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
The same cannot be said of the new proposed province. It is coming into existence precisely because its members do not wish to be in communion with the Episcopal Church; some of them are vociferous in their opposition to its policies and programs. Nor is it at all clear if it will be recognized by the Anglican Communion as a new member of that communion, or even if such recognition is possible, given the historic desire not to have two competing churches, both part of the same communion, in the same place.
At Saint James in the Bronx, people have shown little interest in the ongoing turmoil in the Communion. They see themselves as still very much a connected to their home country, but the church is the church they go to, the community with which they worship --- not the ecclesiastical structure of their homeland. "This" they will say, "is the Anglican church here; this is my church!"
So what does it mean to be "Anglican?" Two things, at least, seem to be essential for a province to be Anglican in any meaningful sense. First, it is important to be in communion with the Church of England, the source of Anglican identity. The decision as to who is in communion with the Church of England rests jointly with the archbishops of Canterbury and York. The present Archbishop of Canterbury has on several occasions noted his desire to see members of the communion and its churches work out their differences through the orderly processes of the communion and each church; so it seems unlikely that he would undercut a principal which he appears to regard as fundamental.
The second qualification for being considered Anglican is membership in the Anglican Consultative Council, at present the only pan-Anglican body with a Constitution. That Constitution states that new members can be added to the Council with its approval, and the approval of two-thirds of the primates of the existing member churches. Again, it seems unlikely that approval would be forthcoming from the required supermajority of primates. No doubt they are aware that this breakdown in the tradition of national churches might leave any one of their own churches open to such an internal split. As of this writing, only a handful of the primates have intimated support for the creation of the new province, and their intimations have been guarded.
There have been many splits away from the Episcopal Church over the last century, most of them — like the present province in formation — a result of dislike for the perceived direction of the larger body. Most of them have dwindled or at least not prospered. After all, if one is seeking a religious tradition more conservative than that generally found in the Episcopal Church, there are in most places in the United States many options from which to choose. Without the approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury or the broader Anglican Communion, I do not think the Anglican Church in North America will prove any more vibrant or enduring than most such efforts from the past.
And in my parish, we’ll keep on with the round of worship, praise and prayer; the baptisms, funerals and weddings; the preaching and teaching; the outreach and mission --- all the things that lie at the heart of what it means to be a church.