What Does It Mean to be Anglican?
In a Bronx parish, recent divisions in the Episcopal Church are troubling, but the openly gay priest and his church members from the West Indies and Africa remain comfortable as part of the Anglican Communion.
BY: Tobias Haller
I am an Anglican priest in the northwest Bronx, a part of New York City inhabited largely by immigrants. Without the faith and perseverance of members of my church from the West Indies and Africa, our parish would not survive.
So I have an immediate concern about the creation of a fourth new Anglican province in North America — joining the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Mexico — but my concern is not for possible losses to my parish. My concern is wasted energy in the church and lost opportunities for mission in the world.
Even though I am an openly gay priest, and my partner of 28 years is an active member of my parish, sexuality has not been the focus of my ministry. (From the press, one might think that sex was all Episcopalians talked about!) However, in my parish the primary concern is the gospel — and how to live a life worthy of God’s call. My congregation appreciates that, and I believe they see in me someone who is trying seriously to live such a life, and who wants to help them do the same. I do not believe, if the Anglican Church in North America were to establish a competing church down the street, that I would lose many members to it, if any.
Still, this new proposal raises a number of difficulties, both for itself and for the Anglican Communion.
Anglicans are fond of saying, “We’ve always done it that way,” and this holds true in the creation of new jurisdictions. Drawing on legal traditions from before the time of Henry VIII, the Church of England has always advocated the concept of “the national church,” and never wavered despite the fluctuations of history. During the Civil War, for example, as the Episcopal Church avoided taking a position either on slavery or states’ rights, Confederate bishops and parishioners established a separate national church. Naturally, those in the Union refused to acknowledge this new Confederate church. With old-fashioned politeness, they continued to record the bishops and deputies from those dioceses as merely “absent” from the sessions of the General Convention. This attitude also, of course, made it much easier to welcome the bishops and deputies back when the war was ended.
So from the very beginning, the idea of one nation/one church has, with the exception of missionary endeavors, been well established in Anglicanism. As the various former colonies of England became free, so too did the churches established there gradually take on their own independent identity.
In my parish, although people come from many different national churches around the world, they share a common identity as Anglicans as well --- it is a wonderful mix of unity in diversity, a common identity wearing many different national costumes. And they come to my church precisely because it is the US expression of what they know "back home."
There are a very few places in the world where more than one Anglican province functions with some overlap of territory; this is sometimes the result of missionary areas that were once distinct having now come to overlap, or because of a need to minister to a distinctive linguistic or cultural group. However, most importantly, unlike the new proposed Anglican Church in North America, these Anglican provinces recognize each other and cooperate with each other — they are, in short, in communion with each other, and members of the Anglican Communion.