Well, I've always been more a fan of the Moody Blues than of those Michael J. Fox movies.
So, even as I’ve been watching the speculation about the various provinces of the Anglican Communion that have decided to take responsibility for congregations in the United States (and soon, I expect, in Canada), and speculation about whether the North American “Common Cause” partners will be able to turn their common dissatisfaction with the Episcopal Church into actual unity, I stopped to think about the last movement of groups to set themselves up in opposition to the Episcopal Church. I have been thinking back to the early days of my ministry, when ordaining women was new and the 1979 Prayer Book still had “Proposed” printed in the first page.
When I think about this, I turn to the “Not in Communion” page at Anglicans Online. It’s an interesting list of churches and other organizations who consider themselves “Anglican” and/or “Episcopal,” even if not recognized in Canterbury or New York (or other places; it’s truly an international list). Most of them are more conservative than the Episcopal Church on a whole variety of issues; a few are more liberal. Several years ago most went into great detail as to the historic succession of their bishops, but more recent revisions seem to show that many of these organizations aren’t as anxious to prove themselves as they used to be.
I find two of these bodies particularly interesting, in light of current events. The first group is the Anglican Church in America (ACA). Its roots are in the American Episcopal Church, one of the first groups to depart over revision of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The ACA represents some 86 congregations in the United States.
The ACA is interesting because it is part of a worldwide fellowship, the Traditional Anglican Church (TAC). TAC reports fourteen provinces on five continents. Looking as an outsider at the concordat that formed TAC, they seem structured much the way some would like for the Anglican Communion: authority is vested in bishops in council, but with greater mutual accountability (there are, for example, explicit grounds for inclusion and excommunication). TAC has also been exploring “recognition” by the Vatican. It’s unclear to me whether that implies some sort of “uniate” status, but it doesn’t appear to mean being incorporated into the Roman church.
The ACA and TAC also have an interesting intersection with the Episcopal Church, centered in one individual. That person is David Moyer. In ACA and TAC he is the Rt. Rev. David Moyer, SSC, Bishop of the Armed Forces and Vice-president of the ACA House of Bishops. He is also listed as Rector on the web site of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, a parish of the Diocese of Pennsylvania (although to be certain the parish web site has a great deal of information on ACA, and none on the Episcopal Church). While there was some notice in the Anglican news world when Moyer was elected a bishop in ACA, interest in that particular issue has been superseded by subsequent events.
The second body I have found particularly interesting is the Anglican Province of America (APA). APA is also rooted in the AEC, and is in fact a group split from the ACA. The APA formed in opposition to revision of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. They now represent some 66 congregations, widely scattered across the United States.
The APA is interesting for three reasons. The first is that in 2001 they agreed with the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) to a joint affirmation called, “Anglican Belief and Practice.” The REC began with Episcopalians who left the Episcopal Church more than 130 years ago, and represents 137 congregations. This is an interesting connection, in that the APA has been largely Anglo-catholic in tradition, while the REC has been decidedly Evangelical. (Indeed, there is now a dissenting group within REC, concerned that in joining with APA the REC will lose its Evangelical focus.) So, the younger body of the APA has joined with the REC, the oldest body formed by dissenting Episcopalians.
The second is that in fact there have been ecumenical meetings between the APA and REC and the Episcopal Church. The discussions actually began with the REC in 1988, but the APA was also represented at a meeting of bishops in 2003.
The third reason that APA is interesting is that, with REC, APA is a “Common Cause” partner with the Anglican Communion Network. In addition, according to the APA web site, “On November 12, 2005 the Anglican Province of America, the Reformed Episcopal Church, and the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) entered into a Covenant Union with one another.” It's not a surprise that they should be a part of "Common Cause." Indeed, in light of their history the real surprise is that they would consider discussions with the Episcopal Church.
These two separate bodies have much in common. Certainly, both claim a place in the Anglican tradition, reflected in historic Books of Common Prayer. Both affirm the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Both hold to the Affirmation of St. Louis, an important document in the Continuing Anglican movement. Both are members of the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas (FACA). And both certainly continue to observe and comment on events in the Episcopal Church (you can look for some examples here).
However, I am also interested in what the continued existence of these and other Continuing Anglican bodies might suggest about our future. What might this suggest for the Episcopal Church another generation down the line?
First, I think these bodies, and any new bodies formed in light of the current crisis, will still be with us thirty years from now. These groups, and others like them, went through multiple episodes of merger and separation; but they did not simply dry up and blow away. I think the same will be true for any new bodies that come out of the “Common Cause” conversations. Of course, neither have we in the Episcopal Church dried up and blown away in the interim, and nor will we over the next generation (rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding); and I don’t expect they will grow in the next generation faster than they have in the last. But we can expect to be living around these bodies for the foreseeable future.
Second, while these Continuing Anglican bodies still observe and comment on events in the Episcopal Church, no longer are all their efforts at evangelism focused on nibbling at the edges of the Episcopal Church. They observe and comment in their effort to claim their place in the Anglican tradition. On the other hand, as near as I can tell their efforts at evangelism are focused on the communities around them and not on dissatisfied Episcopalians. After a few years of shifting, I think any new bodies will have absorbed all the Episcopalians that will choose to join them, and will turn from necessity to wider efforts at evangelism.
There are certainly some differences. These bodies struggled in the early years to claim Anglican identity when only a few acknowledged Anglican bishops (Episcopal or otherwise) would recognize them. The interest of a handful of Global South Anglican primates will make possible a stronger claim of Anglican identity (although not exclusive Anglican identity) for new bodies. However, precisely because those claims will not be exclusive I don’t think that will make much of a difference. The fact that they may proclaim that we are not Anglican in the Episcopal Church will not in and of itself lead us to accept that identification ourselves.
At the same time, neither of these bodies is a significant challenge to the Episcopal Church. They are simply other churches, both at national and local levels. We might encounter them, but we rarely worry about them. Perhaps someday, as with Lutherans and Methodists, we’ll find we can find some ministries in common; but today they’re neither objects of interest nor concern.
Now, I grant you that it is always hazardous to make predictions, especially before events. However, I do find myself looking at the histories of these and other Continuing Anglican churches, and the very limited way in which they have affected the Episcopal Church, and thinking how events might play out from our current difficulties. I have hope for the Episcopal Church, and some expectation for dissenters new and old, that we will all still be around. We will in our various ways still be working to proclaim the Gospel and serve the world, without worrying too much about each other. And God will by grace be making the most of all of our ministries.