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TIME TO LEAVE?

Emails to traditionalist blogs more and more seem to favor schism, or let’s call it separation, a word which doesn’t carry the baggage of the word “schism”. Of course it is easy for me to say, “Been there, done that.” I can say that I remain proud of the “separated” diocese in which I once served, more and more proud of its bishops, clergy and faithful lay people, who without diocesan funds or generous grants from others, build churches, pay clergy, and do that which the church does. One can’t spend a quarter of a century in a church and not leave behind a good measure of oneself. I do not find it necessary for me to denounce the APA because I am now where I am and who I am. I take delight in my relationships with APA clergy, particularly young clergy -one of whom is my son -who demonstrate that the Anglican tradition remains compellingly attractive to all manner of people, young, middle aged and gray headed and that “old-fashioned liturgy” teaching and preaching is as accessible today as it was in the past. After all Eizabethan English was just as old-fashioned in the 18th. Century as it is today and forged the memorable devotion of ploughman as well as literate aristocrats. Perhaps in our fairly wealthy middle class church today that is something we can’t claim anymore.

Having said that I responded today to a call for us all to leave the Episcopal Church, reported in “TitusOneNine” in this manner:

“The thing which really disturbs me is the easy assumption that the Episcopal Church is no longer a church. Such a decision is being made by collective private judgement and not by authoritative determination. There’s something political about the whole thought process. The evidence seems compelling. There’s no room at the inn for faithful Episcopalians we are told and therefore if we have any integrity at all, we should leave immediately for what? We could be talking about Republicans or Democrats.

Again we are left with private judgement or perhaps geographical convenience. Which alternative separated church should we opt for, on what basis, and if it doesn’t really matter, why the choices?

It is certainly easy to absorb the lesson of the South Carolina failed election, or the difficulties experienced by some or many in dioceses whose bishops fail to demonstrate a familiarity with mere Christianity, sometimes in a manner which causes genuine suffering, and determine, in a consumer ecclesiastical scene, that one wishes to shop for a different brand. Of course an individual must obey informed conscience; while corporate groups have a different relationship to the church. No doubt there is absolute freedom to suggest that one’s new franchise is superior to another. But all this is far from a belief in One Holy Catholc and Apostolic Church, a horror of schism or a belief that schism and heresy have much in common: the placing of personal opinion above the faith of the church. Private opinion, exalted, creates “heresies” by which we are distressed, but it also enables schism, however worthy the subscriptions of the schismatic. I say this not to attack separated bodies, however new, but to remind us all that separating is a frightful and frightening choice, even if it seems, or even may be inevitable.

IF the Episcopal Church casts itself adrift from the Anglican Communion in a complete and total fashion, or is drummed out of the regiment by recognized authority, then many of us shall have to make shift for ourselves as best we can. But while it remains possible, while we remain free, while we are enabled to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments and give mutual care to the faithful, we are not free, on the basis of our personal opinions, however widely shared, to abandon the church. I do not doubt that many in good faith and conscience feel called out to other places and fields -an “otherness” which may be next door- and I really have no quarrel with their enthusiastic recommendations, but I am haunted by the old story which suggests that when people leave the church, even because of persecution and suffering, they weaken both the church they leave and that which they erect. “

That the loss of people like Campion, Baxter, Wesley, Newman, those who formed the Reformed Episcopal Church over here – and thus made evangelicalism now something which seems new and alien, weakened Anglicanism is surely apparant. That Methodism and Reformed Episcopalianism lost something important in separation may even be admitted by their adherents occasionally.

Some point to earlier separations -rarely the Great Schism between East and West! – such as that which formed Anglicanism as a unique face of Christianity, as proof positive that schism can be justified. Yet I think the Pope has a little in his favor, just a little, when he suggests that schism diminishes the schismatic. What he didn’t really admit is that schism also diminishes the body abandoned. I would suggest that what is diminished is breadth or liberality, in the more ancient interpretation of those two words. Christianity at best is a many splendored thing, not in its incorporation of that which isn’t Christian at all, but in the breadth and depth of insight which comes to it from all sorts and conditions of people and ideas, and spirituality. If you don’t believe me pick up a Hymnal and note the authors and their backgrounds. Schismatic bodies, at first are naturally suspicious of error and in that suspicion they often drive out truth as well as error. They become narrow and introspective. Anglicanism is, I suggest, more than a mere schism in that it avoided such a temptation, almost from the outset, saved by people like Hooker and Andrewes and company whose minds soared beyond reaction and embraced truths to be found in the part of the church recently abandoned.

2 Responses

  1. Yes!

  2. I was struck by your point that separation diminishes both those who separate as well as those being separated from. It resonates with me strongly. I imagine that’s what St. Paul would have said and did say. It seems that separation is going to happen. I wish it wouldn’t. I wish it didn’t have to. Perhaps there has been too much sin against the other among all sides to remain together at the moment. And yet, as Bishop Whalon (among others) has pointed out, heresy can be healed. Schism 9his words in context almost never is.

    RFSJ

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