Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Anglican Meltdown

I have been reading about the accelerating Anglican meltdown for the past week. It is all playing out pretty much like I expected, but much faster. The usual Anglican proclivities for stalling and compromise seem to have been forgotten everywhere but in England itself, and they're in danger even there. For those not in the loop on Anglican news, here is a summary of recent developments:
  • The Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON), a group of conservative, mostly Evangelical, Anglican leaders meeting in Jerusalem last week, announced what is being widely interpreted as a move to sidestep the Anglican Instruments of Unity and either take over the communion or create a new church within the shell of the Anglican Communion.

  • Also last week, more than 1,300 clergy of the Church of England, including 11 bishops, signed a letter in which they threatened to defect from the C. of E. if this week's meeting of the General Synod gave the go-ahead for consecrating women bishops without providing legal protection to those who cannot accept the validity of priestly orders for women.

  • This week the General Synod, meeting in York, defeated all compromise proposals and took the next step towards the consecration of female bishops with only a flimsy "code of practice" to protect Anglo-Catholics. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York both spoke in favor of stronger protections, but the synod paid them no heed. This not only ensures a significant split in the C. of E., but it also further weakens the authority of Archbishop Rowan Williams.
It looks like most of the traditional Anglo-Catholics in the UK will soon begin a mass migration to Rome. The main obstacle to this in the past has been the UK's liberal RC hierarchy, who don't want a bunch of well-educated, conservative Anglo-Catholic clergy crashing their party. In the early 1990s they successfully thwarted the mass conversion of Anglo-Catholics. This time, however, the Anglo-Catholic bishops have gone straight to Rome, where they have found a sympathetic Pope who is not afraid to upset his English bishops by circumventing their schemes. (He was already peeved at them for defying his recent Latin Mass edict.) By the end of the year, there could be the beginning of some sort of Anglican Uniate arrangement in the UK.

Unfortunately, I don't think many of the UK's Anglo-Catholics will head for Orthodoxy. Most of them are already closet Romans. Also, the Anglo-Catholics who would be most inclined to Orthodoxy are the same ones who are likely to "stay and fight" until the first woman bishop is actually consecrated. And Orthodoxy in the UK is really not set up to encourage converts. For example, there is no provision for use of any Western Rite. The Oriental Orthodox might actually be in a better position to pick up converts, with their British Orthodox Church, which is under the Coptic Pope.


I wrote most of the above to a friend yesterday. There have been new developments today.

Two Anglo-Catholic bishops have written letters announcing the inevitable departure of their flock for Rome. The Rt. Rev'd Andrew Burnham is Bishop of Ebbsfleet, and the Rt. Rev'd Edwin Barnes is the retired Bishop of Richborough and President of the Church Union. Ebbsfleet and Richborough are the suffragan sees of Canterbury occupied by Provincial Episcopal Visitors, better known as "flying bishops," who minister to traditionalists who do not recognize the priestly orders of women. At the same time, Catholic blogger Damian Thompson, who has been reporting on secret meetings of these same bishops with Vatican officials, has now unveiled the outlines of a plan to allow Anglo-Catholics to move Romewards as a group. Rome will appoint a bishop to offer pastoral care to ex-Anglicans, who will gather under the umbrella of the Fellowship of St. Gregory the Great.

Meanwhile, the leading Orthodox sympathizer in the C. of E., the Rt. Rev'd Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, released an eagerly awaited pastoral letter in which he expressed hope that the London Plan, under which traditionalists in his large diocese have been accommodated, could continue into the future.

Coming next week: The Lambeth Conference.


James the Thickheaded said...


Thanks for posting this. Good to keep up with "the ex". Not missing the mess. The Anglo-papal crowd always has puzzled me... and still does. :)

Sara K. said...

Thanks for the summation of the issues. I have been watching it from the side with interest...but also feel like placing my ostrich head deep into the sand. It is nice to get a broad brush overview of the happenings (I have been too saddened to actually read all the details on my AC blog reading). Since we are in the heart of "the mess" as your commenter said, we have no choice but to be hopeful and see where this will lead us. I think it is important to remember that we 'peons' still have to live and love God through our own path and for us that is Anglo-Catholicism (yes, I know, funny coming from a Roman gal - but I would look at things differently if things were not as they currently are) try to be gentle on us in your posts/comments...this is not a welcome time. -S

Note: I feel the need to say that many Anglo-Catholics are not Papalists, but see no other choice. It may not need to be said, but I know many an AC person who might not ever choose to go the Papal way (in fact completely abhor it) but may feel pushed so far into a corner that there is no other option.

James the Thickheaded said...

Sara - FWIW, did the Anglocatholic bit in my time, so understand your pain. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. My "luck" was to "discover" AC after most of the leadership and congregations bolted. Like walking into a beautiful party after the band's gone home, there was the strong sense of a great time missed.. but also the clear indication it was time to call a cab. Learned much in my short interlude... and so I still insist that despite the obvious defects - and RC's were never hesitant to admonish me on that score, there is nevertheless a goodly amount of virtue in AC-ism. Thankful for my time there. St. Paul's is a beautiful church. Good luck with it.

Anonymous said...

This is just part of the problem in the west. Rome has hers also (I was a Roman Catholic Benedictine for over a decade, before I left..over 20 years ago now).

And I am something of an Anglo-Catholic, but never to the point to return to the papal doctrines. Nor for that matter to the smug East, even though I find some agreement in their house theologically, but again not in any totality. We must ride this out, all of us...and this includes every member of the Mystical Body of Christ!

James the Thickheaded said...

"... the smug east.."

Interesting perspective. Have neither seen nor sensed this but rather an emphasis on humility. Not to say that in our sinfulness as Orthodox Christians that it's not there, just that we recognize it for what it is. Here in the States this IS the popular image of an Anglican, though as a former Anglican, I can attest to not understanding what these folks were talking about :) Yes, it was "mighty handy". The problem is only accentuated in AC with it's ethos of selecting the "best of the best" from the religious cafeteria.

Looking for God said...

I agree about Orthodoxy in Britain. Although there is a website for the Antiochian Church here I have found that the websites in America - including Ancient Radio, Come Receive the Light etc, - offer many more resources and helps for folk like me looking into Orthodoxy. Also the profile is very low here and many view Orthodoxy as exotic and out of touch. Thanks for the overview re Anglicanism's troubles. Very helpful and worrying.