Saturday, February 26, 2011

Episcopalians & Anglicans: "Stand in the place where you live?"

There's really no place to look for Christian coherence in North American Anglicanism, whether in the Episcopal Church or dissenting bodies in the Anglican tradition.

I caught a comment from Texas Episcopal Deacon Phil Snyder, with whom I was blessed to have dinner when he passed through Sioux Falls awhile back. He observes how traditional Anglicans failed to unify in their dissent from the Episcopal Church's errors, and created an array of fiefdoms with no clear path to unity.

Responding to another person's suggestion that the array of dissenting groups is like the various Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions in America, Phil replies,

"I don’t really have a dog in the Eastern Orthodox fight. Their overlapping jurisdictions are the result of immigration and not set policy. I wish they would organize an American Orthodox Church that encompasses all the EO communities and allows for local language/custom, but keeps the Tradition of one Bishop per area. But, as I said, I don’t have a dog in the fight and if I were to express that to some of my EO friends, they would kindly ask me to 'butt out' and to deal with my own issues within TEC and the Anglican Communion.

However, I do have a dog in the Anglican fight. There is nothing the ACNA [Anglican Church in North America, an umbrella organization for dissenting groups] constitution that references that the overlapping judicatories are anything but permanent. There is no plan that I am aware of to combine them all into one diocese per area with one bishop per area. A goal of this occurring 'some day' is not a plan. A plan has dates and milestones.

So, the EO do get a pass because that was a natural result of multiple church members immigrating to the US and taking their Churches and Customs with them. The opposite is true of ACNA. The US congregations and dioceses went looking for them [overseas Anglican Bishops] to come to the US to provide Episcopal Oversight as they [the dissenters] left TEC [The Episcopal Church]."

But TEC hardly gets a pass. Apart from the absurd departures from Christian consensus practiced by denominational insiders, there is their just plain vindictive hatred of those who disagree with them, as nicely documented in a two-part series by an outside observer:

"The Episcopal Church is not doing everything in its power to keep the property of departing parishes and dioceses simply to sell it off and pay the bills. Because if money was the primary motivation then the Episcopal Church is going about it all wrong. Millions spent each year on legal fees suing parishes and dioceses to keep said property? And refusing even to let those departing parishes to buy back the property? Indeed on one occasion selling the parish property to a Muslim group for one third what the Anglican parish would have paid?

The primary motivation has to be something like spite. Because it is costing the Episcopal Church millions of dollars each year to pursue this policy."

And then there are the ineffectuals like me, dissenting from the excesses but really doing nothing of any systemic impact. I don't for a moment see myself as some sane alternative to extremes.

A number of Episcopal/Anglican commenters, looking at this mess from their particular camps, will say something like, "Well, while I don't agree with that group's approach, I am sure there are sincere Christians in their ranks." I'm afraid that's about the best we can do for now - peek out of our blown up bunkers to see if there might be other survivors in the debris field.


Robin G. Jordan said...

Combining the “dissenting groups” forming the ACNA into territory-based judicatories (i.e., dioceses) is not going to create “Christian coherence” in North American Anglicanism. It is going to create the kind of theological disputes that have occurred in the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church. These groups consist of Anglicans who oppose women’s ordination and Anglicans who support women’s ordination. They have other theological divisions.

To give you an idea of how the anti-women’s ordination folks feel toward the pro-women’s ordination folks, none of the FIFNA bishops to my knowledge attended the consecration of the bishop of the Diocese of the Gulf Atlantic that has women priests. If what I read on the Internet is representative of how traditionalists feel toward charismatics, then I cannot imagine these two groups living together in unity in the same diocese.

Altering the provisions of the ACNA constitution and forcing these groups into the same diocese would create dissension and would fragment the ACNA. Having succeeded once from AC of C or TEC a group unhappy about a plan to combine them in a diocese with other groups with whom they share little or no affinity could be expected to succeed from the ACNA. This is one reason that the Continuum has become so fragmented.

One of the reasons that the AMiA decided that it would accept ministry partner status rather than full integration in to the ACNA as the latter would involve the dismantling of its organizational structure to which it in attributes its success in church planting and evangelism. None of the ACNA dioceses, geographic or non-geographic, have come close to the AMiA in church planting and evangelism. My experiences in the Decade of Evangelism convinced me that the territory-based judicatory is NOT the best organizational structure for church planting and evangelism. The Diocese of Louisiana where I lived for more than 30 years planted only 3—may be 4--churches during that period. The Diocese of Kentucky where I now live has not planted a new church in my part of the diocese since 1980. I am aware of the diocese launching only one new church outside of my area since 1980. The AMiA is planting churches almost daily or so it claims.

The ACNA would have done better to have organized itself regionally into affinity networks composed of congregations and clergy that shared doctrinal affinity with each other (e.g., Anglo-Catholic, charismatic, conservative evangelical), and to organized the regional affinity networks for each doctrinal affinity group into non-geographic internal provinces, each with its own provincial synod consisting of the province’s bishops and clergy and lay representatives.

In this type of organizational structure one might have found two or more regional affinity networks in a region, each network overseen by its own bishop and enfolding congregations and clergy in a different affinity group.

Depending upon the size of a regional affinity network and the size of the region, the network might have one or more area bishops, each of whom would have been responsible for overseeing a episcopal area in the region, that is, a specific part of the network in a specific part of the region.

This type of organizational structure would have given the various doctrinal affinity groups within the ACNA a measure of “breathing space,” which the combination of these groups into territory-based judicatories would take away. [Cont'd.]

Robin G. Jordan said...

The concept of a regional affinity network is not new. The Church of England’s Diocese in Europe and The Episcopal Church’s Convocation of American Churches in Europe, and the Roman Catholic Church’s personal prelatures and personal ordinariates are basically regional affinity networks. The Church of England’s Diocese in Europe has area bishops and episcopal areas.

In English ecclesiastical law a chapel or church or district under a different bishop from the other chapels, churches, and districts in a diocese is known as a “peculiarity.” The Church of England has a number of peculiarities. The Church of England in Jersey, the island in the English Channel, is a peculiarity.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century the English Episcopal Chapels were English congregations in Scotland that used the English Book of Common Prayer. They were licensed chapels and were independent of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Scottish Bishops had no jurisdiction over them.

Combining the congregations and clergy of the different affinity groups in a geographic area into a diocese is courting disaster.

“Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are bound to repeat them” is an old adage that we do well not to forget.

TLF+ said...

Hi, Robin: would you say, then, that the sham that has to be dropped is any claim (or myth?) of Anglican "comprehensiveness"?

It is easier to spot "inclusive" TEC's homogeneity and intolerance - should ACNA own up to the irreconcilable differences of groups under its umbrella and thus allow the regional affinity model to replace it?

Would these groups, then, each seek some kind of Canterbury connection or recognition?

I'm not flinging all these questions to be argumentative - I'm wondering out loud if we need to admit that there are a bunch of "churches in the Anglican tradition" rather than "Anglicanism" (whatever we might understand that to have been)?

The Archer of the Forest said...

If the Episcopal Church ever collapses or sees fit to purge what's left of the moderate to conservative voices, I would personally be quite hesitant to migrate to some of the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions. ACNA in particularly appears to an outsider to be a hodge podge of kaleidescope theology and churchmanship. They seem to be uniting for the time being in the anti-liberal drift Episcopal church, but I don't see anything in their constitution or materials that leads me to believe that when another major (as yet unforeseen) strife causing problem or dilemma crops up from within the ACNA, I don't see how they won't just fragment again. The seeds have already been sown in this regard in the precedent they set in their break from TEC.

It appears to me that they have succeeded in simply recreating their own little Reformation writ small. Don't get me wrong, I pray for them and hope God leads them in the path they need to go, but given the fallenness of Human nature, I am personally skeptical of the trajectory they have set for themselves. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear I am not.

As to the Eastern Orthodox diaspora in this country (as they themselves call it), I think that's a bit of a wrong analogy. Yes, they have overlapping jurisdictions and what not, and they are working to try and rectify that. However, the Orthodox with ties to Apostolic seats like Antioch or Constantinople generally recognize each others jurisdictions if they are indeed Orthodox. Its not the Anglican balkanization of Would the Real Anglicans in the Room please stand up?

Kelso said...

Well, I left the church in the 70s after the BCP was destroyed. I've rarely been to church since then - and when I do go I usually am disgusted.

We had the most beautiful services in western Christendom and threw them away.

My dire predictions of disaster for the church have been coming true for decades now.

I now predict that before the Presiding Oceanographer's reign is over, Episcopalians will be saying to one another:

"I shore hope I git a raght nice snake to handle at preachin' today!"

Danny Dolan said...

I seem to remember C.S. Lewis writing in one of his essays something about a pattern of behavior God and Man seem to follow. God creates a simple, beautiful thing. Man sins, and spoils it. God then redeems it into something more complex, more beautiful than before. An example would be Babel, where we lost the unity of human language, but God gave us a chorus of languages that may blend together beautifully to praise Him.

We may never again have a unified Anglicanism, either in the US, or internationally. But I think that He has a plan for His church that preserves it as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, in a way that totally defies all of our expectations and definitions. My own "breakaway Anglican" church is going to be sharing an Ash Wednesday service with a group of "breakaway Lutherans" this year.

As for ACNA: My church voted at their annual meeting this year to completely transition out of CANA and into a new regional diocese. This new diocese is drawing together a number of faithful churches in the Atlanta area, churches we never even knew about when we were still TEC. Also, just this week, I read that Nigeria has given CANA over totally to ACNA. So, we may not have the dates and milestones that Deacon Snyder might want, but we do have a good direction going. More importantly, we have strong relationships growing, both locally, and farther afield. Relationships we would never have known if we hadn't been thrown out of our comfort zone. We even have relationships that cross the TEC/ACNA divide. I would never have met you in person, Fr. Tim, if not for my church's experience in the "current unpleasantness". I think it's been well worth it.

In the sermon I heard this morning, we were reminded, "His ways are not our ways", as He said through Isaiah. It may be disheartening when events don't line up to our expectations. But He is still in charge.

TLF+ said...

Thank you for all of the thoughtful comments.

I think they reinforce the idea that Danny heard in his church's sermon today, "His ways are not our ways." Which takes the urgency off of some of the questions about "which group I should align with" because God's answers are not readily apparent at this point.

It takes away much of the power behind arguments for what one "should" do - all of the approaches being tried or suggested have manifest weaknesses. We need to encourage one another in faithful response to Christ but exercise humility and mercy as we take some very provisional steps to do so in the present circumstances of Anglicanism.

I see as I travel the net that some of the ueber-Reformed consider John Stott as having slipped into "heresy," but I think there is great reality and comfort in his position that "There is one, holy, universal and apostolic church, which is the Body of Christ, and to which all true believers belong." Only God can see it, although it manifests Christ in the world in imperfect ways. That seems like the church addressed in the New Testament, truly the Body of Christ and Temple of the Spirit on earth but always beset with human flaws and failures.

Robin G. Jordan said...


Regional affinity networks is a way of keeping a denomination together by recognizing differences rather than pretending that they do not exist. In From Geography to Affinity: How Congregations Can Learn From One Another, ecclesiologist Lyle E. Schaller comes to similar conclusions as my own about the need to be realistic about such differences and also advocates the formation of affinity networks within denominations. Regional affinity networks are not a replacement for comprehensiveness but a way of actually being comprehensive. If two or more groups are thrown together into a diocese, the result is not comprehensiveness. It is competition and conflict with one group eventually gaining the ascendancy and the other group or groups being marginalized, pushed to the periphery, and even out of the denomination.

As far as recognition by Anglican bodies outside of North Ameria, the denomination, not the individual regional affinity networks organized within the denomination, would be recognized by these bodies.

ACNA folks have high hopes for their new dioceses but once the newness has worn off, they will discover that they suffer from the same old problems that they experienced in TEC.

As I point out, affinity networks are not new. The Celtic Church was organized along non-diocesan lines. It was organized into affinity networks of Christian communities, or monasteries, which often included women as well as men and had married as well as celibate members. The affinity these communities shared was that they could trace their origin to the same monastery and continued to maintain ties with that monastery.

Robin G. Jordan said...


Later in the week a statement was issued by the Church of Nigeria stating that the Vanguard story was incorrect. The Church of Nigeria has not severed its connection with CANA.

Robin G. Jordan said...


If you are by "Anglicanism" referring to historic Anglicanism, "the true profession of the gospel...the Protestant Reformed religion" of the Coronation Oath Act of 1688, then the Thirty-Nine Articles set the bounds of Anglican comprehension. Since that time one group after another has sought to widen those bounds and redefine Anglicanism.

GAFCON with the Jerusalem Declaration tried to come up with a definition of Anglican orthodoxy. Anglo-Catholics are not too happy with the Jerusalem Declaration as it is too Protestant. Conservative evangelicals feel that it is soft on a number of doctrinal points especially justification by grace alone by faith alone.

The ACNA affirms the Jerusalem Declaration in the preface to its constitution but Bishop Jack Iker has issued a public statement assuring Anglo-Catholics in the ACNA that the ACNA Fundamental Declarations, not the Jerusalem Declaration, is authoritative in the ACNA. The ACNA Fundamental Declarations differ from the Jerusalem Declaration on a number of points.

Outside of North America GAFCON supporters believe that the ACNA is GAFCON in North America.

At some point I think that everyone is going to wake up and realize that they are not on the same page.

David Handy+ said...

Alas, all of us who identify with the Anglican tradition in North America stand under divine judgment, orthodox and unorthodox alike. Whether we're still inside TEC or now outside it, we're all experiencing the devastating consequences of the breakdown of Anglicanism in the global north.

It may sound trite, but I prefer to look at the glass as half full here, rather than half empty. That is, while I'm indeed concerned about the very real dangers of further fragmentation in orthodox circles among North American Anglicans, what I'm seeing is actually an encouraging movement toward greater unity, cooperation, and yes even coherence, reversing the sad trend of the last 40 years or so.

For example, to bolster the point that Danny Dolan made above with regard to the new regional ACNA diocese that has formed in the Atlanta area, I can say the same about the ACNA churches in VA. In May, about 30 churches plan to unite to form a regional diocese. About 20 CANA churches and around 10 congregations of the Diocese of the Holy Spirit (under +John Guernsey) will hopefully be joining together and forming one of the strongest new regional dioceses in the budding new province. And personally, I maintain good friendships with orthodox Anglicans in both AMiA and in TEC, including those in the Richmond area where I live, as well as others elsewhere.

Ovbiously, there are major obstacles to forging a truly cohesive Anglican identiy in our movement, and some stern challenges clearly stare us in the face. I make no claims to be able to foretell the future, but personally, I remain hopeful that the best days of Anglicanism on this continent are still to come.

Robin G. Jordan said...


What I gather from what I read around the web, folks are trying to recreate the Episcopal Church from "the good old days." Those days are long past. I suspect that your optimism about the organization of the ACNA into territory-based judicatories is misplaced. Folks in the ACNA may try to paper over the divisions in the ACNA but those divisions are going to show through the wall paper in time. They'll keep telling themselves that things are going to turn out alright instead of taking the necessary steps to ensure that they do. North America has changed since the 1950s. What may have worked then is not going to work now. Time is not on the side of the ACNA. If it does not face up to the realities of the twenty-first century, it will join the dodo bird as a dusty stuffed curiosity on a shelf in the basement of a museum.