I am convinced the Continuing Anglican movement, whatever its weakness and human failings, needs a positive and sympathetic appraisal.
Some ground-breaking essays are the following, but which are beginning to become dated.
- The Measure of a Bishop: The Episcopi Vagantes, Apostolic Succession, and the Legitimacy of the Anglican “Continuing Church” Movement by Eric A. Badertscher.
- Anglican Bodies and Organizations by William J. Tighe
- The Continuing Church Today by Louis E. Traycik
- The Continuing Church: Past, Present and Future – Two Views from The Christian Challenge
Most of the pain caused by the Continuing Anglican movement is its seemingly intrinsic inability to unite and focus on a single purpose. Why? Here is a very trimmed-down history of the movement, which I hope will encourage further study and research to write whole books.
People have been splitting away from the Anglican Established Church for a long time, and always for a good reason, a reason of conscience. Thus Methodism was founded in the eighteenth century, and there were low and high church groups in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many of the latter in those days became Catholics. Others experimented with things like the Order of Corporate Reunion and “bootleg” priestly and episcopal orders from men like Archbishop Mathew and René Vilatte.
Accounts have been written about Continuing Anglicanism since the 1970’s. Since the women’s ordinations and doctrinal deviations began in ECUSA and then spread to other member Churches of the Anglican Communion, there have been three responses: stay in and fight, go over to Rome or start a new church body.
The old Pro-Diocese of St. Augustine of Canterbury was a non-starter with Rome, but parts of it managed to find a way via the Pastoral Provision and founded the Anglican Use parishes. Some went to Orthodoxy, mostly within the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Patriarchate.
Most who left did so in 1977 after the Congress of St Louis that year, which produced the famous Affirmation. The first continuers founded the Anglican Church in North America. Their bishops were consecrated in January 1978 in Denver. That body had a Synod the following year and the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) emerged from it. There have been many splits in the Anglican Catholic Church.
Some of the groups issuing from that succession of splits formed the Anglican Church in America (ACA) and the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACCC) among others. These ecclesial bodies in the early 1990’s formed the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC). Only the TAC continues on the Rome-bound lines of the erstwhile Pro-Diocese of St. Augustine of Canterbury, and the history of the Portsmouth Letter of October 2007 to the present day needs to be properly documented in other articles and books. The TAC also entered into communion with Forward in Faith, and this relationship has remained in force ever since.
Some of the other continuing bodies object to the TAC being in implicit communion with the Anglican Communion through Forward in Faith, because this would imply communicatio in sacris with those who are themselves “in communion with” female clergy. Thus the invalidity of some causes the invalidity of all! They also object to the whole “Anglo-Papalist” tendency and the movement towards communion with Rome on Rome’s terms in matters of doctrine and ecclesiastical discipline.
Many of the difficulties in Continuing Anglicanism have been caused by disputes between bishops and the eternal question about who is recognised as a genuine and legitimate Continuing Anglican and who are mere “imitations”. Some fell out because of church organisation issues. Thus the Anglican Catholic Church and the Diocese of Christ the King, which became the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK), split apart.
Almost none of the continuing bishops had served in that capacity in the “official” Communion, and much heartache was caused by their being unprepared for the role of a bishop. Other problems were caused by issues of diocesan autonomy and who controlled the money and the property. The Anglican Province of America (APA) thus split away from the Anglican Church in America’s Diocese of the Eastern U.S. (DEUS) in 1995.
These early splits of the St Louis movement caused a considerable amount of discouragement and counter measures to unite the “herds of cats”. The Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACCC) has been largely successful at keeping out of the American squabbles, and is all the more stable and consistent for it. It has also had the benefit of high-calibre men like Bishops Robert Mercer and Peter Wilkinson.
From early on, the St Louis movement bishops had the benefit of the “Scranton Touch”, the episcopal lineage of the Polish National Catholic Church through the Philippine Independent Church’s Bishop Francisco Pagtakhan. This could provide a basis for a different evaluation of Continuing Church orders as opposed to those of the Anglican Communion.
From about 1980, many were unhappy by the way the ACC was being run, and there were a number of independent bodies such as the Anglican Rite Jurisdiction of the Americas. Also, from the early days, the High Church predominated in the Continuum, and the Low Church people went their way, forming the United Episcopal Church (UEC), now the United Episcopal Church of North America (UECNA).
The ACC has always been extremely sensitive to the question of valid orders, mainly due to the acid criticism from the ECUSA about the Denver consecrations, unwilling to distinguish between sacramental validity and canonical liceity. The consecrations were in the Canterbury Communion’s eyes irregular, in the same way as the consecrations Archbishop Lefebvre conferred for his priestly Society for Rome. Issues about episcopal lineages and validity have always underlain relations between the ACC and other bodies.
Some of the more spectacular drama has occurred between Archbishop Falk, quondam primate of the ACC and Bishop Anthony Clavier (who has returned to the ECUSA as a priest). Archbishop Falk always had a more positive view to the validity of other people’s ordinations. In 1986, relations were struck up with Bishop Graham Leonard, but the latter ordained female deacons in 1987, thus ending his relationship with the Continuum. Bishop Eric Kemp of Chichester was asked to help patch things up between the ACC and the Anglican Episcopal Church, but he declined to do so.
The story of the splits between the TAC (founded in the early 1990’s as a union of existing continuing Churches) and the ACC is long and convoluted. The Anglican Church in America (ACA) came into being at a unity conference in Deerfield Beach on 3rd October 1991. Their bishops were conditionally re-consecrated by three bishops with impeccable Anglican orders: Bishops Robert Mercer, Robert H. Mize and Charles Boynton. These consecrations were acidly criticised by the rest of the ACC. The ensuing invasions of bishops’ jurisdictions resulted in further bitterness.
Some conflicts have been caused by personalities, that of Archbishop Clavier in particular. The clash in the ACC following Archbishop Lewis’ death was violent and almost entirely due to personality issues, between the cantankerous Bishop Leslie Hamlett in England, Bishop Thomas Kleppinger in America and one in another country who was said to have “gone to fetch his gun”. Some other conflicts have been caused by moral issues like divorce and remarriage (though usually via a church annulment under the auspices of the Church in question).
As far as I see things, much of the strife has been caused by a kind of purism in a desire to protect the Church from losing the validity of its priesthood and moral integrity. The ACC has always criticised the TAC for a more “realistic” attitude through establishing links of communion with clergy who remained members of the Anglican Communion (therefore allegedly in communicatio in sacris with invalid female clergy) and seeking corporate communion with Rome. Much of this problem arises from faulty sacramental theology and maybe even simply from poor knowledge of theology in some cases. Some, perhaps most, of the ACC clergy are reasonably well trained through book learning and correspondence courses, but their opinions strangely resemble the old Donatist heresies linking sacramental validity with the moral worthiness of the minister or his doctrinal orthodoxy. Above all, the Continuum (not just the ACC but other continuing churches too) has suffered from the lack of experienced and balanced episcopal leadership. There have also been conflicts over High-Church, Anglo-Papalist and Low Church issues. Then there is the prospect of uniting with larger and more prestigious Church bodies like Rome or the major Orthodox Patriarchates.
The importance of such issues seems to have shifted as of late, in that the ACC, the APCK, and the UECNA, are now in communion with each other on the basis of not being in communion with the “official” Anglican Communion or anyone in communion with it. This excludes the ACA, the ACCC, both member churches of the Traditional Anglican Communion in communion with Forward in Faith.
I feel unqualified to comment on the Anglican Church in North America, GAFCON and more or less Evangelical groups affiliated with the Southern Cone. Perhaps someone else would like to write on that subject.
What of the future of the St Louis Continuum? The TAC is now in the Ordinariate-bound process and historical events are being played out. Some other continuing groups are known to have approached Rome – see comment by Dr Tighe below. The future is uncertain but history reveals that there are two categories of church groups that have a future beyond the lifetimes of their founders: closed and totalitarian sects (here I think of the Russian Old Believers, the French Petite Eglise and perhaps also the hard line of the Society of St Pius X and the sedevacantists), and the movement back to communion with the Universal Church with the Bishop of Rome as its visible head.
I encourage readers to read the links I gave at the beginning of this article, together with others they find themselves, not forgetting books and printed articles. I would appreciate comments in an irenic and objective tone. Please, I don’t want anything about current TAC bishops being ineligible for ordination by Rome for one reason or another. I will delete any comments designed to cause further conflict. Perhaps some readers may be called to an examination of conscience. We all are. Let’s try to teach each other and learn from each other, “that all may be one” – in Christ.