– a discussion starter from Dr Peter Toon
Here I shall use the terms used by sociologists when describing different types of churches. The terms are not meant to be pejorative but function descriptively only.
1.Ecclesia Anglicana, the ancient church in England, was and is a National, Established Church and has two provinces, Canterbury and York. It was a Church-type both before and after the Reformation of the sixteenth century.
2. In Scotland, Wales and Ireland, “the Anglican Church” eventually became a national denomination, existing alongside Presbyterian and R. C. churches. Yet is was territorial, arranged into dioceses geographically. It was thus a Denomination-type in all parts of the United Kingdom, except in England.
3. In the USA what came to be called The Protestant Episcopal Church [PECUSA] was from the 1780s a Denomination-type, and so described itself in the preface to its own BCP of 1789. Again, it was territorial, arranged into dioceses in a geographical way and united at the center through a triennial General Convention.
4. Likewise at the end of the British Empire in the British Commonwealth of Nations “The Anglican Church” was understood to be of the Denomination-type, existing as one unit alongside other units (e.g. Methodist & Presbyterian). Yet is was always understood territorially, as a national unit, with geographical dioceses, and united at the center by a synod.
5. In both the Church-type and the Denomination-type the unity was/is based upon the common formularies (BCP, Ordinal and usually Articles of Religion) with an Episcopate recognized by all (the latter has been strained very recently by women in the Episcopate).
6. Thus it may be asserted that part of the identity and character of The Anglican Way as Reformed Catholicism is that it is a united body and society—howbeit it in a comprehensive way— using an agreed common prayer and pastored by a united Episcopal College. Thus it functions normally when it is either the Church-type or the national Denomination-type. Outside these boundaries, it is “lost”!
7. For whatever reason, good or bad, when Anglicans leave the national Church and seek to set up Anglicanism as the Sect-type then the Anglican way goes into distress, locally and even nationally and globally. When the move into the Sect-type is small then the distress may not be immediately discernible but when the move is large then the distress is quickly felt by all. This may be illustrated in the secessions from PECUSA from the 1870s to 2007.
8. The Sect-type may be said to begin in the USA for Anglicans with the secession of the Evangelicals, opposed to Anglo-Catholicism, in the 1870s, and their setting up of what they called, “The Reformed Episcopal Church” which was for much of its subsequent history extremely low-church in worship, doctrine and discipline. One effect of this secession was that there was a virtual absence of Evangelicals in the PECUSA during much of the 20th century and this caused imbalance within PECUSA, with the absence of the evangelical school/party’s teaching on evangelism and conversion.
9. The Sect-type of Anglicanism took on a high-church form with the secession in the late 1977 of several thousands over the introduction of female clergy and new forms of worship into PECUSA. The intention of the seceders was to create a new Episcopal Church, a new Province, a viable alternative to PECUSA; but, this did not happen and they soon divided amongst themselves into various jurisdictions and thus had no alternative but to become-sociologically speaking-- Sect-type Anglicans, even though they sought to imitate the polity of the Denomination-type. The PECUSA by this secession lost many devoted people of an orthodox mindset and thus it naturally became more prone to become more progressively liberal as the years went by—which is what happened.
10. The Sect-type of Anglicanism—or we may call it extra-mural Anglicanism—increased in both numbers and profile from the late 1990s with the secessions that have led to the formation of several hundred new congregations outside PECUSA and alongside the variety of 1977 Continuers and the small Reformed Episcopal congregations. Much of the new Sect-type Anglicanism is loosely tied to overseas dioceses and provinces of the global Anglican Family, but, as it exists in the USA and not in the territory of these sponsoring dioceses, it remains necessarily of the Sect-type on US soil. [And of course the Sect-type is virtually the norm in the USA as the amazingly varied supermarket of religions illustrates.] With the loss of these “evangelically-minded, charismatic” types of members, PECUSA again became more militantly liberal and progressive.
11. Describing “extra-mural Anglicanism” as of the Sect-type implies no judgment on the characters and doctrines of the participants—in fact they are probably more committed as Christians than those who remain within PECUSA.
However, what the expression Sect-type highlights is that there are small groups here and there, who may want to be national organizations or part of one national grouping, but are too small to be so in any coherent way; and, further, that they exist outside what is still seen as the official National Anglican Church (PECUSA).
12. The route from Sect-type, extra-mural Anglicanism, to the Denominational-type of Anglicanism (which is necessary in order to become an alternative Province to the PECUSA in the USA) is a route that has NEVER been undertaken before anywhere in the world. In the conditions of the USA (with great emphasis on liberty and the right to express personal opinions) it will be extremely difficult even to get started on moving on this unexplored and un-chartered route. In fact, it will be a miracle if it gets started and more so if it occurs, even with those of the seceders who are generally of the same style and ethos (e.g., the post 1990s seceders). [One wonders whether the Primates who are encouraging the creation of the Sect-type, extra-mural, Anglicanism, have thought about in any detail the immensity of the task in creating an alternative Province to PECUSA. Further, has any one of them seriously thought about the 1977 seceders and whether or not they should be involved in the route towards one Province for all seceders?]
13. There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father. Paul tells us that there cannot be truth without unity and unity without truth in his Epistle to Ephesus; and Jesus in his Priestly Prayer in John 17 prays that we shall be one for that is his will. Many of us appear not to desire to be one! We think that possessing what we regard as truth is sufficient to justify our isolated standing before God. Thus, right now all forms of American Anglicanism appear to be in the most serious of error and sin before the One God—not only PECUSA but every group, whatever its protest on behalf of its own vision of orthodoxy!
Kyrie eleison (thrice)