It has been a few days that I have been aware of An Appeal from the Continuing Anglican Churches to the ACNA and Associated Churches. This text is now to be found in a number of websites and blogs. Perhaps we are given a historical reminder of the Affirmation of Saint Louis movement in contrast with those dissident Anglicans whose single issue seems to be homosexuality. Here we find the agreeing signatures of Bishop Marsh of the ACA together with the leading prelates of the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Province of America, the United Episcopal Church of North America and the Diocese of the Holy Cross which keeps close ties with Forward in Faith in England. This issue is proving to be a point of unity between the various acronyms of the so-called “alphabet soup”. It is one of identity and an answer to the questions – Why are we here? and What are we doing?
Was our purpose, from the beginning, providing human resources to bolster up someone else’s deal with Rome? I won’t go though it all. Just open The Anglo-Catholic and read through its 2010 postings, many of them written by yours truly! As the narrative goes, our bishops signed a solemn promise to become Roman Catholics and those who failed to do so reneged and lost any claim to honour or integrity. There is no provision for those “not ready at this time”, and there never was. No matter how thick the sugar coating was, the cold shower was just as cold for those who had been welcomed into the TAC but were canonically irregular for being received into the Roman Catholic clergy in any shape or form. Rome was up front about that. Archbishop Hepworth was chivalrous enough to sacrifice his own vocation, but he was wrong in sacrificing the vocations of others. The deed is done and the consequences have been suffered. Now we have to try to repair as best as we can, forgive those who have wronged us or led us into illusions, and just get up.
Only a couple of days ago, in response to the TTAC in England doing something to pull itself out of the rut, one neophyte and apparently happy convert pointed out to us that the only ones to have a right to call themselves Catholics are in union with Rome. Challenge that person, and it comes out “I didn’t mean it so absolutely. I wish those who stayed in the TAC God’s blessing and all good wishes“. But the knife still goes back into the wound to inflict more pain and anguish. But, the more one suffers, the less one becomes sensitive to pain. One goes from polemical to survival mode, and then to an effort to rebuild in earnest.
What have they set out to rebuild? That is a very good question.
Obviously, the common goal is continuing the Anglican way of Christianity. What the term Anglican means depends on churchmanship, whether you are high or low church, whether you seek to underline the values of the English Reformation, an English variety of generic Old Catholicism (the ideal and not just the Union of Utrecht) or a spiritual rendering of the Enlightenment. Generally, continuing Anglican communities broke with the Canterbury Communion out of an idea parallel with Roman Catholic sedevacantism and the notion of replacing what is no longer legitimate, or the idea of some kind of survival whilst waiting for better days. The Continuum is also a reaction to the modern secular tendency of reconstructing society without Christian faith and purely on the values of the Enlightenment and other anti-Christian ideologies. I have no need to repeat the comparing and contrasting of the 1977 continuing movement and the newer schism from the American Episcopal Church dating from only two years ago, meaning that the latter accepted many of the things refused in 1977.
The catalysing issue in the 1977 movement is the ordination of women, but encompassing a number of other related causes and effects, whilst for the 2010 movement, the issue is purely homosexuality.
What is most significant is that the Saint Louis movement is that the Continuing Church has failed to present a united front, has failed to grow as we should, and in general has failed to present an attractive alternative to the growing heresy and absurdity of the Episcopal Church. At the same time, the continuing bishops affirm a new will to unite and settle the historical conflicts. The ANCA contains the same fault lines as Continuing Anglicanism ever did, but affecting more fundamental aspects and that much more difficult to resolve.
We have all to examine our understanding of classical Anglicanism and how the high-church vision fits in to provide the basis of the old agreements between Anglicanism, Old Catholicism and parts of Orthodoxy. One aspect of Anglicanism that is difficult is conciliating the idea of the “classical Prayer Book tradition” with the desire to restore the shape of the Eucharistic rites to the best of their pre-Reformation usages. This notion of “prayer book tradition” is something that needs to be clarified by comparison with its own liturgical background. The American 1928 Prayer Book and the Scottish Prayer Book of 1929 represent partial restorations according to Anglo-Catholic principles. Interestingly, the Prayer Books have retained the old medieval liturgical calendar with its Sundays after Trinity and Ember Days.
I would like to see more serious consideration given to the revival of the Sarum Use in the place of the English and Anglican missals based on Counter Reformation Roman Catholic usage. There are two complete translations of the Sarum missal in Prayer Book English, of which the better one is the Warren version of 1911. The two translations share the same sequences. A Eucharist celebrated according to the Sarum Use in English would be perfectly compatible with the Offices of Mattins and Evensong from the Prayer Book as a practical and pastoral alternative to the medieval Breviary. An American 1928 Eucharist would be better supplemented by Warren / Sarum material (English Hymnal of 1933) rather than the Roman material with its tendency to reinforce Anglo- Papalism and the movement in the TAC that led both the joy and heartbreak through a screen of illusion and deception. Anglicanism has, at least over the past hundred years, learned to tolerate a healthy level of liturgical diversity – and that needs to continue.
But Anglican identity is not merely a question of liturgy and what is done in churches. It is also a mentality that involved tolerance and an English sense of fair play. How Anglicanism took off in other countries, I fail to understand. That spirit of respecting diversity has now died in England. Discussion and dialogue are things of the past, and I mourn the passing of many of our English ideals that I had believed to be eternal. There is the pastoral sense and that character of “tolerant conservatism” coined at one time by Archbishop Peter Robinson – which both seem to be on the way out. I sometimes believe that the best place to be would be at sea, as far away from inhabited land as possible! But yet, when all hope seems to be lost, there is a new twitch on the thread, to misquote Chesterton.
Taking note of these difficulties represents a step forward and a reason to hope for revival and renewal in the place of cynicism and decline, attrition and despair. If we want things better for ourselves and our posterity, it is up to each of us not only to rebuff the cynicism, scoffing and naysaying of others, but also to be committed to a positive course of action to offer the world what we consider as sacred and precious. I believe it is possible with this renewal of good will between our bishops.
We may be reserved and sceptical, as we wait for these first New Year resolutions to bear fruit and draw down God’s blessings on the afflicted Christian people. This appeal from our leading bishops is welcome and a bringer of hope.