Episcopal vs. Anglican

>> Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Please keep in mind as you read this that I am simply a lay person with internet access and only two perspectives: mine, and that of our priest which I only sort of understand. What's written here is simply my overall understanding which, with my faulty memory, may be inaccurate. For more information on all of this, please visit Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon's blog which links to all of the official news releases. Here's a link to a search on the topic.

We are a part of a wonderful family of believers at an Episcopal church here in Charleston. For folks unfamiliar with Episcopalian origins, here's a very abbreviated version: when folks left England to settle in the New World (America) most of them had worshiped in the Church of England, also known as Anglican today. Of course, they didn't want to be connected to England anymore, so they renamed it "Episcopal". In its roots, Episcopal = Anglican.

In the recent era, (I forget for how long, since the '70s I think...) there've been a lot of questionable statements and decisions made by various Bishops in the interpretation of Scripture and a lot of the foundational things summarized in the Creeds, such as Christ being God's Son, the Bible being the direct Word of God, and their understanding of what things are sins and to what extent that should influence leadership appointments. Because the organization of the national Episcopal Church is more independently democratic than heirarchical, there aren't necessarily people who can directly apply consequences to questionable decisions in any easy fashion. So the Episcopal church (officially recognized as part of the worldwide Anglican Communion) is pretty screwed up, and the details of the theology seems to be somewhat unique by congregation or diocese (a group of congregations in a stated area). Our church and our diocesean Bishop are pretty much on track according to Lanse and my understanding of scriptures, and we are doing what we can to have a voice for Truth in the whole Episcopalian mess.

However, a bunch of congregations decided they were fed up with it all, and created a more theologically traditional organization called the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). It was all made official last week down in Texas. The weird thing is that there are a lot of Anglican churches in Africa who saw the mess the Episcopalians were making, and many years ago sent missionaries to the US to plant Anglican churches. (How weird is that?? We sent missionaries to Africa back in the '60s and now they're sending them back to missionary us!) At Easter we went to an African-planted Anglican church in Charlotte. Remember that at its roots, Episcopal = Anglican; so though many are seeing it as a split from the church, the ACNA was created to basically bring the USA's Anglican presence back to where they think it should have been, more in line with its Church of England roots. The ACNA has quite a lot more members than I expected from what I'd heard thus far, but while the Archbishop of Canterbury has called them an Anglican organization, they haven't been officially recognized yet as part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. According to some news articles, that vote won't happen until December.

The whole thing has made me assess once again what I believe on specific topics and how I mentally categorize information, and what opinions I hold based on evidence versus rumor or hard-headedness. While I definitely believe that the statements made by Episcopal bishops are waaaaay off track and can point to scripture to back up my beliefs, I know there's at least one thing in which the ACNA may be going too far back into tradition; I don't know what other things they've made a stand on, but there could be more. I don't know if this is because they honestly believe in these things or if they're reactionary decisions. They've also aligned themselves with a very popular theological leader who I've been shown evidence of questionable leanings in his theology... however, this is one area in which I've unfortunately decided based on rumor and the source of information, and have not personally read any of his books. That tendency has always strongly bothered me in other people so I really need to take the time to do my own research, as he seems to be acquiring more power in Christendom and I may want to have an actually educated opinion.

This whole situation has weighed heavily on Lanse and my heart since we were originally informed of the issues months ago. We both grew up in denominations without any kind of obvious structure like the Episcopal Church has, the denominational theological perspectives were clearly written and heavily preached upon, and obvious disagreements were settled relatively quickly. Of course, any group comprised of humans have problems, and a lot of our church interactions were passive aggressive or handled entirely behind the scenes, or not given due consideration before rendering judgement. But something of this scale would never be given enough ground in which to root itself. (As an aside, that's not always a good thing... we both often heard or experienced church splits when the issue really was worth standing and fighting for. I can think of at least one congregation from my childhood where the church happily continued its merry way with suddenly faulty theology.) Despite all this, we both feel very strongly called to be part of the family in our congregation.

Please pray for the national Episcopal church, the discussions and votes on theological matters that will be made at the General Convention in California in a couple of weeks, the interactions between us and the ACNA, the ACNA and the Archbishop and worldwide Communion, our S.C. bishop and priests at St. Paul's... and Lanse and myself as we try to determine where we fit in all of it.

Again, for more information on all of this, please visit Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon's blog which links to all of the official news releases. Here's a link to a search on the topic.


About This Blog

Life is about changes; transitions from one place to another, from one purpose to another, from one being to another. They say that the person you are today is a completely different person from who you were ten years ago and who you'll be ten years from now. So far, at the age of 33, I've had four major transitions in my life which redefined who I am. Two years into the results of the most recent transition I am again - still - exploring how God is shaping me. Over the next few months I hope to review my past and set goals for the future, and embrace the next adventure of rediscovering me.

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