Hope for a Communion on the verge of a breakdown?

Philip Turner’s latest contribution to the ongoing post-Dublin discussion: “Communion on the Verge of a Breakdown: What Then Shall We Do?“, posted both at the ACI website and at the TLC Covenant weblog/website.

Benjamin Guyer’s piece at Covenant (“A Protest against the New Primatial Standing Committee“), to which my priest and friend David Hyman drew my attention yesterday, has drawn a couple of interesting replies from James Wirrel and Ian Montgomery. Guyer has been consistently dismissive of GAFCON (not that I don’t have my own concerns with the movement for ecclesiological reasons) and of any extramural Anglicans in North America (he is particularly disdainful of ACNA and AMiA), so Fr Montgomery’s hortatory comment (after Wirrel’s extended comment) is particularly apt. The fact that Guyer has shown himself over and over again either to be incapable of recognizing or just refusing to recognize that AMiA, and to a lesser extent ACNA, have been able to bring unchurched and other-churched people into Anglicanism who would otherwise likely never have darkened the door of an Episcopal parish, has been a real irritant to me. Be that as it may, however.

To be sure, we have all sinned and come short of God’s glory in the ongoing struggles within the Anglican Communion. Conservative Episcopalians like Guyer have been dismissive of ACNA, AMiA, and GAFCON in ways that misprise and slander faithful Anglicans in these groups (accusations of North American conservative money fueling the engine of the Global South I can understand from Western revisionists – but from Western conservatives?). Some Global South provinces began and encouraged endeavors in North America that have caused division and scandal within conservative dioceses in The Episcopal Church (why, for instance, were any AMiA congregations started in the Diocese of South Carolina under no less a conservative bishop than Ed Salmon? – and yes, I know some of the history behind that, but as a member now of a church in the AMiA, it still scandalizes me).

The Communion Partners and other faithful, theologically conservative Anglicans within The Episcopal Church and those faithful, theologically conservative Anglicans in ACNA, AMiA, the Reformed Episcopal Church, and other extramural jurisdictions must work together, under the leadership of the Global South primates and other bishops to re-form the Communion. Concrete steps toward reconciliation must begin soon, before we can actually move ahead with the theological and ecclesiological heavy-lifting the task will require.

In the (albeit pollyannish) ecumenical optimism of the 1970s and 1980s, some of the proposals coming out of groups like COCU (the Consensus on Church Union) included penitential liturgies between the sundered Christian churches (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) that included confessions of sins of schism, hardheartedness, misjudgment – and that included acts of forgiveness of one another, symbolized by the coming together of leaders in these acts of penitence and forgiveness. What if the Communion Partner bishops in The Episcopal Church (+Lawrence, +Stanton, et al.) were to come together with the ACNA bishops (++Duncan, +Iker, +Ackerman, et al.), the AMiA bishops, and Reformed Episcopal Church bishops publicly and liturgically to confess together to one another and to Almighty God their particular sins of commission and omission, and those of their churches (since bishops, as the heads of their churches, may really and sacramentally do that) against the Body of Christ within the Anglican Communion, to receive God’s and one another’s forgiveness, and having sought the forgiveness of the offended brother, were to approach the Lord’s Table together to share in his Body and Blood?

In November 2005 I was privileged to be present at the “Hope and a Future” conference held under the auspices of the Anglican Communion Network (recall that this predated the departure of San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Quincy, and Pittsburgh from The Episcopal Church), at which a number of leading conservative Episcopalian bishops were present, along with several Global South bishops and primates (including ++Akinola and ++Orombi) and bishops from the Reformed Episcopal Church. At the concluding Eucharist, the Reformed Episcopal bishops, formally out of communion with any other Anglican group since the original schism in the 1870s, joined in the procession with the other bishops. I was brought to tears as I saw the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Leonard Riches, receive communion from the hand of +Duncan, and then saw the other Episcopal and Anglican bishops receive communion from +Riches, as he administered the Cup and +Duncan the Bread to them. A schism healed, with the very tangible and visible act of communion in the Lord’s Body and Blood. Around that same time, the Church of Nigeria and the Reformed Episcopal Church announced a concordat between them, with mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries and members. And, of course, the REC is a constituent member of ACNA – whatever that means institutionally for now, since they maintain a separate institutional existence as well. (Though this reminds me of something that I read just this morning in an essay by the Orthodox theologian Thomas Hopko, quoting Fr Alexander Schmemann: that the Church isn’t an institution with sacraments, it is a sacrament with institutions.)

Imagine such a thing with regards to the separated Anglicans in North America!

And what locally could we envision, painful though it would be and meaning the laying down of all grievances, not to be taken up again, in acts of penitence and forgiveness? What if Bishop Chuck Murphy, Primatial Vicar of the Anglican Mission for the Archbishop of Rwanda, were to seek publicly the forgiveness of +Mark Lawrence (and +Ed Salmon?) in a liturgy in the cathedral church in Charleston, and they his forgiveness – and were then all to concelebrate the Eucharist? (After all, some preparation has been made in +Lawrence’s settling of the Pawley’s Island lawsuit over a year ago.)

Then, after these public acts, what if the bishops and their churches committed themselves to mutual ministry in those places where their jurisdictions overlapped, pledging not to begin new initiatives without the consent – and pray God with the prayer and assistance – of the other? Even did their jurisdictions continue separate institutional existences (which I have no doubt will be the case in North American Anglicanism for years to come), it would mean the end of the schisms that have divided faithful Anglicans in North America for the past decade or so (or 140 years, in the case of the REC).

Could you imagine faithful conservative North American bishops of all the various jurisdictions going into Global South-initiated meetings of the Communion’s bishops in such a reconciled state as that? I know it seems terribly idealistic, and it would involve giving up to the Lord’s healing a lot of hurt and (often justified) grievance, but what really is there to prevent our doing this? Aren’t we the people whom Jesus has called to forgive their brothers and sisters seventy times seven times?  Aren’t we the people whom God in Christ has called to deny themselves, daily to take up their crosses and follow him?

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4 thoughts on “Hope for a Communion on the verge of a breakdown?

  1. I am sorry that you have found my own views on various African-affiliated groups in North American irksome. My own views on ACNA, AMiA, etc., have actually never been set forth in a public manner and it seems to me that you are rather unfair in claiming to offer summaries of what I supposedly think. In truth, I am quite sympathetic to what I should like to call the Anglican Diaspora in North America – and this is in part because I attended a Continuing Anglican church before being confirmed in the American Episcopal Church.

    The ability to have conversions into a church does not justify the creation of a church; nor does it justify the ecclesiology of that particular church; nor does it justify its theology on any other matter. If the ability to make converts is all that it takes to be valid, then not only is a given church justified by its own works, but we have no ability to determine between greater and lesser forms of faithfulness and no ability to demarcate faithfulness from unfaithfulness. Every church, regardless of its life and doctrine, makes converts at some point, and yet as your own status within the AMiA indicates, this does not justify the current state of the American Episcopal Church.

    The question then is not whether or not converts are made, but whether or not a given church is truly faithful to the heavenly pattern revealed in Scripture and handed on from the Apostles. If AMiA, ACNA, etc., had remained faithful within the American Episcopal Church, not only would we not be in the state that we are in, but the various theological novelties which are courted by these new groups would not have developed. The very fact that these groups have left at different times only indicates that the theology which each has, particularly in the doctrine of the Church, is uneven at best and therefore makes it impossible to create a unified front – which is why the ACNA does not have a unified front, just as it is why the AMiA has refused to join itself and make itself accountable to other Anglicans in North America. This is all a tragically American story, utterly foreign from the vision of the New Testament. Each does what is right in its own eyes, devolving accordingly into factions over various issues. The AMiA, in particular, has a “go it alone” attitude that has no basis in Scripture. Its sins are not covered over because of its ability to make converts, however wonderful making converts actually is. I am glad to know that you are not blind to these considerable problems. What I wish to draw your attention to is that my own discomfort with these movements as such is due to the fact that they have only exacerbated a bad situation. Nothing is relieved. Rather, the pressure builds.

    Lastly, on a historical note, I would like to point out that the Reformed Episcopal Church formed because it embraced a particularly drastic form of anti-sacramental heresy – indeed, the kind that Zwingli himself would not have recognized as orthodox. The REC began not by accepting but by repudiating the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and creating its own set of Articles. Its journey back to something like Anglican confessional orthodoxy is interesting, but this does not mean that it can be seen as part and parcel of groups like the Anglican Continuum, ACNA, etc. Reincorporating the REC into anything unified will only be the final death blow to the REC’s original raison d’etre.

    I wish you the best in your ministry.

  2. Would it surprise you, Benjamin, to know that I am in substantial agreement with what you’ve written here? I particularly and strongly agree with

    The question then is not whether or not converts are made, but whether or not a given church is truly faithful to the heavenly pattern revealed in Scripture and handed on from the Apostles

    because, of course, conversions should rightly follow when we’ve been faithful to that pattern.

    (And, I think that the final death blow to the REC’s original raison d’etre – and yes, I know the history, because I’ve been an outside and distant observer of the REC for nigh on three decades now – would only be a good thing for the Anglicanism residual in the REC.)

    What I found irksome is that in your writing on the subject, you’ve had nothing – to my recollection – but criticism for diaspora Anglicanism in North America. I take you at your word that you are sympathetic, but I haven’t read much that you’ve written that would suggest this. Criticism offered by the sympathetic should be tinctured with charity and encouragement as well, even when – or perhaps particularly when – the criticism is at its most honest and robust. I have to be honest and say that I’ve missed the charitable and encouraging notes in what you’ve written about ACNA, AMiA, et al., though I will admit that it is possible that I’ve misread you considerably.

    Thank you for wishing me the best. I spent twenty years in TEC, and left about a year and a half ago only after my eldest daughter (fifteen years old) told me that she didn’t want to be confirmed in The Episcopal Church. We hadn’t directly involved our children in our struggles with the Church’s direction for the past decade or so (going back well before the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson), and we were in a parish that didn’t take a public stand on the issues of the day (though the rector was a self-identified conservative on the theological and anthropological issues). But children are observant. She read about the issues on her own. She saw the mental and spiritual toll that life in The Episcopal Church was taking on my wife and me. There frankly were times in the last eight years when I simply contemplated ceasing church attendance. My wife suggested just this week that the reason that my seasonal affective disorder and depression hadn’t really taken hold this winter, despite its being greyer and colder and longer than usual here in North Carolina, and that I have been a generally happier person – something noted by the same aforementioned eldest daughter that same day – is that I have had a year and a half of distance from struggling with remaining in The Episcopal Church.)

    If you have any interest in a short explanation of our leaving, you may find the letter that we sent to our parish in the August 2009 archive of this weblog.

    We left the Episcopal parish that was our home for twenty years for an uncertain ecclesiastical future. We had no particular church in mind, but knew that we needed to find a church, and to be under pastoral authority (I consider being outside a local church and not under pastoral authority to be spiritual dangerous). And yet the whole notion of church-shopping is repugnant to me. But when the Senior Warden at All Saints’ Church sought us out and invited us to join them as part of helping them move more solidly into Prayer Book Anglicanism, it was like receiving a call to a vocation. If the Church were more faithful, the little United Methodist Church just down the hill from my house would be the local parish church of the undivided Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and we would be members of that fellowship. But the Church isn’t, and the little church isn’t, and we aren’t. So we “decide” where to go to Church. At least in this instance my conscience was somewhat salved by the sense of vocation.

    Perhaps part of our reason for being there is to bear witness against the theological innovations that are occurring in latter-day diaspora North American Anglicanism.

    Or perhaps that is nothing more than crass self-justification.

    In fear and trembling, I leave it to the Lord to judge me, my motives, and my (un)faithfulness at the Last Day.

  3. No, it does not surprise me to know that we agree on much; the more time I spend speaking with folks in the diaspora, the more clear it is to me that among many of us there is much common ground upon which a common future might be built upon. In terms of my own writings and thoughts on point, I confess that, on the one hand, it has never been my intent to offer any sort of sustained criticism of the diaspora (although I have disagreed with its development for much of the past). I am guessing that you and I would agree that there are some things that ought to be criticized! On the other hand, even as I have been critical, I know that I have always been sympathetic, too – note that in my bio. at Covenant, I mention that I spent some time in the Anglican Continuum before joining the Episcopal Church (USA) and I have always hoped to see those ruptures mended. So, in the absence of any systematic statements on point, I simply want to communicate that yes, I have been critical, and yes, I have also been sympathetic. At some point, someone(s) will have to do some work on how Anglicanisms in North America might be restored. I very much hope to be a part of that.

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