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AN ALTERNATIVE PROVINCE

There’s much in the news about an upcoming meeting in Wheaton, Illinois, at which a Constitution for a proposed “Anglican Church in North America” is scheduled to be revealed. The announcement has been heralded by those who have left TEC, scorned by those whose policies have driven people from TEC, and greeted with understanding but sadness by those who believe themselves called to remain within TEC and witness to the Gospel as the Anglican tradition has received the same.

I hope you will excuse this old codger for revealing that he greets this news with a vivid sense of deja vu. I arrived on these shores at the moment when the first wave of dissenters were leaving, some of whom were sure that the way forward was to create a separate Anglican entity. Their leaders soon got to work on writing Canon Law and on securing episcopal consecration. Ten years later a larger group emerged, this time aided by retired bishops and overseas bishops. They called themselves the Anglican Church in North America and created a corpus of Canon Law only rivalled by Rome. They too sought recognition by obtaining episcopal consecration. I could go on. The list of defunct and emerging ecclesial groups, each one claiming to be the answer to the proverbial maiden’s prayer, is formidable. Their history of binary fission, character assassination and obsession with valid Orders and Canon Law needs no telling here.

Will the latest attempt to create a stable home for those who cannot in good conscience remain within TEC have better success. For the first time exiles are joined by significant parts of four TEC dioceses. For the first time there are realistic prospects that some overseas Provinces will recognize the emerging church, although it is doubtful that Canterbury will assent. One may only pray for the sake of its parishioners that this new ecclesial group will remain together, and devote itself to mission.

One of the more formidable problems such a church will face is a continued obsession with the church they have left. I call it the Lot’s Wife Syndrome. If the preoccupation of this group remains what it perceives to be the ills within TEC, if bitterness and the wounds of divorce remain active in the body, inevitably it will dwindle and be consumed in its own rancor.

If however it sets its sights on evangelism, on living into its Anglican heritage in a positive way, if it in public admits its own faults and failings in charity and compassion, walks the extra mile and seeks to copperate with those it has left where conscience permits, it may become a body raised up by God.

The leaders of the new church, if they have the wisdom and humility so to do, have much to learn both from the Reformed Episcopal Church which will be incorporated in the new body, and from other groups such as the Anglican Province of America who have long experience in the world of extra-mural Anglicanism. If such wisdom prevails it will be for the first time among fragmenting groups which have left TEC.

The bishops and leaders of the new church must learn a simple lesson. The skills and talents employed in standing against the church Establishment in TEC are not the same at all as those needed to inspire, build up and promote the morale of those called to shepherd their people once they are out in the ecclesiastical shopping mall of American religion. Many of the clergy will be wounded, angry and bitter and will inevitably demonstrate these hurts in their pastoral lives. Many of the laity will be similarly hurt, particularly if they lose their buildings and their cash. The task of healing will be enormous and will require enormous patience and skill.

I do not feel called at this time to leave TEC. I still believe that those of us who have a vocation to proclaim aloud the Gospel within TEC, and many of us are young priests and seminarians, must do so. This does not mean that we should not seek to be in love and charity with our extra-mural neighbors. It does mean that we should pray for them and continue to care for them. In the end God will dispose as He sees fit. Our calling is merely to be faithful.