Our task is to compare two apparently similar phenomena and to notice where they differ.
1. Parish Mobility in a National Anglican Church
Ever since the arrival of the motor car in country areas, and public transport in the cities, some people have travelled in England to attend the parish church of their choice. And it has been much the same story in other countries of the West, where there was a National Anglican Church, divided into dioceses and parishes. People travelled to continue to go to the parish where they were raised, where the ritual, or the preaching, or something else was to their liking. Or maybe they just did not like the parish priest where they actually lived.
This situation remains common today and is most obviously seen in big cities where, though parishes exist with their boundaries, this does not usually have a major impact on where people actually attend worship.
It is widely held in the Church of England and in other National Anglican Churches that to worship in a parish other than where ones lives is acceptable, even though the struggling local parish vestry/council may desire ones attendance and tithe!
2. Mobility between competitive and parallel Jurisdictions.
Within the last few years, there has been a secession of part or partial congregations from the various dioceses of the National Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. In not a few areas, the secessions from a particular diocese have not chosen to connect themselves to one jurisdiction (e.g., AMIA or CANA) but to several. That is each group has used its own judgment to choose one or another of the available open ecclesial doors to go through.
So, for example, the recent seceders from the Diocese of Florida have gone to these groups: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Southern Cone. This means that in northern Florida alongside the parishes of The Episcopal Diocese of Florida, there are the continuing Anglican churches of the 1977 seceders ( ACA, ACC , UAC, APA etc.) and the missionary outposts of four African and one South American Anglican Provinces—and this list is not exhaustive for there are other groups like The Reformed Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Missionary Church in the area as well.
The argument made with reference to these two phenomena
In order to justify the latter situation of the multiplicity of virtually competitive Anglican groupings in one area, an argument is made in these terms.
“Everyone these days, including bishops and loyal parish priests and workers, agrees that the old parish system in existence before the industrial revolution has lost much of its meaning, and today has more symbolic rather than practical value. Mobility creating choice has become the norm in the old National Anglican/Episcopal Churches.
What the presence of multiple Anglican groups in one area does is to add to the choice that mobility creates, It is simply an intensification and extension of what has been the case for a long time. Further, it may be added, the whole notion of one form or jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in one country or region is not realistic in terms of modern America.”
Certainly looked at through the prism of the general American values of individualism, voluntarism, choice and private judgment/opinion, the argument works well, for it does—at least in the short term—provide not only self-determination but also choice (as long as one has a car, can drive and can afford the gas) for many.
Problems with the argument
If it were not the case that the Anglican Way is, in its public statements of its identity, committed to the doctrine that there ought to be One Anglican Church in One Region, then the argument could perhaps stand. And standing it would justify the multiple forms of Anglicanism on the basis of the freedoms that create and maintain the American supermarket of religions.
However, the fact of the matter is that the Prayer Book, the Articles of Religion and The Ordinal, known as the Formularies, all clearly teach and assume that there should be One Anglican Church in one specific geographical area. They do not know of multiple forms and parallel dioceses in one region. And this is also true of the doctrine of the Church in the newer service books of Anglican Churches published in the last thirty or forty years.
Further, and this is most important, the Constitutions of the newer Provinces of the Anglican Communion in Africa and Asia all state and assume that the Anglican Church is a united entity in its own geographical area. This is what the Nigerian Constitution of 2002 states: “The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), hereinafter called “the Church of Nigeria”, shall remain one united and indissoluble Church under God.”
Of course, the form of a National Church that existed under Elizabeth I or James I or even Charles II in England is not what is in view in Nigeria or other places. It is a different kind of National Church or National Denomination but National all the same—and with no possibility of parallel jurisdictions.
In the U.S.A. if it is determined that The Episcopal Church is apostate and needs to be replaced by a faithful, new Province then that claim makes sense. But what does not make sense is to declare The Episcopal Church is apostate and seek to replace it with multiple jurisdictions, each one claiming the right to extend itself into any and all parts of the U.S.A., and even Canada.
So I conclude that there is a world of difference between, on the one hand, a National Church with dioceses and parishes, where there is mobility of parishioners, and, on the other hand, a situation where there are multiple, different Anglican groups existing in parallel and in competition.
firstname.lastname@example.org www.pbsusa.com December 19 2008