Thursday, August 19, 2004

Out of the ECUSA but not out of the Anglican Communion?

A discussion starter or clarifier or both

Several people have told me via e-mail in the last week that “I/we have left the ECUSA [or the ECUSA has left me/us] but I/we remain, and intend to remain, in the Anglican Communion" – and we call ourselves “Anglicans” and not “Episcopalians.”

Let me say that I understand where they are coming from and also the deep feeling and conviction that lie beneath and around this testimony of their ecclesial relation. The ECUSA as they experience it and judge it is apostate and they have had to leave its congregations because informed conscience so required.

However, belonging to the Anglican Communion is not achieved by an act of will or a decision, as if it were like joining the triple A (AAA) or the over 50s activist group (AARP). The Anglican Communion is made up of 38 provinces and the general rule has been (though not always kept to strictly) that there is one province in one country. Now after the reporting of the Archbishop’s Commission (due October 04) and top level meetings here and there afterwards, it may be the case that proposals will be made to change this received rule. (Or the Communion may fragment!) If the Communion does stay together, the Archbishop of Canterbury, supported by a majority of Primates, may decide, for example, to put ECUSA under discipline and state that during this disciplinary period certain ecclesial bodies in North America will to be treated as if they are provinces. But all this is speculation and even so such a situation would be temporary.

What is occurring now in the USA and Canada appears to be that certain missions and congregations are being sponsored or temporarily cared for pastorally by bishops from other provinces of the Anglican Communion. However, this is a temporary and irregular activity during a period of great disorder and apostasy in the ECUSA. We need to be clear that to be under the pastoral care of one of these bishops does not place the congregation in the Anglican Communion of Churches, except in a very indirect way. Further, in the case of the Anglican Mission in America, it is quite clear that as of now its bishops, though ordained by Anglican bishops from overseas, are not regarded as part of the College of Bishops of the Anglican Communion and are not on the List for attendance at the next Lambeth Conference. Again this fact in no way is a judgment on their apostolic vocation.

I say all this not to minimize the Christian and Anglican commitment of folks in the AMiA or in the parishes adopted by overseas bishops or in The Network, but to suggest that the rule still stands that to be in the Anglican Communion one has to be in a church in one of the 38 provinces, and the only province in the USA is the ECUSA right now.

The Anglican Communion is a communion and family of actual national provinces or geographical provinces and only provinces can be members of it, strictly speaking. Therefore those who wish to remain in the Anglican Communion should also stay within the ECUSA or the Anglican Church of Canada!

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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