Thursday, June 15, 2006

Continuing Anglicanism given a bad write-up: Shame on Oxford University Press

Peter Toon

In the Exhibition Center at the General Convention you may find the booth of the Oxford University Press of NYC. Prominently on view is a new reference book, The Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer, A Worldwide Survey (edited by C. Hefling and C. Shattuck).

As we would expect from this distinguished Press, there is in this well-produced book much that is informative, reflecting careful and learned scholarship. However, it is with regret that we have to report that there is one section in this book, which falls below the high standards we expect from this Press. It is a short section but it reflects lack of precise knowledge of the subject with a censorious spirit towards those described.

“Churches in the Continuing Anglican Tradition” by Lesley A. Northup (pages 218ff.) seems to have the intention of deliberately presenting Continuing Anglicans as being merely a bunch of sectarians. We get the frequent use of expressions such as: “Anglican sectarian movements;” “schismatic groups;” traditionalist sectarianism;” “schismatic Anglicans; “new sects” and “splinter groups.” We suggest that other expressions could have been used by Northup to reflect the doctrinal orthodoxy and commitment to historic Anglicanism which most of these groups display. Further, some of them are in covenant relations with provinces of the Anglican Communion!

Secondly, there is no clear account of the origins of these groups or jurisdictions or denominations, apart from that of the Reformed Episcopal Church (which was a nineteenth century formation, by those who were deeply grieved by the growing ceremonialism/ritualism of the Protestant Episcopal Church). What was needed from Northup was an account briefly stating which groups came out in which period; what was their problem with the Episcopal Church; and which liturgy they used and now use. For example, there were departures in the 1960s over the perceived liberal stance on social issues (e.g. in civil rights); in the 1970s the main issues were the ordination of women, the change in the canons on marriage, and the creation of a new prayer book of varied services and doctrines; since then departures have been over one or more of the innovations in doctrine and morality adopted or promoted by the Episcopal Church. Also there have been the creation of Anglican jurisdictions not by departure from the Episcopal Church but by planting new churches with an Anglican ethos, liturgy and doctrine, by converts from a variety of traditions.

Certainly and regrettably there have been divisions amongst those who departed from the Episcopal Church, but there have also been unions of those who came out. Northup seems not to have made a major attempt to acquaint himself with the history, worship and church growth of those who call themselves Anglicans and are not in the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada.

Another area where Northup is plainly wrong in his account is his assertion that the main part of the Continuing Anglican Movement is in the USA. In fact the majority of Continuing Anglicans are outside the USA in Africa, India, Australasia and elsewhere. And the major language of the “Continuum” is not English!

Yet another area where both charity and accuracy are missing is in his dismissal of the Anglican Mission in America as “potentially schismatic.” The Mission is the official Mission of the Anglican Province of Rwanda and its bishops are full members of the House of Bishops of the Church in Rwanda. The Archbishop of Rwanda is the Primate of the Anglican Mission.

Whatever be its shortcomings the Continuing Anglican Movement deserves better treatment that given it by Northup and the Oxford University Press. Why was not a competent scholar from within this tradition or sympathetic to it used?

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