I’ve been on vacation, and a nice vacation it is. Tomorrow, I go home. I happen to be vacationing with three other priests and a couple lay people who are quite interested in churchy things, so we often talk about the state of the Church, our shared belief that there is little hope of salvaging traditional Anglicanism from the change-obsessed “reformers” (aka hyper “liberals”) or the fundamentalist tendencies of the reactionaries who are ready to launch into schism (aka reactionary “conservatives”).
One conversation got around to the our American cultural tendency to hyper-individualize everything, even if we do it in a group (thus our propensity to continually divide – Protestant denominationalism). So, whole groups of self-identified “Anglicans” gather together and declare that they, the individuals who have grouped together, can determine who is and who is not the true, real, honest-to-goodness, God-fearing Anglicans regardless of the realities of what makes one an Anglican. One is Anglican because one is in communion with the See of Canterbury! A Church is Anglican because the See of Canterbury recognizes that Church as being part of the Anglican Communion. You can’t be Roman Catholic without Rome! We can’t be Anglican without Canterbury. Your group may worship in the style of Anglican tradition, may use Anglican prayer books, or may say that it is in communion with Canterbury as far as your group is concerned – but it don’t make ya an Anglican.
Now, I can also argue another perspective quite easily – if it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, and if it sounds like a duck, then it is a duck…
Here is an example from the Anglican Catholic Church, a “Continuing Anglican” denomination, taken from the Affirmation of St. Louis:
The Continuation of Communion with Canterbury –
We affirm our continued relations of communion with the See of Canterbury and all faithful parts of the Anglican Communion. [Note: Because of the action of General Synod of the Church of England, Parliament, and the Royal Assent, the College of Bishops of the Anglican Catholic Church is obliged no longer to count the See of Canterbury as a faithful part of the Anglican Communion.]
WHEREFORE, with a firm trust in Divine Providence, and before Almighty God and all the company of heaven, we solemnly affirm, covenant and declare that we, lawful and faithful members of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, shall now and hereafter continue and be the unified continuing Anglican Church in North America, in true and valid succession thereto.
They can declare all they want, but it doesn’t make it so. They can affirm their “continued relations of communion,” but Canterbury does not recognize them – it is a dysfunctional, deluded, one-way relationship. But then, they contrive a new way of being Anglican, declaring that the See of Canterbury is no longer to be considered part of the Anglican Communion. This is ridiculous. Under what authority do they make such declarations? Their own, and that’s it – very American, very Protestant, very self-indulgent.
There you go – just make a declaration and it becomes true. “I’m a black, straight, woman and all of you must, must, must believe me so to be! If you don’t, then I declare that you are no longer part of the human race.”
I also recognize that a similar argument can be made by Rome concerning the whole of Anglicanism, but that is for another time and is far more complex.
Really, I think the salvaging of this Church won’t happen until this present generation has retired. The salvaging of the Anglican Communion won’t happen until this generation of leaders, generally and with exceptions, are gone. Recognize the good they did, but recognize also that the times have passed them by. As a 20-something, black, gay, fellow seminarian and Ohioan repeatedly said of this generation of leadership, “I wish they would all just retire so that we can get back to being the Church!” (I added all the personal descriptors because to those now in power who indulge in identity-politics, these kinds of personal characteristics – young, black, gay – add automatic legitimacy to anything he says and make all the difference – cynical I know, but I continue to find it to be the truth.)