Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Two of Us Gathered Together

Well, we made the grade, the bare minimum for worship: two of us gathered together on Sunday for Morning Prayer at my house. We would have been five, but a strange strain of springtime flu knocked two people out, and the Cypriot parliamentary elections took the third victim, as she is a journalist and had to work.

Next Sunday we will meet for Evening Prayer, and I’m hopeful of a good turnout.

But even for two of us, the experience was a blessed one. It was simply said Morning Prayer, with absolutely no embellishments, on a gently warm late spring day. A good deal of silence; a great deal of beauty.

I would have written sooner, but I have been troubled by the observations of a friend, whose prayers I had asked as we embarked on this journey.

This friend is a priest. I will say nothing more about him except that he is a man whose knowledge and wisdom I respect. As always, he promised me his prayers, but then he took me to task for what I was doing, which took much of the joy out of it.

In a heavily edited way, I want to share some of his thoughts here.

Firstly, saying he has had some experience with what he calls the “many” (ouch?) continuing Anglican jurisdictions, he says that if I think Rome and Canterbury have lost their way (with which he agrees), I should have a look at the relatively short history of the Continuum, wracked with disputes, with posturing for supremacy, and involving many practices and people of dubious credentials.

A second point he makes is to raise the question of (active) homosexuality. Here is submits that the continuing churches are among the strongest opponents thereof but are ordaining homosexuals in a rather higher proportion than the “institutional” churches.

Thirdly, he argues that the continuing churches ought to be called ‘protest churches,’ because people tend to join not because they are attracted to them, but because they are dissatisfied with what they have or had. In this vein, he asks just what they are continuing, arguing that they are claiming to preserve a liturgical tradition which is no more that 150 years old in many cases.

Fourthly, in a sort of follow-on to that, he says that it is hard to find anyone within such churches under the age of 50 and usually they are much older. To compound that, he asserts that they have no appeal at all to the young or even the middle aged and will die out within a generation.

In response, I did the best I could to refute what he said, or at least insist on more precision in terms. I invited him to bring the discussion here, but for reasons I can understand, he preferred not to.

However, if we are to be intellectually honest, then I think we must take seriously what he says, as it is almost certainly a reflection of what other people may be thinking.

It warrants a response. What say ye?


Anonymous said...

As someone who is actively considering alternatives to the ECUSA, I have done as much research as I can on the various groups. A good source is: Divided We Stand: A History of the Continuing Anglican Movement, by Douglas Bess. It chronicles precisely the sort of thing which your friend describes. From my own experiences, there is often a certain cultishness, usually surrounding their version of a Presiding Bishop, which is more than a little off putting. It is my hope that the gathering of these churches into the Common Cause movement will alleviate this factor.

Albion Land said...

Alan, thank you for your suggestion, which I expand upon by providing a link to Amazon:


Matt said...

What are they continuing? Well, Christianity for one thing!

Yes, the history of the continuing movement is less than edifying. The early history of Christianity is similarly full of upheaval and opportunism. Guess what? It's a human institution!

His comments on the protest church and on the ages of congregants were certainly true 20 years ago; as the years go by, however, we have been seeing growth among younger people, many of whom have no connection to ECUSA at all. I would say that at St Joseph's about half of those who regularly attend Sunday Mass are under 40 years of age.

In general, his comments seem like the same old song & dance--the same things people have been saying about the continuers for 30 years.

poetreader said...

May God bless you in what you are trying. It's a good work. I pray that you find priestly and episcopal support soon.

Much of what your friend said of the Continum is regrettably all too true, approximately what one would expect of a movement which is, in its very nature a temporary phenomenon. ECUSA is effectively dead as a Catholic Church, and the Canterbury Communion seems to be following behind it. Regretably, the largest fragment of that Communion to hold to the core of the historic Faith has (by attempting to ordain women) itself abandoned Apostolic order, becoming a rather appealing variety of Protestant Christianity. How is the unique blend of Catholicism and the patristic insights recovered at the Reformation to be preseved?

Also, though less important, still worthy of consideration: how is the unique Anglican esthetic to be preserved? Only by a remnant, and, like all remnants it begins untidily (to say the least).

The disunity, resulting from the excressence of human pride in the absence of a structure to limit it, obviously must be overcome.

On the age issue, it is true that many (perhaps most) of our small parishes are definitely greying, but not all, and my observation is that this is (at least in New England) a phenomenon of churches in general. The Diocese of the Northeast (ACA) has several parishes, including my own, in which this is not the case at all. At Trinity we do indeed have a core of older members (as should be the case), but, averaging almost 100 for Sunday attendance, we have as many as 15-20 little children in our Sunday School, and will be confirming 5 teens this year. Growth is a struggle, but it is happening.

It is true that many (perhaps most) have joined us as a 'protest' movement, understandable since that is the origin of the movement, but it is also true that many of us (myself included) have been drawn to the tradition by the presence of something viable and beautiful.

We're a mess, but so is the rest of Christ's Church on this earth, and we do preserve something that is rapidly disappearing elsewhere.


Continuing Home said...

I will somewhat echo Matt: "In general, his comments seem like the same old song & dance--the same things people have been saying about the continuers for 30 years."

Probably every point the priest makes has truth in it, for some part of the Continuum or another (he has the luxury of picking and choosing among our many faults) but two ring quite false in my ear -- at least for my church.

1) Active homosexuality: ordaining homosexuals in a *higher* proportion than the "institutional" churches? Than ECUSA? I need to see evidence, not to mention proof, before I even accept that -- at least for the major Continuing churches. I'm certainly seeing no ordination of professed active homosexuals in my province. Prove the charge.

2) "Protest churches"? Well, it's hard for me to judge the Continuum at large because all I really know of it is my own parish, and I assure you all that we are *not* a "protest church." A year or so ago I tallied the ex-Episcopalians in our parish and found them to be a minority (ca. 15% at most).

My wife and I could (and by the standards I think I see presented, would) be labeled "protest" for having left ECUSA... but it was not our intent to leave at all -- we'd exhausted the ECUSA churches in somewhat more than reasonable distance (in a pretty liberal diocese) without finding a home. When we discovered that this delightful little "traditional" 1928 BCP church was not ECUSA, we were in an awful quandary. But... we joined. Not in protest, but *grieving* because ECUSA, the church we were both born into and raised in, was failing us and our home was clearly to be in one of "those" churches.

Yet in those days ours *was* a "protest church," and that was probably the unhappiest part of our new church family. But within 3 years that element faded away -- ECUSA was no longer relevant to us. Today we have only two members who even mention ECUSA from time to time (one of the original members, and another who moved here recently). A couple of years I began to watch the goings-on back in ECUSA, but for other reasons -- to minister to those who feel forced to leave today. My message to them, the message nobody had for me: "There IS (Anglican) life after ECUSA."

But today? Those of us who remember the Episcopal church are a small minority. Most have come from somewhere else, and if it is in protest of something it is *not* in protest of ECUSA.

There is much more I could say, but I will leave it at this.

Come visit us sometime -- you'll see it for yourself.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

The first point to make in response is that there is a difference between the relatively few older and larger Continuing Churches and the multitude of much smaller breakaways, as hinted at by others above.

The second point to make is that, notwithstanding what I said above, it can still be said that the TAC, ACC and APCK have problematic persons and events in their history. Yet, if we compare this set of foibles to either those of mainstream Anglican Churches or even the very common unofficial acceptance of rank heresy and "political correctness" about sexuality in the RCC in the West, it is by no means apparent that the grass is greener on the other side.

Thirdly, the book "Divided We Stand" has some flaws, and should be used with discretion. For some of the events there is evidence once side or the other in a dispute did not get right of reply or at least a chance to tell its story to the author.

Fourthly, I must add my voice to those above who have pointed out that many of our members, including some of the most committed, did not come out of mainstream Anglicanism as a mere act of protest. I was in a Pentecostal Church before the ACC. And even those who have left the Canterbury Club have often done so for precisely the right reasons: to maintain the Catholic Faith in the way it is expressed in their native Patrimony, and to repudiate the jurisdiction of heterodox bishops in order to place themselves under orthodox bishops, as demanded by ancient Church law.

Fifthly, Michael Rose's book on the US RCC and its procedures for discerning and fostering priestly vocations apparently shows that the system is often deliberately and very effectively biased towards giving the Church there actively homosexual clergy. The same cannot be said of the Continuing Churches.

Sixth, the liturgical tradition being preserved is not only the Anglican and other Missals, which are admittedly not that old, but the BCP as a whole. The Eucharist may be the summit of Christian worship, but it is not the whole of it by any means. Too, the Missals are not merely restored Roman rite, but still retain much of the BCP, including in the Canons. E.g., I use the 1549 Canon of the Mass in the Anglican Missal. Anyway, what is wrong with us keeping alive the ancient and mediaeval Western tradition as well? Rome isn't, shouln't someone?!?

Seventh, some parts of the ACC and other Continuing Churches are growing healthily and "normally" in terms of age and demographic distributions. There is hope. It is not only our parishes who have a greying problem, either! The mainstream Churches of all kinds face this challenge to various degrees in various places.

Finally, the somewhat chaotic history of Continuing Anglcanism can be overplayed. The original churches in it, such as the ACC, APCK and ACC-Canada are still going reasonably strongly. Many of the other bodies have been derived from illegitimate schisms from us or from "johnny-come-lately" attempts to reinvent the wheel by Anglicans who realised too late that there Church had left the Faith. In particular, those who accept women's ordination but balk at actively homosexual bishops are not Catholics and so are not terribly relevant. Therefore, this multitude of groups is not our problem and should not be used as an argument against us. As for those divisions that cannot be explained in this way, it should be remembered that the cowardice of and betrayal by supposedly orthodox provinces in the Anglican Communion was the reason that the original Continuers had to establish their jurisdictions without the benefit of official and institutional sanction from "above" or outside. Such sanction and support and active intercommunion would have strengthened the orthodox in those provinces soon to be threatened by revisionism and helped provide stability in a natural way to the Continuers. It was not forthcoming. We can't be blamed for that.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Correction: the support and sanction from orthodox within the AC was not entirely absent, but it was rare and limited to a few brave bishops and dioceses.

Fr. Bill said...

I'd add my "Amen" to the following points:

1. Though I passed through ECUSA on the way to what I hope is a temporary continuing shelter, my Christian formation and (at this point) the majority of my pastoral ministry was in broadly Protestant evangelicalism. I know well the flaws, faults, and lacking in cradle Anglicans, particularly its clergy.

2. The parish I pastor is (excepting me) is composed of people who are also refugees from broadly evangelical Protestantism. They've taken to Anglican Christianity like ducks to water.

3. Those who are showing the most intense interest in us are the young -- 20 somethings, even high schoolers, even MALE high schoolers. They, too, present a refugee profile.

5. Excepting me, no one in the parish is over 50. Half are under 40.

The current sons of the English Reformation -- the orthodox, that is -- whether they understand it or not, are at the cusp of a huge opportunity. It comes at a frustratingly bizarre time, when institutional Anglicanism in America simply will not finish its slow-motion train wreck quickly enough.

But, even then, among the youth and young adults, for whom ECUSA and its theological soap opera is mostly off their radars, historic, orthodox Anglican Christianity has a powerful attraction, for all the right reasons:

(a) it is a fitting vessel for the catholic faith.

(b) it possesses a wealth of spiritual treasures (especially its liturgy) whose absence in broadly evangelical Protestantism makes such folk long to play with a fuller deck than their low-church communities permit them.

For all that, I will say -- here, speaking as one who came into Anglicanism from the outside -- that the vast majority of the earlier custodians of that faith are broken reeds. If Anglican Christianity is to have a future in America, it will be built on those who come into it from the outside, and not otherwise.


Fr. Robert Hart said...


Your friend the priest speaks with the voice of commonly accepted misinformation, based on logic and assumption rather than fact. The simple fact is that more than half of our people never were Episcopalians or mainstream Anglicans. Furthermore, though some parishes are very geriatric, others have a good number of young families. As for the ever expanding Continuum, I refer readers to my comnments about the Vagante problem when I posted Archbishop Morse's interview from 2001. Being in the APCK, with an Archbishop who was consecrated in Denver in 1978, I do not think very often about the proliferation of Continuum sects. Who are they? Where did they clome from? We know who we are, and where we came from, and that it was at the beginning.

J. Gordon Anderson said...

I agree with the comments made by others. Sure there are problems with division, but the movement is young, and this is to be expected. Nonetheless, there is unity. I believe that the continuum is united more in doctrine and liturgy than groups like the American RC Church. The RCs have a visible unity and marginal doctrinal unity. And I say that as a graduate of a Roman Catholic seminary, and a former Roman Catholic. Visible continuing unity is coming about slowly, but it is happening. I have seen it with my own eyes. We need to be patient. Plus, lack of unity doesn't mean a church or tradition is bankrupt. Just look at the orthodox!

I would like to see a statistic on continuing churches ordaining more homosexuals than mainline churches. That really doesn't seem to be true. There may be shady groups out there calling themselves continuing churches which may do those things, but let's face it: there are continuing churches, and then there are continuing churches. We know which ones are legit and which are not. I don't believe that statistic one bit.

As for growth? My home parish is doing great! We received 16 or so new members a few weeks back. We have to expand our building because we are running out of space, and we have talked about starting a mission as well. We are not an old parish. We are a family parish with people of all ages represented.

Some naysayers think that Anglicanism is dead, and that continuing Anglicanism is worse than dead. But that is just not true. It is moving along nicely... slowly but surely. I feel sorry for people like the Pontifications guy, and the Canterbury Tales guy who think "going to Rome" is so wonderful, and will solve all of their, and the world's, problems. It won't. In fact, it opens up more problems, but they haven't been in the system long enough to really see them. I was there. I saw it. I went through the seminary, taught at a Catholic school, got the tee-shirt... everything. Trust me, it "ain't what it's cracked up to be."

Albion, I admire the work you do and your fine blog. Keep up the faith, and keep fighting the good fight! May God bless your mission and services you have. Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ, and don't listen to the naysayers. God asks us to be faithful to Him... not necessarily "successful" in terms of numbers and fancy buildings and such. Think of the people who were left after Jesus ascended into Heaven. They had no buildings, no publishing houses, no nothing. That didn't mean their movement was a waste of time at all!

Fr. Robert Hart said...

St. James the average wrote:

"There may be shady groups out there calling themselves continuing churches which may do those things, but let's face it: there are continuing churches, and then there are continuing churches. We know which ones are legit and which are not. I don't believe that statistic one bit."

The problem in a free society is that anybody can start a church and claim it's an Anglican Church. Frankly, the Vagante problem was around already in groups claiming to be Old Catholic or Orthodox (ever heard of the "Celtic Orthodox Church, for example? Pure Vangante silliness). One "Orthodox" bishop gave himself the title "Shepherd of shepherds and Master of the Universe." I kid you not. I think the Marvel Comics Group could have sued for copyright violation.

Fr. Robert Hart said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

If you are referring to the Celtic Orthodox Christian Church at celticchristianity.org, at least they have a great and educational website. Their abbot is a good and holy man and a fine teacher, and I pray for their success.