Skip to comments.ECUSA priest reflects on REC/APA conference
Posted on 07/08/2005 5:33:04 PM PDT by sionnsar
My wife and I had the good fortune to attend portions of the recent joint gathering of the REC/APA in Orlando Florida as guests of friends in the Philadelphia area, whose REC parish we had attended during the last four years of my professional sojourn in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. I had recently dropped into obscurity in Pennsylvania, having lost my parish position halfway through an emergency sabbatical leave in 1997. My family were parish refugees, seeking to attach ourselves to an orthodox congregation within driving distance of our home, while I came to grips with my future in or out of the Church.
We began attending a local REC parish when the Episcopal parish we had been attending was taken over by the Bishop, following the abandonment by its rector and three quarters of its congregation. Half of these went with the rector to form a new Orthodox Presbyterian mission. The other half "discovered" the Reformed Episcopal Church across the street. It was described to me by one of the fleeing Episcopalians as "the Episcopal Church of the 1950's" in terms of its liturgy and atmosphere. I had worn out every other "hat" sported by Episcopalians since the mid-'70's, and hence the mid-'50's sounded good.
As I moved among the clergy and people of the REC, I was impressed by their self-conscious identity with historic Anglicanism, unlike the ECUSA I had come to know since seminary, where "Anglicanism" was an abstraction-a set of parameters in which any sort of historic expression of Christianity (or should I say more generally, religion) could be played out. I had taken full advantage of "playing church" within these parameters, again wearing all the "hats" typified by an activist, entrepreneurial clergy: crypto-Roman one day, crypto-Baptist the next, crypto-Pentecostal in private devotion (it was always too much work to pray in a "known tongue"). Always crypto-Something, but in reality...what?
We left the Northeast in late 2002 for the friendly Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. As we said goodbye to our REC friends, we knew their General Council for 2005 was scheduled to be in Orlando. We added to our farewells, "Orlando in '05!" The years passed quickly, and I gave little thought to the REC, as fondly as I recalled their hospitality to us as a family and to me professionally.
Suddenly I was heading off to the Thursday morning session of their joint council with the APA. Archbishop Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone (technically in communion with me and the few straggling ECUSA visitors and not with those whose honored guest he was) opened the morning session with an exposition of a text from the Acts of the Apostles. Then followed a full day training session on Evangelism by representatives from All Souls, London, another world-class organization in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury but with neither the REC nor the APA. What they had in common was a vision of the past and, therefore, of the future. What they also had was the Gospel.
I spent my day milling around, looking and listening. By the end of it I had been startled by an important distinction in my own thinking: between an Anglicanism of name dropping and game playing, and one of historic substance, even if the present historic reality was in a formative stage of development.
The room outside the meeting rooms contained a number of tables for exhibitors. One table for mission relief displayed a typical Third World pose of near-starvation, with a surprising caption: Who Is the Typical Anglican? We were reminded that the huge majority of Anglicans worldwide were residents of the Third World, which came to most of us only through pictures. I was reminded (personally) that the public to whom this display was directed saw themselves as Anglican Christians and saw others, not as a "cause" to be paid lip service, but as part of an organic reality.
Nearby was a book table featuring stacks of CD-ROMs of classic Anglican texts. Being a sucker for anything on a disk, I purchased copies of their entire inventory, which included names like John Jewel, J. C. Ryle, A. G. Hebert, Percy Dearmer, W. H. Frere, Henry Barclay Swete, to name a few, along with a recent (1940's) commentary on Hooker's Laws. I was assured that with my purchase I would be mailed free the upcoming collection of expository tomes on the Articles of Religion. The print collection on an adjoining table included texts by contemporary Anglicans from various communions, all of whom addressed the serious question of what it means to be an Anglican.
I was not privy to any of the business sessions of either of the two gathered Churches, but I was privy to a great deal of "random" conversation. What I gleaned from all the sights and sounds was a stir of anticipation as the Anglican Communion worldwide stands poised to redefine itself, with a whole new orthodox constituency in North America coalescing before our eyes, ready to join the remnant of the ECUSA orthodox (if they are worth joining). Like a game of musical chairs, when the "music" stops sometime after ECUSA's 2006 General Convention, these "continuing" Anglicans, and many like them, will be the main players "seated" before biblical Anglicans around the world.
I heard some disturbing "inside" comments about jockeying for position by one of the newer Anglican groups in the US. A well-known leader of this group had purportedly declared to a local Anglican cleric from another denomination that he (the newcomer) "owned the franchise" (those were the exact words). He informed the fellow Anglican that he could either join the new mission enterprise or leave the area. I suppose we need to remember that sin, like historic revelation, is something that never changes and will be as much a part of Anglican revival as the old nature crying out for regeneration.
I heard frequent references to Bishop Bob Duncan of the American Anglican Network as a prospective primate for a new Anglican Province, which is all but recognized already by most of the existing Anglican Primates. Clearly it is not difficult for outsiders to tell who practices historic Anglican Christianity in North America. The political reasons for ignoring the obvious are disintegrating before our eyes. Indeed there is only one reason to acknowledge ECUSA as "Anglican" at all-its being recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury. There are only a handful of delusional Westerners left who can take such an arbitrary, pre-modern distinction with any seriousness.
I can't vouch for the facts underlying the scuttlebutt; and yet the "facts" alluded to in conversations are secondary to the one fact that was readily observable: ECUSA is regarded by outsiders as a corpse just a few degrees above room temperature. Many of us with ECUSA pensions pretend not to have noticed, but most have intuited what is obvious to the rest of the world.
Meanwhile the rest of the Anglican world is busy going about its business, as it was at this convention of card-carrying post-Reformation Anglicans. Like the Anglicanism of Hooker's time, the new Anglicanism is preparing a response to the new "nonconformist" churches-the evangelical "free" churches of the American Religious Supermarket-as well as to the older loyalist churches of the (largely apostate) American mainline denominations. This Anglican Church is well suited to wait out the pop-culture-novelty of the former and the dead weight of the latter. It has a life-changing message and an historic foundation. Put those two together and you come up with something...Real.
The substance of the new Anglicanism is...historic Anglicanism. Not Anglicanism as a via media between nothing and anything, an abstraction or a vague set of markers for lone rangers to play at church. The new Anglicanism is the old Anglicanism-the Anglicanism of the creeds and the Articles of religion, the Anglicanism of a real Common Prayer, an Anglicanism truly reformed and truly catholic.
This short visit was the happiest "wake-up call" I can remember.
The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is the priest in charge of Pastoral Care at St. Luke's Cathedral in Orlando, Florida in the Diocese of Central Florida.
And the funny sad part is that Frank and Vicki Gene will be the last ones to realize that they've been by-passed and are being marginalized out of existence.
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