Monday, January 28, 2008

Celebrating 30 years of schism

The modern Anglican wars began with the Congress of St. Louis in September 1977, in which 2,000 Episcopal clergy and laity met in reaction to the ordination of women and the 1979 revision to the prayer book. The result was the Affirmation of St. Louis and the beginnings of what we now call the “continuing Anglican” movement.

Last week, two of the major traditionalist Anglican groups held a convention, but more on that in a moment.

Thirty years ago today, the first four continuing Anglican bishops were consecrated in Denver by Rt. Rev. Albert A. Chambers, retired ECUSA bishop of Springfield. The bishops were James Mote of Denver, Robert Morse of Oakland, Calif., Peter Watterson of West Palm Beach, Fl. and Charles Dale Doren of Pittsburgh.

The next morning, the New York Times reported “Episcopal Dissidents Consecrate Bishops,” and the story was picked up by AP and UPI. The Times story reported:
The establishment of a hierarchy of bishops gives the Anglican Church of North America, as it it has been temporarily named, the full resources of an independent church and is expected by its leaders to spur the pace of growth.
Alas, it was all downhill from there, as the continuing Anglican movement degenerated into the alphabet soup that characterizes it today. Morse formed the APCK (Anglican Province of Christ the King), Mote formed the ACC (Anglican Catholic Church), Doren formed the UECNA (United Episcopal Church of North America) and Watterson (like many others) left for the RCC.

The rest of the traditionalist Episcopalians stayed in ECUSA, accepting the new prayer book and (in most cases) the ordination of women. However, the 2003 General Convention fueled another exodus, with consent to the ordination of Gene Robinson, failure to ban gay marriage and rejection of a basic statement of Christianity put forth by Bp. Keith Ackerman of Quincy. For others, GC 2006 was the last straw.

Twenty-plus years after the movement was born, did those leaving ECUSA after the GC 2003 and GC 2006 join with the continuing movement? No, they created their own hierarchies and bishops, notably the AMiA (Anglican Mission in the Americas) and CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America).

Some of these newer groups (AMiA, CANA) with some older groups formed the Common Cause Partners, whose website (“”) is tragically laughable denial of the ongoing schism. At best, the CCP is a loose federation which might form a new denomination in a decade, but seems equally likely to spin apart on its own centripetal forces.

The proliferation of denominations gives credence to critics who say that all those (us?) continuing types can do is fracture and schism. Don’t get me wrong: if it’s a choice between heresy and schism, the early church fathers showed us that truth is more important than unity. However, between the continuing groups there are few doctrinal issues — notably that CANA can’t decide how it feels about women’s ordination. But most of the rest of the disagreements seem to be over liturgy (APCK vs. UECNA) or personalities (most of them).

There are a few signs of healing and perhaps sanity. Last summer, the ACC, UEC and APCK have put aside their differences of the preceding 29 years, joining back in communion the first three churches of the continuing movement. Both ACC and UEC were represented at the decennial APCK convention in Oakland last Friday, when James Provence was installed as Morse’s successor as APCK “primate.”

Meanwhile, the AMiA convention in Dallas last week attracted a number of Anglican bishops and clergy, including Common Cause bishops in the US and Anglican bishops from outside the US (including UK, and Africa). No sign of reaching out to new partners, but a strong show of unity from the existing ones.

Interestingly, the AMiA claims (according to David Virtue) to be producing a new translation of the 1662 BCP into modern language, co-authored by Rev. Dr. John Rodgers of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and Rev. Dr. Peter Toon of the Prayer Book Society USA. No word of when or how the prayer book will be distributed — but this prayer book could become the first instrument of unity that bridges the St. Louis and recent defectors from ECUSA.


Warren said...

I'm curious how this fits with the header of your blog? (And I thought you might appreciate at least one comment.)

9.West said...

I agree, it is a bit far afield. I debated whether to write about it after it was discussed in church Sunday.

The problem I'm having is that music choices (particularly the creation of a hymnal) stems from liturgy choices. Right now, all of the continuing groups are too small to make their own hymnal, so most of us continue with the Hymnal 1940.

When will American Anglicans have a prayer book? (Perhaps soon). When will we have a hymnal? If that depends on having a common denomination hierarchy, then it could be a decade off.

Who gets to design these books? That turned out to be huge in creating the 1979 prayer book and Hymnal 1982, which (as intended) shifted ECUSA's theology notably left. So it seems hard to completely separate issues of doctrine, liturgy and hymnody, even if individual congregations can still photocopy hymns that they like from old hymnals.

Jeff said...

You're absolutely correct. In fact, realistically, there is no denomination where you can separate the three. Where that is not realized is where problems arise, IMO. In denominations where the liturgy is a few songs, a few prayers, and then an hour's lecture by the pastor, you still get teaching from the songs - and things learned in songs will often "stick" in subtle ways.

Anyone who doubts that, and is old enough, should see whether they can recite the preamble to the Constitution without singing it ;).