Monday, January 21, 2008

ON SECEDING FROM THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH: BUT WHERE TO GO?

A part of my daily e-mail traffic comes from people who have read my various pieces, in which I show the mess into which North American Anglicanism has got itself through (a) the initial infidelity of The Episcopal Church [for details of this see my Episcopal Innovations, 1960-2004, from www.anglicanmarketplace.com] and then (b) the indiscriminate creation of small groups bearing the name “Anglican” from 1977 through to 2008 [see further my Anglican Identity from the same site]. They ask simply: what are we to do? And some of them expect that there is a simple answer which applies in all the 48 contiguous states, not to mention Alaska and Hawaii.

It seems to me that the extra-mural Anglican situation outside TEC has got so complex—not least through the intervention of at least five overseas Anglican provinces in recent years—that it is not possible to offer any simple answer, except the one that avoids the problem and is simply: “Pack your bags, leave this Anglican house , go to another with a different name [Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox etc.] and forget about the Anglican mess as far as you are able, for to clean it up will take a generation.”

If people have patience to consider principles and not be caught up in “winds of change” and “instant solutions” and “imitating others,” then I put to them—in brief—something like the following (adapted of course to local and personal reality). I presume here that the starting point is a parish in TEC where there is a dissatisfied group of Episcopalians who wish to be faithful to Biblical religion. (However, if the starting point is within extra-mural Anglicanism then begin at no 3.)

1. Bear in mind that the grass is not necessarily greener in the next field. The extra-mural Anglicanism out there has its own multiple problems and you may be going out of the frying pan into the fire.
2. It may be preferable to grin and bear the Episcopal situation and to fortify yourselves with home prayer meetings and bible study to edify you in fellowship and discernment. Certainly it may be preferable to maintain this situation until the results and fallout of Lambeth 08 are fully known – say late 08 or early 09.
3. However, if after most careful study, prayer and the exercise of spiritual discrimination, you believe that you must secede from TEC then recognize that what you are entering is, if not a mine-field, then a very hazardous terrain. Out there already are many “Anglican” groupings, many of whom will be happy to embrace you if you submit to their entry requirements. Please be truly aware that most regrettably you cannot simply leave the “apostate TEC” and enter the “new, orthodox Province of North America” for the latter does not exist and is not yet even on the horizon. So before exiting you have to decide what kind of “Anglican” you wish to be: a real traditional one (investigate the churches from the 1977 secession); a contemporary-style evangelical, charismatic one (investigate the groups affiliated with Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda etc.), or something in between (then look to such groups as the REC and EMC). To do justice to the possibilities will take you a very long time in study and research. And be aware that those who sell their group to you will probably not tell you of its weakness and faults!
4. Have specific questions to ask of the salesmen for the various Anglican groupings: What liturgy do you use and why? What is you doctrinal position? How far are you still tied to the worship, doctrine and ways of living found in TEC? How do you relate to the other Anglican groups in terms of cooperation, intercommunion, and acceptance of female clergy? How far are you controlled by your overseas sponsors and legitimators? And so on.
5. Having decided which specific one of the many houses you will enter, then dialogue with yourself in order to persuade yourself to be satisfied with the group you enter—even though it is one amongst many and by definition cannot be the wholeness of the Anglican Way, only a step towards that fullness. Be aware that you are said to be in a holding position—theoretically waiting for take-off into a new unified province of North America—which will last a long time, and may never actually end (for to produce a Province out of the multiple parts in the U.S.A. will require special divine intervention and much human wisdom and mutual submission). So be prepared for your holding position to be a permanent position and your group a permanent American “Anglican denomination” alongside many others. So choose people who you can live with for the long term!
6. Once with your chosen group, gently but firmly press for as many contacts and cooperative activities as possible with others around who also bear the name “Anglican.” Try to keep alive the vision of one genuinely Anglican Province for North America into which all the “orthodox” will merge and merging lose their autonomy. You will experience the powerful pressure of American individualism and voluntarism causing you to think that, if you own group seems to be doing well, then that is fine and the whole does not really matter. Resist such feelings and retain the vision of one, unified Anglican Province.
7. Be aware that once a particular schism has occurred, to be part of further schism is easier the second time around! And also be aware that one real danger of there being so many parallel Anglican groups is that each one will major on minors in order to establish its distinctiveness, and this search for distinctive will lead to centrifugal forces forcing the groups farther apart ( as we have since the 1977 schism with the more traditional seceders).

Of course I realize that this is poor advice. However, it is something that perhaps can become something better as people ponder it and face with open eyes the complex situation around them. I see my role as seeking to keep before people the goal of one, unified, faithful Anglican Province in North America and not being satisfied with the multi-denominational groupings of the American supermarket of religions.

drpetertoon@yahoo.com December 19, 2008 www.pbsusa.org

1 comment:

tjmcmahon said...

Dr. Toon,

I think you are correct in your basic premise- that we should take time and study carefully to discern the path God wishes us to take. The reasons for some of us who are "cradle" Episcopalians is fairly obvious (beyond the secular reason of avoiding the inevitable lawsuits that fall upon the laity as well as clergy in this country). However, I think that the circumstances within the current Episcopal church often render proper time for discernment impossible.


If the correct path were easy to discern, we would have discerned it in the 60s or the 70s and not find ourselves in our current straits. If it were a simple thing to keep a church from splintering, there would be one Continuing Anglican Church in North America today (and with the current alphabet soup of Anglicanism, we are already splintered at the beginning). These are not decisions to be taken lightly.

In my experience, people outside the current TEC (Dr. Toon, I am under the impression that you are English, is this correct?) do not realize how often the change is forced upon us. Most of the people who I know personally who left TEC left because the bishop threatened the clergy with inhibition or the parish with dissolution. Or as was the case in Connecticut, changed the locks.

In this country, there are bishops who will not accept clergy who do not actively support gay ordination and gay marriage. If you openly oppose women's ordination (as a priest), there are few dioceses that will let you in the door. It is all well and good to hold home Bible study. But it is very difficult to stay in a church where you must pull your kids out of Sunday school, or take them out of the church during a sermon, or explain to family that the bishop, to whom you are supposed to submit, is wrong, or worse, lying and abusing his (or her) authority. That the bishop, by promoting communion to the un-baptized is committing sacrilege, and by denying the divinity of Christ, is committing heresy.

Because, then they ask the question, "Daddy, why do we go to a church when the bishop and the priest do not believe in God?" Or, they ask "How can you know more about what Jesus wants than the bishop? The bishops tells us to believe different things than what you are telling us."

And people wonder why there are so few young families coming into TEC.