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Episcopalians: Atlanta Meeting Recalls Birth of 'Continuing Anglicanism' at St. Louis Congress

Dec 12, 2002 01:26 PM EST

Calling the Atlanta gathering of Episcopalians and continuing Anglicans a "U.S. Anglican Congress" hearkened back, for many participants, to a similar but much larger Congress of 25 years ago.

In September 1977 nearly 2,000 Anglican bishops, clergy and lay people met in St. Louis to establish what they called an "orthodox jurisdiction" for those opposed to the ordination of women in ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Out of that meeting came the "Affirmation of St. Louis," to which most present-day "continuing Anglican" bodies subscribe. Among other things, the Affirmation declared that the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the United States had "departed from Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" by accepting women into the priesthood, and that its subscribers constituted "the unified continuing Anglican Church in North America, in true and valid succession thereto." Holy Orders were to consist "exclusively of men in accordance with Christ's Will and institution," although they allowed for "the ancient office and ministry of Deaconesses as a lay vocation for women."

Affirmations

While they affirmed "continued relations of communion with the See of Canterbury and all faithful parts of the Anglican Communion," Canterbury didn't, and still has not, returned the favor. The World Council of Churches and other such bodies they denounced as "non-Apostolic, humanist and secular" and likewise rejected the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), an attempt to united nine American churches, including the Episcopal Church.

"We do nothing new. We form no new body, but continue as Anglicans and Episcopalians," said the Affirmation. But a new body formed almost immediately afterward. Initially taking the name "Anglican Church of North America," the signers of the Affirmation placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the retired Episcopal bishop of Springfield, Illinois, Albert Chambers. Chambers consecrated four more bishops for the fledging ACNA in Denver in January 1978, and in October 1978 its name was changed to the "Anglican Catholic Church."

The right of congregations to maintain "control of their temporalities," written into the Affirmation and confirmed by the canons of many continuing bodies, meant that congregations in conflict with their bishops could more easily change affiliations or form entirely new "continuing" bodies around other polities -- or, in many cases, personalities -- without suffering the loss of property or pensions.

Diversity on women's ordination

For some of the churches that came out of the St. Louis congress, orders of ministry which admit women are by definition not "apostolic" and therefore not canonical, for men as well as women. In their view, all of the sacraments--with the possible exception of baptism--of a church with such "heretical" orders have lost validity, and the assurance of salvation itself depends upon access to valid sacraments. Some of those churches disdain the term "continuing Anglican" and maintain that the plethora of organizations, estimated between 30 and 50, marching under that banner are little more than congregational churches using Anglican liturgical forms.

Yet that was not the case for those gathered in Atlanta, who mostly "agreed to disagree" on the acceptability of women's ordination but united around opposition to the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals and the blessing of same-gender unions, which they viewed as a matter of Biblical authority.

The Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), an evangelical group which departed from the Episcopal Church in 1874 over the issues of "ritualism" and baptismal regeneration, does not consider itself part of the "continuing Anglican" movement.

The REC and the larger Anglican Province of America (APA) are in the initial stages of merger talks. The Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) has a signed agreement of intercommunion with the APA and REC, though the latter will not finalize a concordat unless the AMiA rejects the ordination of women. The REC recently signed a concordat with ECUSA's Diocese of Fort Worth.

By Jan Nunley, ENS