The Rev. Tony Clavier email@example.com
I wasn't present at the creation of the continuing church movement, but I ministered in the Continuum for thirty years and as a bishop for twenty-five of those years. I am now very happily an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Arkansas.
As they say, I'm getting deja vu all over again! Everyone knows about the manifold divisions and splinters that typify the extra mural Anglican scene both here and abroad. The reasons for the divisions are similarly diverse. Perhaps the greatest problem is that so many leaders have sought to create what a Canadian bishop termed "A Brigadoon Church". Ground plans for such a church vary. Some have sought to re-create Anglicanism as it might have been in Henry VIII's reign. Others preferred a more Evangelical model and still others a sort of Virginian Latitudinarian establishment. At least the latter has some American antecedent.
Having created such a body, it then becomes necessary to police it to make sure that no one with influence gets to meddling. It is ironic that those who love "classical Anglicanism" so much find themselves adopting measures to suppress the very quality which permitted their form of Anglicanism to arise and persist - tolerance.
The various movements which have affected Anglicanism, be they evangelical, catholic or liberal, or variations on such themes, have made their mark because Anglicanism has always tolerated truly local option. Thus people and movements have begun in parish study and pulpit and in the homes of the laity and have been free to develop because Anglicanism is essentially "liberal". I lament plans to police the three small remaining traditionalist dioceses in ECUSA because I believe it sets a frightful precedence of intolerance and interference and may well come back later to bite us all.
The Continuing Churches, by and large, left all that out. In doing so what has emerged has been something less than Anglican. In a strange sense the other casualty has been Catholicism. By Catholicism I don't mean a ministerial, sacramental or structural ideal, but rather a respect for time. May I say that extra and intra mural Anglicans in the contemporary church share with some liberals a blindness to time and an almost total devotion to the "now"? They believe that what is now happening is for keeps and that somehow the canonical amendments and resolutions of ecclesiastical legislative assemblies contain "all the law and the prophets."
It should be noted that those who are now planning to create another wave of extra-ECUSA bodies share the same weaknesses as their predecessors. They are divided. Shall we soon see a Singapore church on one corner, a Rwandan parish on another and their high Church counterparts elsewhere?
Their "pure church" models already differ. Some will have women priests, others not. Some will be charismatic, others devotees of Rite 1 or 2. None will be tolerant of sinners ( their list is narrow ) nor of a fallible church.
I fear many of the overseas bishops have been as mislead about the reality of ECUSA as have many honest Episcopalians. The ordinary people who perch in our pews on Sunday differ little in faith or practice from those in other countries of the Communion. Not a few know nothing of General Convention and may not even know their bishop's name without being prompted. But they believe themselves to be Christians and Episcopalian Christians to boot. Their faith is formed in worship, in hearing the Word and celebrating the sacraments. They recite the Creeds and seek to live "the new life". In all these ways they are Anglican, just as those who came before them were Anglican and those who will succeed them. As for the canons and resolutions which excite so many, time will tell, issues will change. The best will be retained ( and perhaps the worst ), much will be amended and a great deal will go the way of the Divine Right of Kings. We're neither a Confessional Church nor a Canonical Church.
I do realize that many of the bad habits of the rebels are just those of ECUSA "writ large". There are also many women and men in "rebel" parishes who have raised up effective ministry and parish life without resources and who live good and compassionate lives. ECUSA has something to learn from these people, from their errors and their successes.
But must another generation go down the same path?
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