Wednesday, April 26, 2006

There’s nothing “Anglican” about the Anglican Communion any more…

A gem from Louie Crew's "Do Justice" series:

Ok, I’m not a life-long Episcopalian. I found and was found by God through this church as a college student. And what struck me most profoundly about Anglicans was that we could fight like cats and dogs (or Sunni and Shiites, or Dempsey and Louis, or the Red Sox and Yankees—choose your metaphorical poison) about anything and when someone said, The Lord be with you”, all the conflict ended while we leafed through the Book of Common Prayer and did what we DO and what “defines” us. Praying together was the only “bottom line” in the church where I found God and God found me. The other stuff was interesting and kept our hearts pumping, but all that mattered was being able to worship together—break the bread and pass the wine in spite of (perhaps “because of”) our disagreements.

Now, all these years later, I am a Deputy to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and when I suggested we begin the six pre-Convention gatherings around Connecticut with a short, simple Eucharist, the initial response was this: “that might be divisive.”

The point was that there are Episcopalians who don’t want to break bread and pass wine with other Episcopalians because they may not be “doctrinally” pure. (Read between the lines: they may be in favor of the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks in the mission, work and worship of the church.) Well, pinch me awake and call me Rip Van Winkle—when did we reach this point and why didn’t we know it?

I can tell you this much for sure: at the General Convention in Minneapolis there were three people—a bishop, a priest and a lay person—who were supposed to be at my worship table for Eucharist every morning who were never there. About half-way through Convention I figured out they were all members of the American Anglican Council and were having their own Eucharist somewhere else lest the Body be moldy and the wine be sour because heretics like me were at the table. So this “divisiveness” of the one thing that defines us as a church and makes us who we are is nearly three years old.

And I think the time has come for people like me stop being polite and start claiming the banner of Anglicanism before people who aren’t Anglican at all drag it away into a new church I would not recognize as the one where I found and was found by God. There’s all this buzz that the boy’s club we call the House of Bishops has sworn a blood brothers’ oath to each other to keep the Episcopal Church firmly within the Anglican Communion even though it will require them to regret, repent, and never be naughty again by approving a duly and canonically elected bishop who loves and is faithful to another person of their own gender. I pray devoutly that this rumor is only that and that our bishops have enough gravitas and faithfulness to not make Gene Robinson’s episcopate something to be apologized for and “regretted”.

I voted to consecrate Gene Robinson. I voted to approve the blessing of same-sex unions. I did it because it was appropriate, right, just and holy. I do not “regret” my vote and I certainly don’t intent to “repent” about it. The God I found and was found by as a college sophomore led me to cast that vote. The God of the Anglican Church I became a part of and have been a priest in for 30 years guided and inspired me in what I did in Minneapolis.

Now the Fundamentalists of the third world who call themselves “Anglican” want to destroy the ethos and genius of Anglicanism by making us a church based on doctrine and hierarchy rather than worship and equality. And I’m sick and tired of listening to them and those in the Episcopal Church who ride on their coat tails. The Windsor Report, besides slapping the hands of the American and Canadian Church for the offense of believing all people are God’s children, would turn the so-called Anglican Communion into a “little Rome” with the Pope in waiting (the Archbishop of Canterbury) ready to head the “curia” (the Primates—all men and all Archbishops) and the house of Cardinals (the Lambeth gathering of world-wide bishops). We would become a church burdened and oppressed by bishops all who would determine what the 39 previously independent churches could or could not do before being disciplined and brought into line.

The European Provinces are so gun shy that no one wants to stand up to the bullies in Africa lest they be accused of “racism” or “colonialism”. Here’s what I think—the church in Africa is no more truly “Anglican” in terms of openness, acceptance, calmness, tolerance and true Christian charity than my friends up the road in the Assembly of God Church. Anglicanism is not a doctrine, creed or confession—it is a Book of Common Prayer and a remarkable dose of “common sense”. Several of the Primates from Africa and other parts of the third world refused to participate in a service of communion at one of their gatherings (imagine the secret hand shakes and code words and tree houses the Primates’ Boy’s Club could come up with!) because Frank Griswold was simply present. There is no way that having the Eucharist be “divisive” is part of the Anglican ethos!

I am sick and tired and beyond exhausted at bending over backwards to appease fundamentalists masquerading as Anglicans, whether in Africa or in the American Anglican Council. I’m ready to stand up straight and say, “Ok, you say you are Anglicans, let’s do this the way Anglicans always have. You have your opinion and I’ll have mine. It complicates both our lives but it is just the way it is. Now let’s break the bread and pass the wine because that is the only thing that defines us as a church and the only way we know who we are as a people of God. You turn from the table because someone is there who doesn’t agree with you…fine, you’ve made the choice to leave this fragile communion of Anglicans. God bless you. We’re here if you want to come back and join us and you will be welcomed back with joy and wonder like a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son/daughter. But don’t try to turn my church into a mini-Roman Catholic Church. That’s not who we are. That’s not who God is calling us to be.”

I became an Episcopalian in my heart when someone told me that old phrase: this is the church for all sorts and conditions of men (sic). Sounded a lot like the Kingdom to me….

I am not willing to have anyone undermine that and refuse to share the Table with me and tell me I’m not an Anglican.

I’m the Anglican here. I’m the “big tent” guy. I’m willing to be in communion with anyone who will come to the Table. I am waiting patiently, compassionately, lovingly, ready to break the bread and pass the wine. Join me if you can. If you can’t…well, god’s speed and good luck…know you can always “come home” when you want to.

The Rev. Dr. James Bradley, Rector of St. John’s, Waterbury, CT 06702



Bradley writes, " ...members of the American Anglican Council and were having their own Eucharist somewhere else lest the Body be moldy and the wine be sour because heretics like me were at the table. So this “divisiveness” of the one thing that defines us as a church and makes us who we are is nearly three years old."

I'll see him and raise him General Convention 1994 when every morning in Indianapolis as I walked toward the Convention Center for morning Eucharist I would pass a stream of grim faced, black suited clerics walking AWAY from to the Convention Center and toward my hotel ... where the then "Anglican Synod" was holding its own "Convention Eucharist."

I guess that leads, once again, to the question: who exactly is it that's "walking apart" here???

Chip Webb said...


But "communion," historically, has referred to the communion between God/Christ and the Christian, not the communion between members of the body of Christ. Think of the term Eucharist: it's the "great thanksgiving" to God for what he has done for us through Jesus Christ. In other words, the primary (though not the sole) emphasis in the Eucharist (Holy Communion) is on what God has done for us, not on table fellowship between members of the body of Christ (much less between anyone who happens to be in the church that day, but open communion's another topic). That's why we recount God's mighty deeds on behalf of his people each week.

When we rightly partake of the bread and wine -- with our sins confessed, as our liturgy makes a point of doing before the Eucharist begins, and with any outstanding issues between the members of the body of Christ resolved, as Paul mentions -- then we partake of the spiritual body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It's a means of grace, as much a means of building up our faith as reading the Bible or praying. In other words, it helps us become more like Christ; it's an instrument of spiritual growth.

And when we do partake rightly, of course, the net effect is the strengthening of the whole body of Christ; I agree with you there! But, again, we must be in right relationship with each other, and with God, before we take the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not just an act of love and fellowship between members of the body of Christ (or, again, between all who happen to be attending church that Sunday).

Peace of Christ,

Chip Webb said...


I never said that the Eucharist "is just about Communion with God"; if you look back at what I said, I argued that is its primary (though not sole) purpose. And even though that is its primary purpose, it's not meant to be an individual act; we're in agreement there! (I am always chagrined when I hear rare reports of people taking their own personal Eucharist outside of the church.)

Communion with God does not just occur on an individual level. The Eucharist is a corporate act for the body of Christ. It is a means of grace for God's redeemed people, who are redeemed from sin just as surely as the Israelites were from Egypt. In fact, Paul implicitly compares the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 10 to the “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” given to the Israelites in the desert.

And just as the Israelites were sustained by the rock (i.e., Christ) in their journey, so the Eucharist, when taken rightly, sustains us in our pilgrimage with Christ. Is this just an individual act? Hardly. As Paul points out, God is redeeming a people for himself. I think (but could be wrong) that it was Peter Moore of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry who once said that salvation always begins on the individual level, but it never ends there — it ends in the church. There is far too much emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ, accompanied by a low view of the church, in some segments of the body of Christ today. This is particularly true in America, where our culture historically has exalted "rugged individualism."

As I mentioned before, I very much agree with you that the Eucharist strengthens the body of Christ, and, yes, it can be healing. However, our current struggles present us with a vexing and a difficult situation. How can we confess our sins together in preparation for the Eucharist when we do not agree on what constitutes sin? How can we proceed together with the Eucharist if ECUSA is sinning against the worldwide body of Christ, as those of us who are orthodox believe? How can we proceed together with the sacrament that is intended to unite the body of Christ when we are not united, even (in some cases) down to the issue of what constitutes the gospel? Should we ignore our Lord's words in Matthew 18 to be reconciled before we come to the altar?

These are very difficult, piercing questions that are concerned with obeying Christ, not holding to a "holier than thou" attitude or being unloving toward others. Some among the orthodox may come to different conclusions from others on this matter. But it is not necessarily sin driving people who feel that they cannot commune with others. They may very much want to be in community but feel that they cannot until ECUSA repents.

Peace of Christ,

Anonymous said...

The Rev Bradley says, "Anglicanism is not a doctrine, creed or confession—it is a Book of Common Prayer and a remarkable dose of “common sense”."

Whence does this definition of being Anglican come? Who made it official, and when?

The bishops and archbishops of the churches making up the Anglican Communion stand in historic succession to the bishops of England. They are in communion with the Abp of Canterbury. They use Books of Common Prayer that are based on the English BCP. In many cases, they adhere to the doctrinal formulation to which all deacons, priests, and bishops of the Church of England were to affirm as part of their ordination vows -- the XXXIX Articles. So -- how can anyone say that the leaders of hte various churches of the Anglican Communion are not Anglican?

The Rev. Bradley seems to have confused style with substance.

Anonymous said...

"How can we confess our sins together in preparation for the Eucharist when we do not agree on what constitutes sin?"

I don't know about you, but when I kneel at the altar, the remotest thing from my mind is whether the people kneeling on either side of me are sinful themselves or share my understanding of what sin is.

Anonymous said...

I always love it (not) when a convert to the Episcopal Church defines cradle Episcopalians as either out or the enemy. It is so loving, so charitable.

Anonymous said...

As I meant to say above, I am one of those cradle Episcopalians who doesn't seem to fit into the writer's "big tent."

Anonymous said...

"I am one of those cradle Episcopalians who doesn't seem to fit into the writer's "big tent."

Oh grow up! No one is throwing you out of anything. It's just not your way or the highway. Of course, if it has to be your way or the highway, then I suppose you have to do what you have to do.

Anonymous said...

We are two churches as this author, and some on the far right, see that. The problem, frankly, is lukewarm leaders that go from side and side without conviction, voting the right way one year (or wrong way, as the conservatives have it) and agreeing to express regret for it the next.

The political infighing is unseemly and diverts resources that God expect us to use for other things.

I believe Jesus would say, parish, if you want to leave, fine although I will miss you and always have my arms open. In today's environment, I doubt Jesus would fight over property in circumstances where an overwhelming number of parishioners wanted to leave the Episcopal Church.

Let them go. This is a diverting fight only if we let it happen.

Jon said...

Why isn't the general confession good enough to ensure that everyone coming forward has confessed their sins? It includes everything known and unknown, done and left undone, what else is there to confess?

If it isn't good enough, why are separate eucharists appropriate while receiving together isn't? If I recall the injunction in Matthew correctly it doesn't limit non-reception to times when the person one is fighting with is in the room with one.