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What Anglican Communion?

2010 July 1
by Gordon Reid

When I was growing up in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I never heard of the Anglican Communion. Even the Church of England was referred to as a suspect body, and indeed it had two churches, St Thomas’s in Edinburgh and St Silas’s in Glasgow, who owed no allegiance to the Scottish Bishops, but took their candidates to England to be confirmed.

And when I worked in the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe, there was not much talk of the Anglican Communion except that we were in full communion with the Spanish Episcopal Church and the Lusitanian Church of Portugal. Also there was the Convocation of American churches in Europe, eight of them, who were run from New York. Otherwise, we were a Diocese of the Church of England, welcoming English-speaking Christians from all over the world.

It is only since I have been in America that I have realized how fixated Episcopalians are on “The Anglican Communion”. It is American money that supports the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ meetings and other central bodies of the Anglican Communion. British Anglicans pay very little attention to what the Archbishop of Canterbury says, but some American Anglicans agonize over his every word, as if he were their Pope. But the whole point of Anglicanism is that we don’t believe in a Pope, and surely this should be most true of American Anglicans who threw off the tyranny of English monarch in the 18th century?

The proposal for a punitive and prescriptive Anglican Covenant should be rejected totally. We are a loose confederation of non-Roman Catholic Churches, with a wide variety of liturgies and beliefs, owing our origins not to any Protestant reformer, but to the very English desire to be free of foreign rule and taxes (Henry VIII and the Pope) and the equally admirable American desire to be free of foreign rule and taxes (George Washington and George III).

Of course, there are lots of other lovely things about the Episcopal Church, which only they who live in its spirituality and life can testify to, but that is for a more poetical and lyrical post. Maybe I’ll rise to it one day.

29 Responses leave one →
  1. Dennis permalink
    July 1, 2010


  2. July 1, 2010

    My experience in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa was similar. Rowan Williams, to them, is the archbishop who presides over Canterbury and is the first bishop in England – South Africans have their own archbishop and metropolitan to worry about, and he’s in Cape Town.

  3. Gary C permalink
    July 1, 2010

    Despite our bluster on the world stage, the American psyche still seems to be insecure in a lot of ways and still looking for the approval of a parental (father) figure. Perhaps this is because historically we’re still in our adolescence, being only 234 years old; whereas Europe has ‘been there and done that’ many times over.

  4. Martin Ritchie permalink
    July 1, 2010

    Hear, hear, Fr. Gordon!!

  5. Jim Littrell permalink
    July 6, 2010


    What a refreshingly straight-forward statement, with which I so much concur. In fact, I was named by Bishop Michel last fall to be on the Diocesan committee established at Convention to study and report back to this year’s Convention on the proposed “Covenant”; but in spite of repeated entreaties, I have yet to be notified of a meeting. Now I’m about to leave on sabbatical until mid-October; and I fear the committee will do whatever work it does without me or the point of view you represent here being heard in the deliberations. Perhaps Bishop Michel could appoint you in my stead, were you interested? In any case, I’m glad to see you express this view so well. And I very much enjoy your blog always. Best, Jim

  6. July 6, 2010

    The flip side is that a loose federation can more easily be broken up. The nagging problem in the covenant issue isn’t the covenant itself. It’s the American clerical executive’s insistence that the communion cannot throw it out, but its dissidents cannot leave it either. Personally I think they should swallow their righteous indignation, let the dissident dioceses go and give them the dissident parishes in other dioceses, send a letter to Lambeth saying “it was nice knowing you,” and be done with it.

    • william permalink
      July 6, 2010

      I agree completely with this. It really makes no sense to keep suing congregations and dioceses for property the remainder cannot use. Look what happened with St. James the Less–complete waste of effort–what was a perfectly functional parish with several successful programs under a priest with a very good reputation is now a ghost house with expensive upkeep. What exactly was the use of that? Lawyers just end up making a lot of money out of the process. Thankfully, it seems Fort Worth is going to make good on their bid, and so perhaps that sets a precedent. If a single empty building can’t be refilled, we certainly don’t need a whole dioceses full of them. I don’t at all understand why we don’t just sell the property so that a profit can actually be made instead of throwing millions down an endless abyss of litigation.

      I also agree very strongly with the good Father’s points about the Anglican communion. We need to focus on the demographic problems of the Episcopal Church, not the imaginary up-in-the-air issues of the greater Communion. The Presiding Bishop was quite wrong and naive to blithely dismiss the importance of having children for our community. Sociological research clearly indicates that religious communities survive because they reproduce, not primarily through conversions. This holds true for the communities which are growing quickest such as the Old Order Amish, Haredim, Muslims, and Mormons. Conversion is mostly a nominal and secondary element in maintaining the size of a religious community. We need to re-address ourselves to becoming a family church again the encourages members to view marriage and child bearing as good things, and children as blessings, in opposition to the overriding anti-life culture we now live in and which is unfortunately too often further supported in this Church. If we ignore this reality to our peril, we will end up like the Anglican Church of Canada which is already on the verge of loosing whole dioceses to population decline. Anglicanism will undoubtedly still continue–but as a form of Pentecostalism in Africa. Sociologists also tell us that religious communities are attractive to the degree they maintain an appropriate stress and accommodation with their surrounding society. Too little difference creates no interest because their is nothing distinctive to draw people in. Too much difference creates hostile tension against a given community. We have become to much of the former. We have a wonderful heritage of worship and theology which needs to be emphasized–the traditional forms of the BCP and the heiratic language of Cranmer and the KJV. Signing more and more inter-communion agreements with other Protestant denominations just makes TEC less distinctive and less interesting, and thus less attractive. Why should anyone go to an Episcopal Church when it is indistinguishable from a Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Mennonite, Moravian, or Congregationalist etc. parish?

      Parishes like St. Clement’s fulfill the important role of preserving this patrimony and what makes the Episcopal Church worthwhile and potentially attractive to the unchurched. I pray that its witness will continue for many years to come.

      • July 6, 2010

        Well put but S. Clement’s patrimony wasn’t about preserving Anglicanism/Episcopalianism but rather, as at least unofficial Anglo-Papalists, adding to and editing that culture to make it fit Tridentine Roman Catholicism (they dreamed of corporate reunion with Rome): much like the upcoming ordinariates are meant to be (and I can imagine the Extraordinary Form both in the original Latin and in its English Missal translation done in them).

  7. July 6, 2010

    Personally I think they [the American clerical executive] should swallow their righteous indignation, let the dissident dioceses go and give them the dissident parishes in other dioceses, send a letter to Lambeth saying “it was nice knowing you,” and be done with it.

    Hear, hear!

    Good point, Father, about the Anglican Communion historically not meaning much. It’s an analogue to the Commonwealth really; for some people an emotional substitute for the British Empire that doesn’t mean much to the British themselves.

    As nobody in this fight claims to be the one true church, to me it only seems about whose bishops get to meet the Queen every 10 years.

    • william permalink
      July 6, 2010

      That’s a good distinction, which I should have made more clear–it’s that particular element of TEC which is worth preserving and makes it interesting, being able to find traditional high church worship with orthodox, intellectual sermons, when it is not otherwise available. Not pandering to secular liberal causes or ideas that are so broad they can be fulfilled by any religion. Ex. ‘destroying the environment is bad’–guess what, deism, atheism, agnosticism, druze, yezidism, buddhism, alevi, raelianism, JWs, southern baptists, taoists, falun gong, cao dai, supreme master ching hai adherents, mormons, mandaeans, mazdakites, vaishnavas, and the longhouse religion could probably get behind that one. Which makes TEC attractive why… ? Need a little more there to sell it I think.

      • July 6, 2010

        But if the place with the high liturgics and orthodox intellectual sermons is really on board with broad mainline religion, which is what being in TEC means, what’s the point of having those nice things? An orthodoxy reduced to opinion and/or style is no longer orthodoxy really. It wasn’t what the Tractarians, Ritualists or Anglo-Papalists like Franklin Joiner were fighting for. That said, online I’ve seen some of what I think you’re trying to get at – Derek Olsen and Fr John-Julian Swanson for example, Anglo-Catholicism changed to fit TEC today but still credally orthodox and high liturgically… where I think our host sees S. Clement’s present and future (with the traditional Roman Rite simply being a parish choice). I’m not on board with that obviously but I think I understand. ¡Vaya con Dios!

  8. Gary C permalink
    July 6, 2010

    Just for the record, Fr. Sean Mullen of St. Mark’s has taken over St. James the Less and is bringing it back to life. This summer was the second year in a row that they’ve had summer camp there for the neighborhood kids, they have Sunday evening Mass there (except in the summer) and plans are under way to renovate the building and grounds. I also know of at least 1 wedding that was held there last year.


    • william permalink
      July 6, 2010

      that’s very good news indeed, thanks for the update.

  9. July 6, 2010

    Disclaim as you may, what you describe is Protestnatism pure and simple. The Anglican Communion is dead and buried; and TEC is hurtling down the primrose path of its own invention. +E

  10. July 6, 2010

    or even Protestantism…

  11. Jeff Ezell permalink
    July 7, 2010

    I find myself wondering if the psychological importance of the Anglican Communion to at least some Episcopalians increased as a compensation for the perceived loss of TEC’s prominence in the high circles of American political and social aristocracy. The Episcopal Church has always punched above its numeric weight due to its old money social position and the related dominance amongst American politicians. I’m not defending that as a legitimate expression of Christian values, but I do suspect that the reality for some may be that the perceived slippage in social status was mitigated by the American Church’s prominence and importance within the Anglican Communion. Now they are having to mourn the loss of that status as well. I also suspect that such implicit attitudes are largely unexamined by those who may harbour them.

  12. Paul Goings permalink
    July 7, 2010

    Dr Barnes,

    You would have gone last Tuesday week, had not your wife objected?

  13. July 7, 2010

    Paul, I go when my bishops (the Provincial Episcopal Visitors) decide; my wife and I are both happy with that. God bless. +E

  14. Paul Goings permalink
    July 7, 2010

    And if they decide that you don’t go? What becomes of “dead and buried” in that case?

    • July 13, 2010

      But they will, and I shall, and dead an buried is even more true now than it was before the CofE Synod voted to become a liberal sect. +E

      • Paul Goings permalink
        July 13, 2010

        Well, now we hear that FiF will start making their plans in September and October. So perhaps the first Ordinariate could be erected at some point during 2011?

        We shall see, Your Excellency, we shall see.

  15. July 11, 2010

    As a passionately monarchist member of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, who would love to visit S Clement’s someday, I’m disappointed that this blog buys into revolutionary propaganda about King George III being a “tyrant.” He was nothing of the kind, quite unfairly maligned by Whiggish history, and deserves better, especially from Anglicans. (He was a devout one, unlike those who rebelled against his lawful authority, who were mostly Deists, Unitarians, Freemasons, or Calvinists.) Surely subsequent American presidents have come far closer to “tyranny.” The American Revolution was clearly in violation of Biblical teaching of obedience to lawful authority and while as an American citizen I obey the laws of the government that resulted from it, I will not celebrate it, especially in light of the appalling treatment of Loyalists (of whom I like to think I would have been one had I lived in the Colonies at that time) by the alleged defenders of “Liberty.” God Save the Queen!

    By the way, I have some sympathy for the Jacobite cause according to which the Stuarts should have remained on the British throne instead of the Hanoverians, but two wrongs don’t make a right, and the American Revolution was still wrong even if one would have preferred “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” The revolutionaries were certainly not fighting for the Stuarts. Indeed, most Jacobites realized that by then the principle of monarchy itself was at stake, and Flora McDonald accordingly supported the Loyalists. Even Rome in 1766 had recognised George III as the legitimate ruler of Great Britain (and therefore her colonies).

  16. Fr. Bill permalink
    July 13, 2010


    How does CoE having two parishes in Edinburgh square with that “only one bishop/only one jurisdiction” business that the Episcopalians use to bash the “Anglicans” of ACNA?

    Any idea?

  17. July 13, 2010

    Of course I’m not Father but:

    Because the C of E parishes operate in the Scottish Episcopal diocese with the diocese’s permission?

    • July 13, 2010

      Both St Thomas’s, Edinburgh and St Silas, Glasgow have for a long time been incorporated into the Scottish Episcopal Church. My point was that in the past the Scottish Episcopal Church was forbidden under the Penal Laws (after the Stuart uprisings in 1715 and 1745) and the English soldiers (Redcoats) who threw the Episcopal priests out of the parish churches and forced the parishes to have presbyterian ministers, were all members of the Church of England. There was a long legacy of enmity towards the Church of England in the Scottish Episcopal Church. And of course the “Anglican Communion” was for a long time simply the Church of England in foreign places!

  18. July 26, 2010

    Very well put. I would say the same for the Presiding Bishop. Many of us try to make her a pope (popess?), but she is just the Presiding Bishop, praise God.

  19. Todd permalink
    August 20, 2010

    On August 11th, Ann Rice (admittedly, not my favorite author) spoke about her very public exit from the Catholic Church. She labeled “Christians” “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious and deservedly infamous.” As a gay man (Ann has a gay son) I couldn’t agree with her more.

    To me, the most striking piece of the interview was when she said:

    “I put my money where my mouth was. And that church then spent millions to come in to the state of California and deprive gay citizens of their civil rights to same-sex marriage? That was shocking. That was humiliating. That was the last straw.”

    As an openly gay Episcopalian I am proud of Ann for standing up the way she did, and saddened by the pride, wrath and vain glory of the church drove her out.

    When reading this thread, I found myself experiencing the emotions of both joy and sadness. I was happy to discover that if I moved to Philadelphia (as was my plan at one point) I would find a home and be welcome at St. Clement’s. I assume St. Clement’s would be like my own parish, a place where you are judged on your own merits, not who you choose to spend your life with or sleep with. My joy was, however, tempered by some of the comments of other posters which to me, were quite opposite to Christ’s teachings.

    I will leave everyone with this question…

    Can a church, any church, survive if aspects of its earthy and spiritual mission are aligned with three of the Seven Deadly Sins? They very problem with most churches today is intolerance. I always believed intolerance came from the ultra conservative mega churches, I guess I was wrong.

  20. Todd permalink
    August 20, 2010

    I apologize, that comment was to be placed on the entry about gay bishops.

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