Saturday, August 1, 2015

Mending Episcopal Schism Among American Anglicans

Anglo-Catholic worship was so much easier when I was a kid. Anglican worship meant the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, so you would shop around for a place that had at least some high church worship.  But the theological innovations of the 1970s fractured Anglo-Catholics, perhaps permanently — first in 1977 with the Continuing churches formed out of the Congress of St. Louis and then the ACNA launched in this century.

ICCA made impressive progress in addressing this fracture, with the broad representation of US Anglo-Catholics across a wide range of jurisdictions. We had the Schism I (Continuing Anglicans aka Continuum), Schism II (ACNA), pre-Schism (Reformed Episcopal Church) and non-Schism (a very small number of TEC clergy). Of course, there were also at least five African bishops and one retired English bishop (Michael Nazir-Ali).

There is schism both within and between these schisms. The 19th and 20th century secessionists (i.e. REC and Schism I) don’t ordain women to any order (including deacon) and most use the 1928 or 1662 BCP.

In the final sermon Friday, REC Bp. Ray Sutton joked that they agreed on almost everything and got along on almost nothing. The Continuum is badly fractured: according to Wikipedia estimates the big four (ACA, ACC, APA, APCK) only account for 2/3 of Schism I. This ongoing fragmentation has made a running joke of the claim to be the true apostolic church: several referred to “alphabet soup” and the need to mend these division — at least within the Continuum.

Meanwhile, the chasm between Schism I and II is even more daunting. Yes, the Anglo-Catholic parishes and dioceses joined ACNA with one diocese (now several) actively if not aggressively ordaining women. ACNA’s unresolved resolution of WO was the elephant in the room. There are three possible outcomes — the current stalemate continues, the factions get a divorce or (least likely) the male clergy view wins out — and only the latter two would satisfy Schism I.

On the one hand, there seems to be jealousy among some Schism I clergy — who have toiled in relative obscurity since correctly diagnosing the ECUSA malaise almost 40 years ago — at the visibility and favorable press that ACNA has won. Having a national unified denomination certainly helps, as did ACNA’s successful efforts by Bp. Bill Atwood to build ties of communion and fellowship with the GAFCON overseas churches.

On the other hand, the Schism I clergy and laity have been proven correct. The path that TEC was on in 1978 was leading exactly as they predicted, and (in retrospect) there wasn’t much to be gained by waiting — in fact, leaving before the Dennis Canon was actually a better strategy. (This is not to deny the numerous errors in executing the Schism I strategy).

Personal Ties Among the Episcopate(s)

While at ICCA, it was clear that many of the Continuum and ACNA clergy had never met: I found myself introducing Anglo-Catholic clergy (particularly within California) who would have been close colleagues if not for the current jurisdictional mess.

The greatest opportunity came with the episcopate, i.e. the bishop from the various jurisdictions. According to the program, the 23 North American Anglican bishops almost exactly balanced between ACNA (10) plus ex-TEC (2) and Continuing (7) plus REC (4):
  • ACA (Anglican Church in America) 1: Stephen Strawn
  • ACC (Anglican Catholic Church) 2: Mark Haverland, Stephen Scarlett
  • ACCC (Anglican Catholic Church in Canada) 1: Shane Janzen
  • APA (Anglican Province of America) 1: Chandler (Chad) Jones
  • DHC (Diocese of the Holy Cross) 1: Paul Hewett
  • UECNA (United Episcopal Church of North America) 1: Peter Robinson
  • ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) 10: Keith Andrews (Western Anglicans), Bill Atwood (International), Foley Beach (South), Bob Duncan (Pittsburgh), Bill Ilgenfritz (Missionary Diocese of All Saints), Rich Lipka (Missionary Diocese of All Saints), Clark Lowenfield  (Western Gulf Coast), Eric Menees (San Joaquin), Alberto Morales (Quincy); Stephen Leung (Anglican Network in Canada)
  • REC (Reformed Episcopal Church) 4: Royal Grote, Winfield Mott, Sam Seamans, Ray Sutton
  • TEC: Keith Ackerman (retired) 2; William Wantland (retired)
The other 10 bishops participating were as follows:
  • PNCC (Polish National Catholic Church) 1: Paul Sobiechowski
  • UK 3: John Fenwick (Free Church of England), John Hind (CoE, retired), Michael Nazir-Ali (CoE, retired)
  • Global South 6: Michael Hafidh (Tanzania), Fanuel Magangani (Malawi), Brighton Malasa (Malawi), James Min Dein (Myanmar), Valentine Mokiwa (Tanzania), Stephen Than Myint Oo (Myanmar)
Co-host Bp. Keith Ackerman toiled tirelessly to get these bishops to get to know each other, through informal and formal meetings, celebrating together and serving on the drafting committee together. I counted 23 purple shirts at a quick informal gathering that Ackerman called on Tuesday morning (not include Beach).
Their number dwindled as the week went on. At the opening evensong Monday night I counted 16 bishops processing and three purple shirts in the pews. At the closing Holy Communion Friday, the numbers had dropped to 11+2 (Nazir-Ali only processed as the Tuesday morning celebrant) with many of the Continuum bishops having already left.

Some of the non-Anglo-Catholic bishops made only brief appearance. ACNA primate Foley Beach showed up to preach at Tuesday’s first communion service and then left for the airport. His predecessor Bob Duncan — of Anglo-Catholic liturgy but evangelical view of Holy Orders — stayed much longer, leaving on Thursday. While their respective sermons emphasized common aspirations and challenges of orthodox-minded Anglicans post-2003, the Schism I bishops (understandably) saw little prospect of being in communion with them.

Skunk in the Room

Some of the bishops were more used to getting along than others. Ackerman, Ilgenfritz, Lipka and Menees, Morales and Wantland from the ACNA, Sutton from the REC, and Hewett and Jones from the Continuum are all members of the FiFNA Council (i.e. governing body). Bp. Jones in particular seemed to go out of his way to be conciliar in his address to the Congress, while Bp. Sutton seemed to have the most experience working with both camps.

However, the ACNA clergy and laity couldn’t stop talking about Wednesday night’s sermon by Abp. Haverland, head of the Anglican Catholic Church. (I happened to miss this evensong because we were wrapping up our church planting session and I never made it over there in time).

The sermon (posted at Philorthodox and Anglican Continuum) began with the assertion that the path of the Schism I parishes was more theologically sound and consistent than the Schism II.  This is not particularly surprising, and in fact the ACNA defense of their delay in leaving ECUSA has emphasized the pastoral and conciliar value of their choices of the past 30+ years, not their theological purity.

However, the part that everyone was talking about the next morning was the following, particularly one key paragraph (emphasis added):
I congratulate the ACNA for leaving the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada.  Every one of you who made that change did a good thing and one, I hope, that you do not regret.  But that departure can only be a good first step.  For ACNA is really not a Church but a coalition of dioceses. The coalition is for some purposes only, and the communion of the dioceses is impaired and imperfect.  The ACNA has retained the central flaw of the recent Lambeth Communion because it permits member dioceses to ordain women to the three-fold ministry, and therefore implicitly claims that the central Tradition is not decisive and may be set aside.  ACNA is not a return to orthodox Anglicanism, but only a return to the impaired state of the Lambeth Communion that began in 1975 and 1976. 
Of course, the issue of women’s ordination has not yet been resolved in the ACNA. And the newest head of the ACNA last year defended the right of member dioceses to continue such ordination rather than wait for a resolution:
First, let me say that I think a voluntary moratorium [on ordination] would actually not ease the tension. I think it would pour gasoline in the fire. Part of that is, in our constitution and canons, we have left the issue of women’s ordination for each diocese to decide. A lot of people came into the ACNA in good faith that their perspective – including those who ordain women—would be protected and guarded. And, people who believe in ordaining women hold their position by conscience and can Biblically argue it, although I disagree with them. This issue is a very important thing to them, and so I think it would create a lot of tension.
Confirmation from the Grave

In large part, this tension within and between Anglican groups was precisely anticipated by Rev. Peter Toon in December 2008, only four months before his untimely death. He wrote a a brief summary of the two groups, published at Virtue Online:
Continuing Anglicans in America: what's the difference between "The Continuing Anglican Church" of 1977 and "The Anglican Church in America" of 2008
by Dr. Peter Toon

Here I want to compare and contrast in a very preliminary way, the two major secessions from The Episcopal Church [TEC] of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Seceders of the 1970s
The seceders from TEC of the late 1970s intended to create an expression of the Anglican Way as "The Continuing Anglican Church" which

Recent Seceders
To call the seceders from TEC over the last decade and specifically over the last year or two as Continuing Anglicans will be a shock and an offense to some people. However "The Anglican Church in America" came into existence on Dec 3, 2008, because of schism and secession. Within this Church are four former dioceses of TEC and many congregations which are either former TEC parishes or splits from TEC parishes. Obviously there are some participants who had not been involved in secession, the Reformed Episcopal Church for example, but the majority of the claimed 100,000 members were formerly of the TEC.

Regrettably there is very little dialogue and cooperation between the two expressions of Continuing Anglicanism in the U.S.A.
And one of his observations about the ACNA shows that the issue cited by Abp. Haverland and Abp. Beach was as true at its founding as it is today:
[The ACNA] Uses "Province" in a wholly innovatory way, causing it to mean "a hybrid of differing groups working in a specific, geographical territory in a semi-competitive way but cooperating in major matters."
I think “a coalition of dioceses” is a succinct way to summarize Toon’s point. Since the founding of the ACNA, the various dioceses seem united in their rejection of the TEC while differing over matters that divided the TEC from many in the Global South almost 40 years ago.

Looking Forward

The bishops of the ICCA seemed able to worship together, (in most cases) celebrate and take communion together, and continue the dialog that has been managed by the FiFNA leaders since the TEC’s first ordination of women in the 1970s. The Ft. Worth gathering didn’t resolve their differences, but it did introduce hundreds of clergy and laity across the aisle to people they wouldn’t have otherwise met.

As layman who has attended orthodox TEC, ACNA and Continuing parishes for the past 25 years, the differences between these groups seem exaggerated. Yes, since 2006 it is implausible for a parish (or individual Anglican) to claim to be Biblically orthodox while remaining in the TEC. But within the broad swoop of Christianity — let alone Western or global religious belief — these two groups of non-TEC Anglicans are more similar than different.

As demonstrated by the ICCA, they share the desire to retain an continuous link to the historic undivided Christian church, with beliefs and practices consistent with the Christians of the 1st millennium (if not the Nicene era). Their differences are far less than those held together by the Broad Church of the CoE for most of the past 450 years, or within the original Anglo-Catholic revival of the 19th century. So why can’t we all get along?

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