The Anglican Communion is a Myth
When I was growing up in the Scottish Episcopal Church, we were taught very clearly that we were not the Church of England even though English immigration into Scotland had given us many English members, leading many Scots to refer to the Episcopal church as “The English Church” (or, more likely, “the English Kirk”). We Episcopalians knew that we were the old Catholic Church of Scotland, who had cast off Rome at the Reformation, but had retained Bishops and the Sacraments and a Catholic Liturgy. Our present small size was due to our faithfulness to the Jacobite cause, and when that cause was lost, the new Hanoverian succession established the Presbyterians in the ancient churches and Cathedrals and made them the national Church.
I begin with this summary because not only were we sure that we were not the Church of England, but we also knew that it was members of the Church of England, the Redcoat soldiers, who had enforced the penal laws against the Episcopal Church. It was this persecution which had left our Church what Sir Walter Scott called “The shadow of a shade”.
I also grew up, knowing that the Bishops of my little Church had actually defied the Church of England by consecrating Samuel Seabury in Aberdeen to be the first Bishop for Anglicans in America, since the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, who had jurisdiction in America, had refused to provide Bishops.
In all of this, I had never heard of the Anglican Communion. This is not surprising, since there was no such thing in the 18th century, when all these events were taking place. It was not until the British Empire had spread the Church of England all over the world and then seen national Churches grow up in the various nations of the Empire and declare their independence from the Church of England, that a nostalgic sentiment (or a sentimental nostalgia) caused Anglican Bishops to come together in the Lambeth Conference every ten years or so.
But today, the British Empire is no more than a weird collection of countries calling themselves “the Commonwealth” – though the one thing they do not have in common is “wealth”! And the mighty Church of England, which persecuted Protestants and Roman Catholics with fine impartiality for four hundred years, is reduced to one denomination among many in England. The so-called tolerance of the Church of England not only burned Roman Catholics but also discriminated against Protestants to such an extent that they invented the Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist and many other Churches, not to mention the Quakers, Brethren, Salvation Army and other groups. And they all came to America seeking freedom from the Church of England.
The irony of the present situation is that some members of the American Episcopal Church are trying to reverse this by treating the Archbishop of Canterbury as a substitute Pope. They are allying themselves with those who say they want an “Anglican Covenant” which will define the beliefs of the Anglican Communion and will contain the legal means to expel any constituent Province which departs from these beliefs.
So out will go tolerance for a wide variety of beliefs within the one Church and we will be back in the good old days of expelling the Methodists for enthusiasm, expelling the Papists for clinging to the Western Patriarchate, expelling the Quakers for pacifism. And all this will be done by Bishop-centered bodies such as the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Council. No matter that the priests and laity of the Episcopal Church have embraced the same democracy as their country and have voted for developments which other Churches dislike.
I can live happily without an Anglican Communion and will happily see it disappear if it means that I can disown the Archbishop of Sydney who denounces the Mass as a blasphemous fable, or the Archbishop of Nigeria who says that homosexuals are lower than swine, and supports laws punishing them by imprisonment. Not to mention the hypocritical Bishops, clergy and laity of our own Episcopal Church who are divorced and remarried, but say that they oppose women priests and our one (honest) gay Bishop because such things are contrary to the Word of God – by which they mean the Bible, not the real Word of God who was made flesh and dwelt among us, Jesus Christ our Lord.