One of the frustrations of my life as Archbishop of the United Episcopal Church is the lack of progress that I see being made by the Anglican Continuum here in America. Progress, as I define it, consists of two thing - growth and unity. Apart from some transfers of parishes from the Traditional Anglican Communion, the three jurisdictions with a straight line back to the St Louis Congress, all remain stubbornly about the same size as they have been for the last dozen or so years with a total of about 170 parishes, sixty percent of which belong to the Anglican Catholic Church. On the unity front, apart from the "Prague Spring" of the ACC-UECNA Concordat of a few years ago, nothing much has happened though a sort of shuttle diplomacy has developed with leaders from the ACC, APCK, UECNA and other jurisdictions meeting periodically at various conferences. Whilst this represents an improvement on the sort of deep frozen attitudes between sister jurisdictions that prevailed a ten years ago, it is still a major hinderence to the further unity, and therefore greater growth, in the Anglican Continuum.
I had hoped that the appearence of the new Anglican Church of North America would provide a sort of catalyst for the "real" continuers to bite the bullet and begin the process of reunification. However, it seems that that optimism was misplaced. Instead, the Episcopalian realignment in the USA is very largely leaving the 1977 Continuum out in the cold, with most new conservative/traditional parishes going to ACNA, apart from a few Anglo-Papalist congregations, which, often at huge cost in terms of membership, are committing themselves to the extended Roman Catholic Pastoral Provision.
Whilst I do not wish the ACNA harm, I think even their leadership realizes that they are a church divided. Some dioceses accept women priests, some do not; others have a positive view of the Charismatic movement; others are more skeptical; and then we have the thing about ACNA accepting 1662 as the standard BCP, but most parishes use something else... So far the leadership of ACNA has been pretty good at keeping everyone focussed, but sooner or later some decisions will have to be made about those contentious issues which ACNA has so far successfully ignored or put off. I am hoping that this process of gaining greater theological clarity will not be long delayed and will lead them back towards the mainstream of historic Christianity, but who knows. So far they are reaping the rewards of their outward unity in the form of rapid growth, and a favourable press from the few who are in any way favourable to tradition or conservative Anglicanism.
Now before those of us in the Continuing Churches dislocate our shoulders trying to pat ourselves on the back for our doctrinal purity, we have our own elephant in the living room with which to contend. The question of Unity. In my honest opinion, it is probably unprofitable to revisit what went wrong in 1978-83 that led to the original Anglican Church in North America (Episcopal) falling apart other than to say "OK, we all goofed. Sorry. Let's try again." In fact, most of us who are in positions of leadership today were not even around in the Continuing Church Movement as clergy when the thing began. In my own case, I was not even confirmed when this show got going! This should enable us to approach the situation without too much in the way of personal baggage, though I am sure we have all heard the various war stories from the perspective of our own particular jurisdiction.
I frankly do not see any major obstacles to the major Continuing Anglican groups achieving institutional unity over the next five to ten years other than a tradition of disunity, old wounds, and too many bishops. I think I should, as Archbishop of the UECNA, say that we are as guilty of those "crimes" as anyone else, but there is no use in our dwelling in the past. The crisis that led to the 1977 St Louis Congress necessarily led to a clarification of the Anglican position, as it needed to define itself against theological Liberalism. This neccessarily lead to a narrowing of the boundaries, and, as the Continuing Church Movement began in North America, that meant a move in the catholic direction. On the whole, this more Catholic Anglicanism has worked well, with the problems not being caused by the Affirmation of St Louis or any other specific document, but by occasional over zealous interpretors of our own tradition. This was not a new problem that we started just after the St Louis Congress, but an old one, that had been with us for years. However, the need for unity against the 'foes within' had tended to dampen down the internal tensions within the Anglo-Catholic and catholic-leaning parties in the Episcopal Church.
Perhaps one inevitable part of the Continuum maturing is that we need to realize that we need each other, and also that most folks cannot tell the difference between the various Continuing Churches. What puts them off is the fact that the next parish of your jurisdiction might be several hundred miles away, and you pass parishes of several other jurisdictions on the way there. This is an inhibiting factor to Church growth as we cannot pool clergy and resources to plant new congregations. Without greater unity the Continuing Church is condemning itself to a slow and lingering death, slowing achieving unity through decline.
Do we really want to go this route?
The answer that I get from the laity, time and again, is an unequivocable 'No.' This may be one of those occasions when, in the most literal sense sense 'vox populi' is indeed 'vox Dei.' Unity is no longer an issue we can safely leave on the back burner, but an urgent and insistent need in order to advance the kingdom of God.