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DEJA VU

The hot news today is that seven or eight congregations in the Diocese of Virginia have voted to leave the Episcopal Church and join the “Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America.”

My mind goes back thirty three years. The hot issues then were Prayer Book revision, the ordination of women and the funding of minority groups. some of which, it was alleged, espoused violence to achieve civil rights. This last issue was almost dead, killed by a coalition of bishops who ganged up on Presiding Bishop John Hines’s General Convention Special Project.

The main lobbies which opposed Prayer Book revision and the ordination of women were:

The American Church Union, the main Anglo-Catholic organization which even then was splitting between those who wanted a new liturgy and those who didn’t.

The Society for the Preservation of the Book of Common Prayer which later changed its name to the Prayer Book Society. This group included a broad spectrum of Episcopalians with a tilt towards the Low Church party. The Low Church party wasn’t evangelical. It was rather broad in its doctrine, and loved Sung Morning Prayer. Obviously these people wanted to keep the 1928 BCP.

Then there was the “Foundation for Christian Theology” which published the Christian Challenge magazine and still does.

“The Certain Trumpet” was a newsletter published by a layman, Perry Laukhuff.

Round about that time an attempt was made to bring all these conservative groups together in the formation of the “Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen.”

After the 1976 General Convention, at which the ordination of women was adopted by a very slim margin and the first reading of legislation to make official the new Book of Common Prayer succeeded, the conservative movement split into those who wished to stay in TEC and fight and those who decided to leave and form a “continuing church.” Those who stayed in were largely Anglo Catholics. They created a lobby called the “Evangelical and Catholic Mission” which is now called”Forward in Faith America.”

In 1977 a meeting of those who wished to leave TEC was convened in St. Louis. Before the meeting was over a group created a church which intended to ask the Roman Catholic Church for uniate status. Another group elected a bishop and formed the Diocese of the Holy Trinity. Soon after the meeting ended another group met to create a non-geographical Diocese of Christ the King. These last two dioceses were in a body entitled the “Anglican Church in North America.”Over the next year, as the leaders of this new body sought to find Anglican bishops to consecrate their bishops-elect, conflicts arose over what we used to call churchmanship, with Low Church people electing a safe bishop whose connections abroad might produce an Asian Anglican bishop willing to consecrate the three bishops-elect. The leadership of ACNA also fought about Constitutions and Canons and whether dioceses should be geographical or not.

Once the consecrations were over- a bishop of the Philippine Independent National Church joined an Episcopal retired bishop to consecrate one of the three men, and then he joined in the consecration of the other two – the internal tensions snapped and within a year ACNA had split three ways into the Anglican Catholic Church, the Diocese of Christ the King and the Low Church “United Episcopal Church”.

From 1979 onwards the membership of the conservative lobby in TEC dwindled while the number of continuing churches multiplied. They spent a great deal of time denying the validity of the orders of other continuing churches, and gossipping about each other. Parishes and clergy played musical chairs, leaving one group in a huff to join another, or founding yet another group. More and more these groups defined themselves over against each other rather than over against TEC. This is not to say that all of these groups have dwindled into insignificance. There are substantial parishes and dioceses which have kept together through the years. The key to their success seems to be that they have largely forgotten their fight with TEC and have striven to grow positive Anglican parishes.

My deja vu comes from the fact that the scene today looks familiar. Within the Episcopal Church there’s the Network led by the Bishop of Pittsburgh. This group of dioceses and individual parishes seems to seek a relationship with the Anglican Communion which, in a large measure would weaken their ties with TEC. But there are signs that there are divisions of opinion about this goal or the ways to achieve it. The Network also has ties with what remains of Forward in Faith, with the Reformed Episcopal Church founded in 1873, the Anglican Province of America, whose origins go back to the Bishop Pike debacle in the mid 1960’s and a few other very small “continuing churches.”

In 2000 the former head of Trinity Episcopal Seminary and a rector of a parish in South Carolina left TEC and founded the “Anglican Mission in America”. Bishops were consecrated by bishops from the Province of Southeast Asia, but were judged “irregular” by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. The term “irregular” unlike “invalid” seems to be capable of whatever construction a particular church wishes to place on it. It’s a lovely Humpty Dumpty word. Usually it seems to mean they are bishops but they are not ours and we don’t recognize the group in which they bish!

Then there are parishes which have left TEC and are under the Bishop of Bolivia, or bishops in the Provinces of Rwanda or South-east Asia. Lately the Archbishop of Nigeria has consecrated the former rector of Truro Parish Church to head CANA, although this group, is not recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury or so said the Anglican Communion Office last Friday.

Two questions may be raised. The first is obvious. Why all these groups? The second is less obvious. How do these groups, all claiming the same raison de’etre and mission hope to capture the loyalty and imagination of traditional Episcopalians while they remain divided? The story of the 1970s and 80s suggests that multiple groups do not unite. Rather they further fragment.

One Response

  1. Like Facebook and other internet sites, there could be BishopBook dot something…..pictures and listings for all Anglican bishops with details of theology, churchmanship, etc. Also locations and availablity so when confirmation time rolls around you could book a ticket and fly in a bishop you liked. Bishops should list the level of accomdation (one to five stars) that they require so that you could get episcopal leadership to suit your local parish budget.

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