Monday, January 19, 2009

Bp. Iker on the future of Anglo-Catholicism

The last few decades have raised questions about the definition and future of Anglo-Catholic worship. On Friday, the man who effectively is the leading spokesman for American Anglo-Catholics, Bishop Jack Iker of the Diocese of Ft. Worth, gave a talk that paints a troubling portrait (at best). Bp. Iker was speaking at the Mere Anglicanism conference in Charleston, South Carolina.

Bp. Iker’s talk is posted at Virtuosity Online. He sets the stage by noting the history of the Anglican Communion:
For three centuries, the Anglican Church knew relative peace and concord through an arrangement known as the Elizabethan settlement or, as the more cynically minded might prefer to call it, the Elizabethan compromise. Dating from the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Anglicanism was marked by a common ordained ministry, common creeds, and a Book of Common Prayer that provided for a good amount of freedom in belief and practice, within those boundaries. High church and low church, anglo-catholics and evangelicals saw many things differently and worshipped in very different ways, but nonetheless they were members of the same church, a national church, under the ultimate governance of the monarch and the ultimate authority of the Holy Scriptures.

As the British empire grew and expanded around the world, so did the Church of England. As colonies were established in America, and Africa, and Asia, so were colonial churches established, each with a common spiritual and liturgical heritage. As one writer has observed, "The ingredients of colonial Anglicanism were the same everywhere: Crown, Parliament, episcopacy, Prayer Book, English law, English theology."
He then traces the history of the ad hoc and relatively weak governance mechanisms of the communion, contrasting those with alternatives (notably conciliarism) that have yet to be adopted.

The speech had three new points — all about women’s ordination — that I had not previously seen raised in the Continuing Anglican saga. First, as a then-PECUSA bishop attending Lambeth last summer, at three different times (including a plenary talk) Bp. Iker raised the issue of the declining tolerance of clergy opposed to women’s ordination, but his comments in these forums were censored from the official record of the conference. Second, while he praises Bishop Duncan and the Common Cause Partnership, he notes that the ordination of women is, in effect, the elephant in the room of the new North American province and will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Finally, he notes the gap between Anglican thought on the subject and the remainder of Christendom:
It must give due consideration to the reality that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which together comprise over 80% of the world's Christians, have already spoken on this issue [WO] and that unilateral actions on our part have already seriously damaged ecumenical relations for the future. Are we willing to submit to the mind of the whole church? Are we really committed to abiding by common consent as determined by general councils?
In my reading, Bp. Iker is saying that the future of Anglo-Catholics may not lie as a province in communion with Canterbury, but as Anglican Rite Catholics. On the one hand, this is an opportunity, to borrow and collaborate in developing sacred music with church musicians representing some 50? 70? million Catholics in the U.S. (plus millions more English-speaking Catholics in the rest of the world).

On the other hand, since Vatican II, Catholic worship in the US has drifted away from the traditional liturgy. The dominant supplier of Catholic church music in the US, Oregon Catholic Press, has the same goal of modernized worship through annual (or more frequent) release of liturgy books such as Today’s Missal.

For centuries, Protestants have borrowed hymns from each other and from Catholics as well. So the challenge may not be writing the hymns, but establishing a large enough, coherent audience for Anglo-Catholic worship that justifies compiling a new hymnal that emphasizes timeless liturgical worship, rather than trendy lyrics and music.

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