January 14, 2013

It’s about communion! But communion with whom??

image_pdfimage_print

Over at Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, South Carolina, Fr. Dow Sanderson speaks about his decision to remain in the Episcopal Church:

I especially urge those of you who feel that you must leave your church home, in these difficult times, and seek another Anglican “safe haven”. Like so many things in this broken and highly polarized world, some would frame this discussion as simply a choice between Biblical, Orthodox Truth on the one hand, and very progressive, liberals on the other.   This simply is not true.  In fact, the overwhelming majority of Anglo-Catholics in the United States remain a part of the Episcopal Church and have absolutely no intention of doing otherwise.  These would include, of course, very famous places like St. Paul’s in Washington, Church of the Advent in Boston, St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue in New York, St. John’s in Savannah, to name just a few.

What is at stake here is Communion. Anglicanism, in all its expressions, has always claimed to be something more than just a church of the Reformation.  Reformed, yes, but through our ties to the ancient See of Canterbury, we have depth of Tradition and continuity with the Apostolic Church that has always been highly valued.

I certainly think that people of good conscience can remain in The Episcopal Church. At the same time, Fr. Sanderson begs a number of questions. Foremost, he states that the question is one of “communion.” But this begs the question, “communion with whom?” The Catholic tradition is quite clear that communion is only possible with those who hold the Catholic faith. One of the better books on this subject is Werner Elert’s Eucharist and Communion in the First Four Centuries (Concordia Publishing House, 2003). St. Athanasius was not in communion with the heretic Arius. St. Cyril of Alexandria was not in communion with Nestorius. St. Augustine was not in communion with the Donatists. After the ecumenical councils of the early centuries, those who refused to subscribe to them were no longer in communion with the Catholic Church. For example, the Copts refused to recognize Chalcedon, and have been out of communion with the Orthodox churches to this day. Rome and Orthodoxy do not agree on the role of the pope, and so they have been out of communion since 1054. And, of course, Anglicans have been out of communion with Rome since Henry VIII.

The second question that Fr. Sanderson fails to address has to do with canon law and the role of the bishop in a diocese. As a priest in a diocese, what is one’s obligation when one’s bishop is deposed for “abandoning the communion” when he has not in fact done so? Bishop Mark Lawrence did not leave the Episcopal Church. He was kicked out. He was kicked out based on the misuse of a canon that was intended to be used for clergy that really had left the Episcopal Church and joined another denomination. But Bishop Mark was actually trying to keep the Diocese of South Carolina in TEC, not leave. In a case of double jeopardy, Bishop Lawrence was re-tried (without a trial or representation) on charges that had already been dismissed a year ago. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated that she had accepted “the renunciation of the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church of Mark Lawrence,” although TEC’s canons state that such renunciation must be received in writing, and Bishop Lawrence has denied that he made such a renunciation.

So the Presiding Bishop’s claim that Bishop Mark had “abandoned the communion,” was, at the least, a very creative interpretation of TEC’s canon law.. To be blunt, Bishop Mark did not abandon communion. TEC broke communion by deposing him. It was only after TEC violated its own canon law by deposing Bishop Mark that South Carolina left TEC. Moreover, the Global South bishops (who represent the majority of bishops in the Anglican Communion) have refused to recognize the deposition of Bishop Lawrence, and they continue to recognize Bishop Lawrence as the legitimate bishop of South Carolina: “We want to assure you that we recognize your Episcopal orders and your legitimate Episcopal oversight of the Diocese of South Carolina within the Anglican Communion.” So the question of “communion” is not a straightforward one.

Given that Bishop Mark’s deposition was contrary to TEC’s own canons, it would seem that Bishop Mark still the legitimate bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, and, as a priest in that diocese, Sanderson either acknowledges the legitimacy of TEC’s deposition, or not. By placing himself under TEC’s authority in South Carolina, Fr. Sanderson is making a choice. He is choosing to be in communion with TEC. But he is also choosing to refuse to be in communion with Bishop Lawrence, who, until TEC wrongfully deposed him, was Fr. Sanderson’s bishop.

When I lived in Boston, I attended Church of the Advent, which Fr. Sanderson mentions, for a year or so. Fr. Sanderson finds it significant that the Church of the Advent remains in TEC. However, I know something of that story. During the time I lived in Boston, Advent survived a near schism when the unique governing board at Advent (a “corporation,” not an elected vestry) attempted to leave TEC (not over doctrine) and take the building with them. But the majority of the congregation did not agree with the corporation, and the matter went to court. The congregation won. The corporation lost. But that set a legal precedent. The building belonged not to the corporation, but to the diocese. The current congregation at Advent has not left, and could not leave, because they would lose their building to the diocese.

When I attended Advent, the average Sunday attendance (ASA) was around 400. TEC’s statistics page indicates that it is now around 250. So the Church of the Advent has not left TEC. But somewhere around a third of its Sunday attendees have. When I attended, Advent had two kinds of members, those who were serious Anglo-Catholics, and those who attended because they liked the beautiful music and liturgy. I cannot be certain, but I would imagine that the vast majority of those who no longer attend Advent on Sunday mornings were the serious Anglo-Catholics. Those ones who still keep coming are likely those who come for the music.

So what’s my point? My point is not to criticize Fr. Sanderson for his decision to remain in the Episcopal Church. For those of us who are committed to orthodox Anglicanism, and have struggled with the Episcopal Church crisis over the last decade or more, where we end up is never simple. People can stay, and they can leave, and both decisions can be made in good conscience.

At the same time, Communion is important. But communion is also a choice, and a necessary choice that we all must make. To choose to be in communion with some is by necessity to choose not to be in communion with others. If one stays in the Episcopal Church, one has not chosen “communion” over non-communion. One has chosen communion with some (such as Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori) over others (such as Bishop Mark Lawrence). Unfortunately, it is impossible to choose both, and I would suggest that it is the Episcopal Church that has forced that decision on the orthodox, not the reverse.

February 7, 2012

I get mail . . .

image_pdfimage_print

I received the following today, which succinctly summarizes questions I have been asked numerous times in recent years:

Dear Sir,
Just curious about how you can be a part of ACNA which endorses and embraces innovations to doctrine and discipline that seem to make the Assumption and IC rather more forgivable- i.e. ordination of women, theology of the 1979 BCP, etc. Thanks for your website.
Sincerely,  Fr. __________

My response follows:

Fr. __________,

Your question is too short to answer without knowing what specific objections you have in mind, and on what basis you object.

I am enough of an Anglican to follow Richard Hooker in his distinction between matters of doctrine and morals (which are unchangeable) and matters of church practice and polity (which, under certain circumstances can be).

So the 1979 BCP is a matter of church practice and polity, a fallible human document, as was the 1549 BCP, the 1552 BCP, the 1559 BCP, the 1662 BCP, the American 1928 BCP,  the Roman Catholic Tridentine rite and the Novus Ordo. Cranmer’s Prayer Book captured well the Reformed Catholic theology of the English Reformation, but, as a document of its time, it shared many of the problematic assumptions of late Medieval spirituality and theology that were common then. The 1979 BCP, whatever its weaknesses, was largely a product of the liturgical renewal movement of the mid-twentieth century, which, as a movement of its time, also shared in many of the problematic assumptions of the mid-twentieth century. Nonetheless, the liturgical renewal movement also got a lot of things right, and the 1979 BCP, while not infallible, was, in some definite ways, an improvement on Cranmer.

The ACNA does not, however, regard the 1979 BCP as without problems. I am a consultant to the Liturgical Taskforce of the ACNA, and the Committee is now working on what will be a long term project of producing a new Prayer Book. The Committee has already produced a new Ordinal, which corrects what we regard as some of the defects of the 1979 Ordinal, and it is now being used exclusively for ordinations in the ACNA. The Committee’s current task is to produce a new baptismal rite, which will, in time, replace the 1979 rite. However, this is going to be a lengthy and piecemeal process. Until the new Prayer Book is produced, congregations are free to use any of the traditional Prayer Books (including the 1979), recognizing that none of them are infallible, but something is better than nothing, and it is impossible to produce a new Prayer Book out of thin air. Neither will the ACNA’s new Prayer Book be without fault.
(more…)

February 7, 2010

Whatever It Is, I’m (Not Necessarily) Against It!

image_pdfimage_print

I used to be a regular participant at the two most frequented “conservative” Episcopal/Anglican blogs. I refuse to comment at one at all any more, and do no more than make the occasional comment at the other.

Why? While I consider myself an orthodox Anglican, I do not in any sense of the word consider myself a “conservative.” I reject the term “conservative” when applied to orthodox Christianity because, first, it is a meaningless term. “Conservative” only makes sense as an adjective. “Conservative” as to what? What do I think it worthwhile to “conserve”? Furthermore, “conservative” only makes sense in a spectrum from “conservative” to “moderate” to “progressive,” a spectrum in which both ends and middle constantly shift. A generation ago, I would have been considered a “moderate” in the Episcopal Church. Without having moved, the same positions I held then, are now considered “conservative” or even “fundamentalist.” Finally, “conservative” too often confuses the realms of politics and religion. To embrace any political ideology, whether it calls itself “conservative” or “progressive” is a betrayal of the gospel. If Jesus Christ is Lord, he stands in judgment on all political positions.

However, “conservative” can also mean “reactionary,” and this is more and more what the term means on the two most widely read “conservative” Episcopal/Anglican blogs. A “reactionary” is someone whose position can be summarized in the lines from Groucho Marx’s song from the movie Horsefeathers:

“I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway;
Whatever it is, I’m against it!”
(more…)

June 22, 2009

The Perils of Bootstrapping or What is Christian Ethics? A Sermon

Filed under: Ethics,Sermons,The North American Anglican Province — William Witt @ 7:34 am
image_pdfimage_print

This is the first sermon I preached right after The Episcopal Church’s General Convention 2003. At the time, I was an aspirant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. Within a month I had withdrawn from the ordination process. Two years later, on July 13, 2005, Bishop Andrew Smith invaded St. John’s Episcopal Church, changed the locks and deposed Mark Hansen, our priest, and imposed a priest-in-charge, who later removed those of us on the vestry for “numerous offenses” (unspecified).

I now live in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, and Archbishop Robert Duncan is my bishop. With the inaugural meeting of the new Anglican Church of North America this week, of which I am a member, I thought it appropriate to repost this sermon.



Psalm 147
Eph. 5: 15-20
John 6:53-59

AtlasAt General Convention 2003, the Episcopal Church made two decisions that have put the Anglican communion in an uproar. They decided to ordain an Episcopal priest who had divorced his wife, and has been living in an ongoing homosexual relationship with another man, and they decided to allow individual dioceses to provide rites of blessing for homosexual relationships, at the discretion of the local bishop. The issue of controversy in the Episcopal Church today has to do with a disagreement about ethics or morality. So I have decided to talk a little this morning about Christian ethics.

The first thing that I think needs to be said is that it is quite difficult today to think about ethics from a Christian perspective, even for those inside the Church. The reason for this is that there is a competing ethic in our culture that has nothing to do with Christianity, but which we can hardly avoid. This is an ethic that has so permeated our culture that even Christians fall into its ways of thinking. I am going to refer to this as the “do-it-yourself” ethic. “Doing-it-yourself” is the idea that morality is about doing the best you can—pulling yourself up by your boot straps. If you do the best you can, you’ll be all right.

This “do-it-yourself” ethic comes in two varieties, a conservative variety and a liberal variety. The conservative variety aims for perfection. The conservative “do-it-yourselfer” does not allow for any failures, and tolerates no half-hearted efforts. Sometimes this view is called moralism or Puritanism. The liberal “do-it-your-selfer” is more tolerant. He realizes that not everybody is perfect, so he thinks that God grades on a curve. As long as you try, you get an A for effort.

(more…)

December 6, 2008

What About Them Donatists?

Filed under: The North American Anglican Province — William Witt @ 8:24 am
image_pdfimage_print

The Donatist comparison has been repeated numerous times since the events of General Convention 2003–or, rather, misapplied. Since the move last week by the Common Cause Partners to form a new Anglican Province in North America–a move they made, I might add, in direct response to the request of the majority of Global South Primates at Kigali in 2006–the accusation is already being dragged out once again. The “breakaway” Anglicans are “Donatists.” They have broken fellowship with those they consider to be sinful. And the Church has repeatedly repudiated this position since the time of Augustine. Sinfulness does not invalidate the sacraments.

Who were the Donatists? The Donatists were a sect in Northern Africa that disagreed with the rest of Catholic Christendom, not primarily over doctrine, but over discipline. They claimed that the sacraments of sinful clergy were invalid. According to Augustine, the primary problem with Donatism was not their theological position so much as that they refused to listen to the rest of the Church. Internationally, they were a small sect within Catholic Christendom, confined to a corner of Northern Africa. However, within Northern Africa, they were the majority. (more…)

Non Sermoni Res is proudly powered by WordPress
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).