe that women’s ordination and the near victory of Bishop Sutton explain the many comments about difficulty in the Conclave. Bishop Stewart Ruch said:

…what occurred in that time was real conversation, real tensions real joys, deep prayer, times of spontaneous worship, sharing our hearts one with another. Every one of the 51 bishops who are active and able to make the election for a new Archbishop shared about their heart, their passion for the next five years of the Anglican Church in North America;

Archbishop Duncan himself characterized the Conclave’s conversation as intense: “Over the course of three days of intense conversation and sometimes vigorous fellowship…”

Disputes over Women’s Ordination

George Conger broke the news that women’s ordination generated the most difficulty during the Conclave:

Sources tell Anglican Ink the issue that generated the most vigorous fellowship was the question of women’s orders, with the bishops unable to rally round a common view. The theological issues surrounding women clergy were coupled with fears that behaviors exhibited in the Episcopal Church in its debates were being repeated within the ACNA.

And after the election of Archbishop Beach, Anglo-Catholic bishops emphasized Beach’s position on Holy Orders. In a letter to the Missionary Diocese of All Saints, Bishops Ilgenfritz and Lipka wrote: 6The letter is located here.

The Archbishop-Elect upholds the orthodox position on Holy Orders. He believes the Christian ministerial episcopate and presbyterate are reserved to males.

Archbishop-Elect Beach embraces the Anglican catholic tradition within the ACNA and is supportive of upholding catholic faith and order of the undivided church.

Writing to Forward in Faith North America, Bishop Iker also emphasized women’s ordination:

I am delighted with the selection of Bishop Foley Beach to serve as the next Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America. He is of the same mind as we are on the question of women in holy orders, and he shares our appreciation of the rich catholic tradition of Anglicanism. At the same time, he has close connections with evangelicals and charismatics and is highly regarded by them.

The ability of Archbishop Beach to appeal to Anglo-Catholics, “evangelicals and charismatics” was likely what enabled the college to reach unanimity on his candidacy. Bishop Ruch also spoke to an evangelical, Catholic and charismatic components in Foley Beach:

I have great confidence in Archbishop Foley. I’ve had a chance to build a personal friendship with him and prayer relationship with him over the last year, and so I know his evangelical heart, I know that he’s a deep churchman that loves Mother Church. He’s a man who moves and works and lives in the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit.

A tentative tally of the voting bishops by their position on women’s ordination yields 32 against and 17 for. These numbers may not account for some factors; for example, I do not know if Archbishop Duncan voted or not, and I am guessing about a few bishops based on their affiliation (i.e. PEAR USA bishops as “against”). The bloc of votes against women’s ordination should be enough to put any candidate over the top, but if unanimity is required, this means the winner cannot be strident in wanting to reverse course on the issue.

The selection of Archbishop Beach produced a wave of unanimity in the bishops who have spoken. Bishop Atwood tells us that:

On Sunday afternoon the bishops’ shout of acclamation rose from the crypt under the Basilica and was heard by those nearby as they reached their decision.

Bishop Murdoch said:

The hard work of this process was one of the deepest places of the work of God by his Holy Spirit that I have had the privilege to go. To do this along with the 51 other bishops present during the conclave was truly extraordinary. The acclamation and thrill of the final vote for our new Archbishop, Foley Beach, is a moment I will carry in my heart forever.

Marcia Lebhar said, “They made a unanimous decision and Neil says he is “thrilled” that Foley Beach is to be our new archbishop.” Bishop Ruch also emphasized the spirit of unity:

we truly bonded as a college, we went from being a group of men with different concerns representing different constituencies to a collegial band of apostolic leaders who are called to do the work the Gospel in our generation. By the end of that time it became unanimously clear that God had selected Bishop, now Archbishop Foley Beach to lead us for the next five years in his five-year term as a leader.

The process was described as exhausting by most of the bishops who commented publicly. Bishop Lyons said that by the end of the Conclave, “We were all fried.”

Reactions to Archbishop Beach

The public reactions were (of course) unanimously positive, ranging from GAFCON to the American Anglican Council, and from Bishop Lebhar to the leaders of Forward in Faith. Marsha Lebhar said, “Foley and Neil are also good friends and often confer on ACNA matters. Neil says of Foley that “he seeks counsel.” We have real confidence in his wisdom and leadership.”

Bishop Ruch sees God’s favor ahead for ACNA:

When I walked out, a day after the election to the Basilica which is the main worship space, and building at the Arch Abbey, to my amazement, I saw the most beautiful, richly colored, expansive rainbow I have ever seen. It literally stretched from one side of the mountain ridge the surrounds Latrobe Pennsylvania to the side over the Basilica. When I looked twice, I saw that actually there was a double rainbow underneath, so that there were two rainbows there. I think that was a supernatural gift from God shown to us there for all of us in the Anglican Church of North America to remind us of God’s promise the days of difficulty and destruction have in so many ways passed as God proved after the Flood, and that days of promise are ahead.

2024

Will ACNA use this same process to select the next Archbishop? I expect that they will. Given the public praise that the bishops have heaped on this process, it makes sense that they will repeat it when the next generation of bishops picks a third Archbishop. Perhaps other bishops have reservations about how this all occurred, but if so, we haven’t heard from them yet.

Notes

  • 1
    Dr. Waisner had been involved since at least 2013 in facilitating group unity amongst the College of Bishops. “Their meeting in Orlando this January was of great significance. Cynthia Waisner of Catalyst Consulting had a big role in preparing for and facilitating their time together…Bishop Eric Menees shared about the covenant the bishops made for their relationships with one another: 1) Honesty, avoiding triangulation, discuss matters directly and not indirectly. 2) Avoid pressuring one another and politicizing things. 3) Focus on the things that unite us and not the things that divide us. 4) Do not threaten to leave if we don’t get our way. 5) Give each other the benefit of the doubt and not try to read in motives or agendas. 6) Speak for ourselves and not for unnamed others. 7) All of this would be undergirded with regular prayer for one another. Bishop John and The Rev. Meg Guernsey established a prayer chain for the college of bishops. 8) Think about others and recognize that our actions affect other people in other jurisdictions. 9) Spend special time getting to know one another, especially those close to us geographically. 10) Practice humility – it’s not about building up individual dioceses but about building the Kingdom of God and the ACNA.”
  • 2
  • 3
    From Bishop Atwood’s comments can be found here.
  • 4
    Murdoch’s comments can be found here.
  • 5
    Former Archbishop Duncan’s comment is from here.
  • 6
    The letter is located here.

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