Thursday, December 4, 2008

Anglican twists and turns

I have not written here since last summer about the politics of the Anglican Communion and the issues around the breakaway Episcopal churches and dioceses. The reason is not lack of interest – I am vitally interested. 

Much of this, however, feels like insider baseball. The politics is tedious, filled with acronyms like “GAFCON” and “CANA” and consultative committees of self-important bishops. It is a lot to try to follow, and the church is at its most Byzantine when it is, well, Byzantine.

Yet the stakes are larger than buildings, prayer books and bishops. We are in a struggle for what kind of church we will be in the centuries ahead, and the stakes go beyond the Episcopal Church. As my former Bishop Barry Beisner put it, the Episcopal Church is the “canary in the mineshaft” for other faith communities. 

I firmly believe that our Church is struggling to become more inclusive because that is what Christ would have us be. So if we can find a way to be truly inclusive of those who have been left out for so long – gays and lesbians, women, disabled people, young people, people of color –then perhaps we might show a path to others to share fully in Christ’s love. How we talk to each other should matter not just to us in our church, but to others beyond our church.

It is therefore newsworthy that several dioceses of the Episcopal Church declared this week that they are a new branch of the Anglican Communion and no longer in the Episcopal Church. The New York Times devoted a front-page story to it Thursday (the photo on this blog is of the breakaway bishops, by Sally Ryan for The New York Times). 

The reaction to this development from Canterbury was swift; Archbishop Rowan Williams issued a statement saying he is not recognizing this new entity as a province of the Anglican Communion, nor have the breakaways taken any steps to even ask for such recognition. That would appear to make them Anglican in name only.

“There are clear guidelines set out in the Anglican Consultative Council Reports, notably ACC 10 in 1996 (resolution 12), detailing the steps necessary for the amendments of existing provincial constitutions and the creation of new provinces,” the statement from Lambeth Palace said. “Once begun, any of these processes will take years to complete. In relation to the recent announcement from the meeting of the Common Cause Partnership in Chicago, the process has not yet begun.”

Thursday’s story is but one more twist in a long saga. And that brings me to this: the long view. My close friend, The Rev. Canon Dr. Grant Carey, who recently celebrated 50 years as a priest, wrote this wonderful piece for Cross Talk, the blog at Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento, and I share it with you. It is worth the read:

When People Decide to Leave the Episcopal Church over Issues

By Grant S. Carey, D.D., Canon Residentiary

When the Prayer Book of 1549 was made official, so many people in Yorkshire reacted against it that it was necessary to quell the riots with the army.

During the English Civil War in the 16th century, the Prayer Book was outlawed and the bishops expelled.

At the time of the organization of the American Episcopal Church in the 18th century, some left for the Presbyterians because of the wording of the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer (“we are bold to say…” which they defined as “that naughty phrase…”

During the Civil War, some people left because the Northern Episcopal Church was abolitionist. During the Civil War there were two Episcopal Churches. They reunited following the war. One Southern Bishop became a Confederate General and was killed in battle.

Following the Civil War there was disagreement over the wording and understanding of the Baptismal Service leading to the formation of “The Reformed Episcopal Church” which still exists in the East Coast.

In Sacramento, in the early years, there was a division led by the Governor. The congregation met in the rooms designated for the Assembly and called themselves “The Church of Holy Communion.” I suspect it was a conflict over whether Holy Communion or Morning Prayer should be the chief Sunday service.

Later there were High and Low Church concerns. This was a strong issue within the Missionary District of Northern California and later the Diocese of Sacramento. This controversy lasted from the 1880’s through the 1950’s. There was much writing pro and con in the church’s newspaper “The Pacific Churchman.”

Around 1915, there was a division in this diocese over the proposed building of a cathedral. The feeling was that a cathedral would be too “high church” and dominate over the other congregations.

There was a major division during and following the First World War over the concept of A Just War. The debate which reached General Convention was whether or not war was Christian. The National Episcopal Church stated that war was just, and Bishop Jones of the Missionary District of Utah was removed from office because of his pacifist views. Others left the Church over the issue.

“High and Low” reared its head during the debate over the 1929 Prayer Book. The original draft was scrapped because it was “too Anglo Catholic…”

A Dean of the Trinity Cathedral in the 1940’s was asked to resign. Not only was he considered too High Church, he also wore a black shirt rather than a clerical vest. It was believed that “Black Shirts” were worn by only by Fascists. (I am not kidding).

When I was ordained in 1958, The Sonoma Convocation (of which I became Rural Dean) was considered to be High Church because all the priests wore Eucharistic Vestments . . . and some (Napa, Benicia, Saint Helena, Fort Bragg) even used incense!

Members of the ladies guild in my congregation in Lakeport became very concerned because I taught the choir to sing the Eucharist thus leading the congregation straight to Rome. When I informed my critics that all the music was in the back of the Hymnal 1940, they decided that singing Communion was all right after all.

Most things were somewhat quiet in the 50s and early 60’s until the issue of civil rights. Many Episcopalians believed the Church should not take part in this controversy. When priests and bishops as well as laypeople marched in protest, some left because of the Presiding Bishop’s and the National Church’s liberal position.

The “New Prayer Book” (1976) and “The Ordination of Women” proved controversial during the Seventies and many left the Episcopal Church refusing to surrender the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Many objected because they considered the new prayer book liturgy to be too Catholic, maintaining that Jesus had chosen only men to represent him in the ordained ministry - -recalling that the Apostle Paul had written that women should keep silence in church as well as keep their heads covered.

When women were officially recognized as priests, some people left to found a Continuing Episcopal (Anglican) Church. This schism seems to have died out over the years - - however its ghost lingers on in those dioceses that have chosen to leave the Episcopal Church and to become associated with The Anglican Province Southern Cone in South America. The issues today include those of the past as well as the ordination of an openly homosexual person as the Bishop of New Hampshire.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is reported to have remarked regarding the Episcopal Church: “If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.” That may have been the case in the Nineteenth Century, but today it seems no longer to hold true. Issues confronting the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion will have far reaching consequences, and our ability to come to terms with our differences is sure to have a profound effect on (and in) the world in which we “live and move and have our being.”


Peter Carey said...


..thanks for this posting, I appreciate your perspective on the "days of our lives" that is our church right now...


Bill said...


Well put. While following this issue over the last few years, it slowly dawned on me that nothing we on the inclusive side of the argument could say that would make any difference to those intent on departing. And it is certain that the foolish men in this coalition--and notice how in he picture they are all men--have built this house on sand. The internal contradictions will begin to be apparent and there will be schisms within the schisms. Over the role of women. Over which prayer book to use. Over fine points of doctrine. All very sad.