Last week’s Anglican Way Institute (AWI) hinted at the hopes and goals of traditional Anglicans in the United States. Ecumenical outreach, evangelism, and catechism dominated several lectures and discussions in Dallas. We can expect members of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and other Anglican bodies to be dealing with these trends in the years to come.
The three featured plenary speakers gathered at the end of the week for open questions and answers. Bishop Ray Sutton of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Bishop Keith Ackerman of Forward in Faith, and Father Lee Nelson of the ACNA’s Catechism Taskforce all commented on Anglicanism’s future in the United States. Much of their talk focused on AWI’s main theme of catechism. Ackerman noticed that, during the Oxford Movement, high churchman enacted their reforms on the seminary level with theology and on the parish level with catechesis. Unfortunately, today’s church lacks many of the right cultural avenues for thorough spiritual formation. Ackerman summed up the beliefs of the AWI nicely: “Our model and standard is the undivided church.” All too often, Christians have to choose between revivalistic evangelicalism and activist Social Gospel, both of which are innovations incongruous with the early church. The young Fr. Nelson complained about facing “spiritual birth defects” in his congregants, which came from “the weird way they’ve been discipled.” Functioning under a hubristic individualism, too many American Christians deride ancient understandings, creeds, and practices in favor of their own (often unlearned) interpretations of the Scripture and church discipline. “Sometimes people need to be told to shut up and listen,” Nelson announced, “We have this idea we can riff on the Christian faith. And that requires clergy to exercise their authority.” Bishop Sutton added, “Don’t make dogmatic what the Church has not.”
American individualism chafes against commitment to tradition. Sutton himself mentioned this difficulty. He recounted how America was heavily influenced by Nonconformists fleeing the English Church hierarchy. Anti-establishment theology was reinforced in the Great Awakenings, which glorified the conversion experience over the sacraments. Dissent for and against traditional constraints long remains a characteristic motif for American Christianity. Despite the theological pedigree, Sutton remained optimistic. “God’s sacramental DNA is bigger than all this other.”
Family stands as one of the best antidotes to radical individualism. Here, one can see man’s nature properly understood: it is not good for him to be alone. In the family, a person depends on parents as well as beneficently nurtures elders and children. However, the family also functions as an important metaphor for the church. As Sutton pointed out, “The people of God is the model of the family…The church is once again counter-cultural…We hold the deposit of what the true family is.” Likewise, he encouraged a recovery of “sacramental culture,” which is a “society built around the altar of God.” Nelson believed that “culture-making” is catechesis. During the individualism discussion, Ackerman chimed in, “We need to recapture what Anglicanism has been all about.” He also observed that it is easier to plan a mission trip than to catechize one’s family.
The panel also concentrated on evangelism. One student in the audience mentioned the difficulty in finding a good church that provides Anglican sacramental ministry at college. Nelson reported that student groups can become parishes. He encouraged the student to call for help from the church. Ackerman reinforced the importance of having a spiritual director available while in the formative university years. Sutton quickly jumped in on the opportunity for college ministry. “You talk to me after the panel,” he instructed, “I’ll make sure to get a priest out to you. We’ll all help. This is what priests are called for in their pastoral ministry.”
Comments turned to the spread of Islam. Ackerman criticized how the mainline church concerned itself with “maintaining systems,” where Christians bickered by “moving people on the checkerboard.” The Forward in Faith leader warned, “This allows Islam to swoop in and take everything.” To the young listeners, he predicted, “You won’t be busy bringing in disaffected Presbyterians. You will be converting Muslims,…pagans,…and Wiccans.” Fr. Nelson advised, “Unless the church begins to honor the family, we cannot stand against Islam.”
Outside the panel, the clergy expressed a deep yearning for the reunification of Christ’s church. During a morning sermon, the Rev. Chris Culpepper of the Fort Worth diocese pointed out that the 38,000 odd denominations in the world hurt the voice of the church. “A house divided cannot stand. And how is the church standing up to the culture today?” he inquired. “Are we willing to give our lives that the witness of Jesus be unified on the earth?” He stated, “We have lost our common theological sense…That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”
The Rev. Charles Camlin, rector of a Reformed Episcopal parish in Fairfax, VA, preached on the minor feast day of William Reed Huntingon. The latter was a priest whose ministry stretched from 1862 to 1909. One of his most famous efforts included his 1870 essay, The Church Idea, an Essay toward Unity, which sketched out what is now known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Huntington hoped to establish “a basis on which approach may be, by God’s blessing, made toward Home Reunion.” Camlin declared, “The four principles which he set forth for this recovery of unity were: 1) The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God; 2) The Primitive Creeds as the rule of faith; 3) the two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself; and 4) the Episcopate as the key-stone of governmental unity.” Not too long afterward, the House of Bishops at Lambeth acted upon this concern, “that the Saviour’s prayer: ‘That we all may be one,’ may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily fulfilled…”
Huntington’s lesser-known endeavor lay with recovering the ancient office of the deaconess. The seventeen-year-long process renewed the venerable position, opening the door for more engagement from women in the church. In a letter, he wrote, “The two passions of my ministry, if I may so speak, have been the furtherance of unity among the Christian people of our country and the enlargement of woman’s sphere of activity in the Church.” Camlin wryly mentioned, “It is a sad and ironic twist, that these two issues which were so dear to his heart, which he labored so passionately for, have been essentially pitted against one another in our generation.” The office of deaconess was rolled up into the Diaconate, thus controversially ordaining women to Holy Orders. The Episcopal Church claims Huntington as a precursor to the feminist revolution within the ecclesiastical structure.
Camlin demurred: “Fr. Huntington was interested in restoring the mind of the ancient, undivided Church which was clearly in favor of the order of deaconess—but not in the ordination of women to Holy Orders.” He furthered, “As we all well know, not only is the issue of women’s ordination a source for division in our own Communion, it also appears to be a dividing wall which continues to separate us from our brethren in the Roman Church, the Orthodox Church, and even many of our other Protestant friends such as the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.” Camlin contended, “It is hard to imagine that Fr. Huntington would celebrate a development that continues to cause such division.” The 19th century priest himself stated, “The members of this family have no authority to tamper with, to change or modify the sacred deposit given into their care.”
Anglicans hope to achieve unity, teaching, and expansion of God’s Kingdom in the recovery, preservation, and practice of Christian tradition. The AWI made these goals clear while providing some avenues to pursue as participants returned to their congregations. Despite the overwhelming odds, laymen and clergy alike remained hopeful. “You are talking about things I thought nobody thought about anymore,” Bishop Ackerman proclaimed, “You’re pushing us outside consumer Christianity.”