The Church of England General Synod yesterday declined to define itself as being "in communion" with a breakaway group in the USA, acknowledging its desire to be Anglican but falling well short of recognition.
Following a debate which was passionate but less rancorous than some had feared, Synod overwhelmingly declined to pass a resolution from Lorna Ashworth declaring: "[t]hat this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America."
In its amended form, none of the original wording survived, and instead the Church of England's parliament recognised "the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada", went on to "recognise and affirm the desire [emphasis added] of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family" and invited the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011 about the "issues" this raised.
Hardline groups in sympathy the breakaway and critical of The Episcopal Church (TEC), which they regard as too liberal, immediately seized upon the development to claim that ACNA had been "recognised" and "affirmed" - though they had earlier condemned the wording of the amendment by the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Rev Mike Hill.
The actual resolution was carefully worded to refuse the word "communion" or any direct affirmation, and simply to recognise the desire for Anglican identity and unity, thus keeping bridges open - as the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed a wish for all sides to do in their arguments about sexuality, women bishops, and other disputed questions.
This morning the Episcopal News Service in north America prosaically reported that the "Church of England says no to full communion with breakaway entity", while Christian Today and others rather dubiously declared that the "Church of England recognises breakaway US Anglicans" - indicating that a war of interpretation has now begun.
A seasoned observer told Ekklesia: "There are no victors here. The word "communion" was rejected. However, the resolution will be hyped by opponents of TEC regardless of the facts."
The argument has been widely presented in the media as evangelicals versus liberals, but evangelicals were actually to be found on both sides, and many liberals voted for a resolution which others wished had been rejected altogether.
Bishop Hill, who amended Ms Ashworth's resolution, is an evangelical, as is the Rev Simon Butler from Southwark Diocese, who tried - but failed - to get the debate postponed.
Proposing the amendment, Bishop Hill said the original resolution would “commit the Church of England to too much too soon”. He added: “It is obviously clear that there has been much anger and bitterness in the schism within The Episcopal Church. Facts, and more significantly the interpretation of those facts, have been hard to ascertain. This should invite caution from us over formally taking sides however much our sympathies may be with one side or the other."
The proceedings were also marked by moments of high farce and humour as first the electronic voting system and then the division bell failed. As Times religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill described the ensuing situation: "The old cry of 'divide' rang out and [members] spent a few minutes of chaotic wandering around the chamber at Church House, Westminster, while they tried to remember which door was 'yes', which 'no' and which 'undecided'."
On the issue of ACNA, at least, Synod refused to divide.