The Continuing Anglicans
Credible Movement or Ecclesiastical Dead End?
by Michael F. Gallo
Although the story of the so-called Continuing Anglicans is relatively unknown outside certain conservative Anglican (Episcopal) circles, it is one which deserves wider attention. It is an example of one particular approach in the contest for orthodoxy, and there are lessons here, both positive and negative, for all orthodox-minded Christians. It provides a revealing test case relevant to similar battles which are either being waged now or will soon be waged in other churches. What is more, the experience of Continuing Anglicans provides a fascinating, if troubling, study in catholicity and cooperation (or lack thereof): how well can Christians who take their faith seriously work together?
While in the ’70s and ’80s over a million communicants left the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA), only a relative handful made their way into the Continuing Anglican churches. There are only about twenty thousand Continuing Anglicans in the USA presently. Officially, these Continuing Anglicans are not even part of the Anglican communion, that rather loose confederation of national churches in communion with the archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England. At best, they are a movement on the periphery. ECUSA is the sole recognized Anglican church in the United States.
Since Continuing Anglicans left ECUSA for varied, though often related reasons, the Continuing Anglicans are a diverse and as yet fragmented lot. Of the twenty or so independent Continuing Anglican groups in the U.S., most of which are relatively small, there are seven major groups which will necessarily be the focus of attention here. I cite them as follows in the order of their founding:
1) The American Episcopal Church (AEC), founded in 1968, is now led by the Britisher the Most Rev. Anthony F. M. Clavier. They have approximately 4,000 members in 100 parishes, located primarily on the East Coast.
2) The Anglican Episcopal Church of North America (AECNA), which has been called the AEC of the West Coast, has grown to 15 parishes with about 1,000 since its founding in 1972. The Most Rev. Walter Hollis Adams, another Britisher, is founder and current head.
3) The Diocese of Christ the King (DCK), is an independent non-geographical diocese, primarily on the West Coast. It was founded in 1977 by the Rt. Rev. Robert S. Morse, who continues as its head. The DCK claims nearly 3,000 members and 35 parishes.
4) The Anglican Diocese of the Southwest has survived two “broken marriages” with other groups since its founding in 1978. Now once again independent, the 21-congregation diocese is led by the Rt. Rev. Edwin Caudill.
5) The Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), established in 1979, is today the largest group, with over 150 congregations and about 5,000 total members, led by the Most Rev. Louis W. Falk.
6) The Anglican Rite Jurisdiction of the Americas (ARJA), is another 1979 group, headed by the Most Rev. G. Wayne Craig. This group numbers about 400 in the USA with a very significant mission in Haiti, approximately 1,100 strong.
7) The United Episcopal Church of North America (UECNA), founded in 1980 and now led by Rt. Rev. Albion W. Knight, Jr., is the only Low Church group of the seven.
One other group should be mentioned here, the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada. It is noteworthy in that after leaving the Anglican Catholic Church (#5 above) in 1979, it has so far avoided further fragmentation and maintains contact with the American groups.
Early Struggles of U.S. Anglicanism
The Anglican church came to America with the Jamestown settlers in 1607, but one hundred and seventy years later the colonial church was still dependent on the mother country for her clergy. With no American bishops of its own, all candidates for the priesthood had to travel to England to be ordained. During and after the American Revolution, many disapproving Tory clergy returned to England. Now, cut off from the mother church and still without bishops, the Americans had no means to ordain new priests or consecrate their own bishops. Finally, in 1784 a Connecticut priest, Samuel Seabury, was consecrated the first American bishop by bishops of the Episcopal Church of Scotland. In 1789 all the Anglican churches in the United States united under a common constitution, and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA (PECUSA, a precursor to ECUSA) was officially born. It was recognized as a separate province in communion with the Church of England.
Even in the 1800s, PECUSA already faced internal factions. The Anglo-Catholics practiced a High Church-style worship and tended towards a more Roman Catholic view of the sacraments and the priesthood, while the Low Church Evangelicals emphasized more of a Puritan tradition, and the Broad Church group attracted people to its more liberal and inclusive spirit.
Despite the factions, the Episcopal church essentially remained intact in the 1800s, remarkably avoiding any split over the slavery issue, unlike most other American denominations. The only notable split came in 1873, when George David Cummins founded the Reformed Episcopal Church, reacting against a perceived drift toward sacerdotalism in the wake of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England. (It still exists under the same name and has more than one thousand members.) Such small splits, however, were the exception rather than the rule. Somehow unity was maintained under the organizational umbrella of PECUSA. Nevertheless, the basic party cleavages would always remain within the Episcopal church and would later come to haunt the Continuing Anglican movement.
A notable effort which spoke to any tensions within the denomination, as well as to ecumenical relations, was the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886, 1888). This statement proposed four essential tenets as a basis for unity: 1) the ultimate authority of Scripture, 2) the Nicene Creed, 3) the two Sacraments—Baptism and the Eucharist, and 4) the Historic Episcopate. It was a simple enough formula and appropriate, but not sufficient to meet the growing force of liberalism. Unfortunately, conservatives could never overcome their Low Church/High Church differences sufficiently to cooperate in meeting this new threat.
The Beginnings of a Movement
It was not until the 1960s, when the liberal/conservative battles were escalating, that the modern Continuing Anglican movement was born. It was the time of the infamous Bishop Pike, who openly denied the divinity of Christ without chastisement. (Perhaps discipline would have come in time, but Pike’s death in the wilderness of Israel closed the matter.) It was also a time of deep political disagreement within the church. Many Episcopalian bishops were condoning the actions of politically activist groups, some quite radical. The World Council of Churches, of which ECUSA was a member, was advocating unilateral disarmament and there was vocal denominational support for a number of leftward-leaning sociopolitical policies. This more than annoyed ECUSA’s conservatives—salty politics rubbed in already sore theological wounds. For some it was too much. Many left to join other denominations or dropped out altogether. A small minority left to set up new “Anglican” churches independent of ECUSA. Others took up the call to remain and fight from within, and by the early seventies had founded institutions for promoting their causes: the Coalition for Apostolic Ministry (now the Evangelical and Catholic Mission—ECM) (1972), the Fellowship for Concerned Churchmen (FCC) (1973), to name but two. Others within ECUSA held on more quietly.
One of the first to choose the option of setting up an independent parish was the Rev. James Parker Dees. In 1963 he founded the Anglican Orthodox Church (AOC). After receiving episcopal orders from a Ukranian bishop and an Old Catholic bishop, he boldly accused ECUSA of being an apostate church and declared that the AOC could no longer recognize the validity of its sacraments. Based in the South, the AOC drew its support from conservative Episcopalians who opposed the church’s liberal political stance. Dees, who was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree from Bob Jones University, opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and to this day advocates “a strong national defense second to none.” The AOC claimed a membership of 1,300 (1983) in the USA, and allegedly over 200,000 worldwide. (For such a small home base, the size of their overseas constituency is surprising.) Dees would distance himself from those who in the ’70s came to identify themselves as Continuing Anglicans because they were suspect, having remained too tolerant for too long. According to Dees, the Anglican Orthodox Church is “the only legitimate and effective voice of Anglicanism in the world today.”
Other groups arising were not as far to the right politically nor so strident as the AOC. The Southern Episcopal Church, established in 1962, has maintained a low profile up until the present, now claiming fourteen congregations in the U. S. and three overseas missions. Another group, the American Episcopal Church (AEC), was formed when representatives from seven independent parishes (four formerly with the AOC) met in Mobile, Alabama, in 1968. Similarly, in 1972, the Anglican Episcopal Church of North America brought together other ex-AOC, ex-AEC, and ex-ECUSA parishes.
Very early, the issue of church governance was divisive for some of these fledgling churches. Partly in reaction to the AOC’s strong centralized control under Dees, the American Episcopal Church (AEC) chose to organize itself more loosely. By 1970, however, the loose organization of this body was proving ineffectual. So Primus James H. George, working together with Bishop Clavier, spearheaded some changes to consolidate and centralize authority. Their new canons of government caused internal controversy, and three parishes soon left. Due to the pressures, Bishop George resigned and went on to establish another small group in 1971, the Anglican Church of America which eventually remerged with the Anglican Episcopal Church in 1980. Taking over as primus in 1970, Clavier led the AEC until 1976, when he briefly tried to re-enter ECUSA; but with the ordination of woman priests that same year he came back to the AEC, becoming primus again in 1982.
The Congress of St. Louis
A great watershed came in 1976. At ECUSA’s 65th General Convention, the ordination of women priests and a new prayer book were officially accepted. Talk of liberalizing the church’s teaching on sexuality was also coming to the fore. In direct response, the FCC threatened to establish an independent Continuing Church and called for a Congress of Concerned Churchmen to meet the following year in St. Louis. What really happened at St. Louis and afterward poses a dilemma for Continuing Anglicans, their hopes, dreams, and professed principles.
In September 1977, almost 2,000 conservative clergy and laity, mostly frustrated Episcopalians with a number of ex-Episcopalians, gathered in St. Louis, united in a sincere desire to find an alternative. They came with such hopes. There was a sense of something historic and significant. Afterwards, many said they had felt a special sense of the Divine presence. The perception of spiritual unity, however, did not of itself constitute unity in mind and fact, and the congress ultimately failed to realize its goal of forging a credible united church alternative. (There are today at least five separate groups left in the wake of that endeavor.)
First, there was a division of opinion about where and how the Continuing Church was supposed to be built: within the old structure of ECUSA? or in an entirely new structure? or somehow with a foot in each camp? When the fateful decision to leave ECUSA was finally made, not everyone followed.
In a bold statement the conference denied the legitimacy of a “heretical” church hierarchy:
Although the conference at St. Louis did not itself inaugurate a new church, a structure was soon being forged under the name Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).
The first step after the conference was to establish a valid episcopacy (i.e., to have bishops properly consecrated who could then confirm communicants and ordain clergy.) To do this meant finding existing bishops with acceptable credentials (showing them to be in the line of apostolic succession) who would be willing to oblige. Early in 1978, at a meeting in Denver, Albert Chambers, retired bishop of Springfield, Illinois, agreed to consecrate Charles D. D. Doren as the first ACNA bishop. Although it may be argued that technically only one bishop is required to consecrate another, traditionally there should be three present. One sore point about the Denver consecrations was that the two co-consecrators represented obscure jurisdictions: Bishop Francisco J. Pagtakhan, of the Philippine Independent Church (founded in 1902 when certain Catholic clergy in the Philippines broke with the bishops in Spain—in 1948, three ECUSA bishops consecrated three bishops for the PIC.); and Bishop Mark Pae of the Korean Anglican Church, present only through an alleged letter of consent, having been dissuaded from coming by threat of discipline from the archbishop of Canterbury, his ecclesiastical superior. Later, Pae denied having written the letter and repudiated the consecrations (some say he was pressured to change his allegiance). Nevertheless, Doren, along with Chambers and Pagtakhan then consecrated three others, Robert S. Morse, James Orin Mote, and Peter E. Watterson.
The next step was to forge a working agreement from which to proceed. (In retrospect it appears that this should have been the first step.) In October 1978, an assembly met in Dallas to draft a constitution for ACNA, now being renamed the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC). The proposed constitution was then sent out to various ACNA dioceses for ratification.
By May of 1979, five dioceses had voted to accept the constitution and the ACC was officially born. What is remarkable is that the proposed constitution never passed in the Diocese of Christ the King, headed by Morse, nor in Watterson’s Diocese of the Southeast. Both bishops felt someone was trying to steal their sheep. (Interestingly, by 1984 the Diocese of the Southeast dissolved, some entering with Watterson into the Roman Catholic church, others joining one of the other Continuing Anglican groups.) In the end, three of the four Denver bishops eventually left the ACC with their constituencies. This is the type of action which has given Continuing Anglican leaders a reputation for instability.
Thereafter, the young ACC remained in a state of flux as each year minor and major shifts occurred in its constituency. These were largely a result of frustrations, anger, and hurt caused by squabblings over canons and constitutions, as well as by various “sensitivities.” As early as 1979, the Canadian branch of the ACC withdrew, becoming the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada. The dissatisfaction in the ACC was widespread enough to prompt Pagtakhan (a co-consecrator at Denver) to establish the Anglican Rite Jursidiction of the Americas (ARJA) as an umbrella organization under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Independent Church! The ARJA remains one of the smallest of the groups formed after St. Louis. In 1980, the ACC organized two new dioceses, the Diocese of the South, headed by Frank Knutti, and the Diocese of the Missouri Valley, headed by Louis W. Falk who, later became primus of the ACC. In the same year, however, the Diocese of the Midwest, headed by the ACC’s senior Bishop Doren, seceded. Doren went on to establish in 1980 the United Episcopal Church of North America (UECNA), the only really Low Church-oriented group to come out of the St. Louis initiative. Thus within two years of the Denver consecrations, the four original ACNA bishops had each gone their separate ways.
The ACC lost again in 1982, when Bishop Harvey, weary of strife over non-essentials and what seemed to his delegates as a “Romanesque Archbishop and Curia,” withdrew with his 21-congregation Diocese of the Southwest. Several more individual congregations pulled out in 1983, again finding the ACC’s governing canons too resctrictive. Most of the seceding ACC congregations from both years eventually joined the older American Episcopal Church. The ACC, however, has had people join as well as depart, and still remains the largest Continuing Anglican body, with approximately 5,000 members.
Renewed Efforts at Unity
Recently, there have been some encouraging signs for a new cooperation among the Continuing Anglicans. One is the discussions between the two largest groups, the AEC and the ACC. On Labor Day last fall, three representatives from each group met as the Joint Commission on Unity for exploratory talks. Among them was Perry Laukhuff who says: “Differences between the AEC and the ACC are few.” In his opinion, the AEC tends to be more tolerant of Low Church forms while the ACC is more strictly High Church. Also the canons of the ACC are very detailed and technical, while those of the AEC are more accessible to the layman. The talks last fall, he says, were “constructive,” and the commission agreed to meet again in 1989 after Easter. Both churches have also agreed to submit to a third party review of the validity of their holy orders to be conducted by a committee of six: two bishops of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, a retired Anglican bishop of Matabeleland, a retired Anglican bishop of Bermuda, and a theologian of the Church of England.
However, as the AEC moved towards relations with the ACC, the Diocese of the Southwest, now under Bishop H. Edwin Caudill, found it necessary to part with the AEC, mainly over the issue of governance. According to a diocesan position paper, affiliation with the AEC had to be broken because of proposed “changes in canons which, if passed, would alter the shape of the national-diocesan relationship, some even clearly not in keeping with the rubrics and spirit of The Book of Common Prayer.” It had been similar canons which caused this Diocese of the Southwest to part with the ACC in 1982. The position paper goes on to accuse AEC leadership of harassment through various letters and phone calls “aimed at discrediting persons and interests of the Diocese of the Southwest.” It is alleged that after submitting a letter of withdrawal to the AEC House of Bishops, an attempt was made to “take over this Diocese . . . declaring falsely that the episcopate was vacant.” From AEC’s point of view, Caudill had always had trouble with Clavier and was simply looking for a convenient way out.
A second hopeful sign is a confederation of three Continuing groups being led by Albion W. Knight of the UECNA. An agreement for increased cooperation was signed last fall by bishops of the UECNA, AECNA and ARJA (see p. 39). It includes a plan for cooperation on a practical level on such things as evangelism, church planting, and intercommunion. The Church Information Center, an organization of the UECNA led by Larry Thompson, provides the networking for this cooperation as well as other services such as legal consulting and organizing the development of a group benefits plan for clergy who by leaving ECUSA have cut off their support. And the feeling here seems to be that such practical cooperative actions between orthodox Anglicans might grow and extend out to embrace others in time. Bishop Caudill of the Diocese of the Southwest, mentioned above, is now seeking to interact with the confederation.
Weaknesses Real and Apparent
In all of this, the most salient fact is that the Continuing Anglicans have failed to capture a significant number of conservative believers leaving ECUSA. To date, there has only been a trickle. Nor is any flood likely to occur. Even the Barbara Harris affair is not likely to alter the pattern, nor is the recent talk of progress with COCU (the Consultation on Church Union, renamed “Churches of Christ Uniting”), which is perceived as a questionable union or generic (and liberal-leaning) Protestant federation. As yet, the Continuing Anglican movement is merely a sidelight on a troubled denominational history. Ironically, what new gains have been made by Continuing Anglicans seem attributable more to ongoing ECUSA debacles than to their own good efforts.
One of the persistent problems here is that of image. For one thing, the Continuing Anglicans often have the look of reactionaries. Their groups are all relatively small, sometimes backward looking, and there is still a lingering rehearsal of old wounds and insults. This is compounded by an impression of narrowness or pettiness of concern, no doubt heightened by the movement of the general Christian culture away from any grasp of certain theological and ecclesial points so dear to these people. Nevertheless, the impression remains that they do not breathe a living catholic spirit, at least not to outsiders. Not all of their cherished convictions seem significant enough to justify their breaking fellowship. The Continuing Anglicans stand for traditional Anglicanism as they see it, but each group sees it differently, and sometimes a particular group’s traditionalism involves a great deal more than mere Christian orthodoxy in an Anglican setting. At times there is a decidedly sectarian impression.
Somewhat in this vein, there is an impression that an otherwise legitimate concern for the regularity of holy orders in ministry has been rendered shallow and even silly by some of the extraordinary lengths to which the Continuing Anglicans have gone to secure the pedigree. In so doing they have undercut the general confidence in their actions and the soundness of their judgment. Some of these gentlemen seem so anxious about being in apostolic succession that they might almost be accused of running out and kneeling before the first mitred thing that will lay hands on them. As a result, many of the ordinations performed in the name of regular orders remain under a cloud.
Moreover, the movement has attracted some rather unusual and highly exotic types; characters of the ecclesial twighlight, the conspiracy hunters, the weird and wonderful, the fantasizing egos. These are men and women of questionable stability. Every group and every movement attracts some such people. Unfortunately, in this case they have stood out more prominently. Of course, this does not contribute anything to the Continuing Anglican image, especially since some of their endeavors such as the recruitment of bishops, have appeared a bit shadowy.
Then, too, there has been the impression left by the bickering and maneuvering and the failure to pull things together. Perhaps this has been the legacy of feeling violated by the ECUSA hierarchy. Some Continuing Anglicans have sought a remedy in stronger canons to keep their new structure solid (witness the fact that most of these groups’ leaders call themselves archbishops or the equivalent, a title not used in ECUSA), some in weaker canons to prevent any new “tyranny.” This difference has been a major point of contention. Being so small with such great ideals expressed, was there not a way in which they could have drawn together?
Ironically, Anglicans have been known for many years for their inclusivity and tolerance. The scope of their diversity covers a wide spectrum of viewpoints, some in very high tension with others; Evangelical Low Church, Catholic High Church, and Erastian Broad Church, liberal and conservative. This inclusive policy kept the church from splitting years ago. But people who call themselves Continuing Anglicans have been understandably less desirous of retaining this aspect of Anglicanism, which sheltered the very “wolves” who ravaged their flocks and drove them out. Inclusivity cloaked, if indeed it did not actually breed, the present difficulties in ECUSA. And people who will finally break over a matter of conviction may be less prone to compromise afterwards.
One often hears the opinion that the most difficult problem in pulling things together has involved personality conflicts, sensitive egos, and delicate consciences. In certain cases, the inability to work compromises has indeed been such that it suggests more than a simple theological explanation. Clearly there have been instances where progress has been impeded by defensiveness, excessive wariness, and a tendency to react and make rash and inflexible decisions which have resulted in splits. No detailed account of these things can be attempted here, and no blame is being laid to any individual or group. If there have been mistakes, the movement is young. No doubt a number of the leaders were men of passionate convictions, perhaps relatively inexperienced; they were facing difficult situations and difficult constituencies.
Conditions for Advancement
Any significant change in Continuing Anglican prospects will depend on several hard factors. First, the movement must begin to show itself to be genuinely spiritual, Christ-centered, forward-looking, and outward-looking. They need to evangelize. People must see a church life whose raison d’etre is more than the reactionary’s pride. The real hallmark of the movement has to be catholicity, orthodoxy, and moral rectitude. It is these things which really provide a justification for their continued existence.
Withdrawal from ECUSA is an accomplished fact; it is past. There should not now be a preoccupation with the history and causes of that withdrawal. They must learn to translate their highest concerns into terms which the general population can understand. In short, they must simply witness to the life of Christ in their Anglican tradition; and that tradition must help them in this witness and not hinder them.
Similarly, if Continuing Anglicans are serious about their mission, they will initiate more aggressive church planting policies and maybe even adopt cooperative plans between groups in order not to compete in those already well-planted areas. They should develop rather those areas where no Continuing Anglicans currently exist. (And aggressive recruitment should mean more than hopping about the globe to construct a network of flimsy alliances. Third World alliances may be important to the overall global success of the movement, but they are not decisive to the movement’s integrity in its home base.)
The Continuing Anglicans need to raise up leadership. They need decent seminaries and training programs, both clerical and lay. And it would be helpful to them if they would facilitate the transfer of orthodox-minded priests into the movement. Our Lord speaks to the usefulness of unrighteous mammon; presumably this would also include priestly paychecks. All these groups would be well-advised to raise funds for the relief of those clergy who are trapped in ECUSA by the fear of losing pensions or health benefits for themselves or their families. In many cases this is far from a selfish concern.
Also, they have to get their act together as a united and sound witness. This means excercising a bit of self-governance, getting the few “crazies” out, and dealing calmly and responsibly on the issue of orders. They need to lower the rhetoric and raise the standards. This will place a premium on statesmen-like leadership, men who can stand above the fray of petty party politics, who have some claim to a broader, more vitally orthodox vision, who can play a more catholic role among their fellows.
A Role to Play?
Isolation often leads to narrowness. By separating themselves into small groups, their hypersensitivity on details, and their identification of some with regional culture, it would be too easy to fall into introversion and sterility. The need of the hour is for a catholicity that is spiritual, broad, and forward-looking, which seems concerned with more than technicalities of apostolic lineage. Continuing Anglicans need to get beyond recriminations and a too-obscure fascination with Anglican polity and ethos. Thus far they have failed to speak to this age.
Finally, let us ask what may be the most telling question: Are Continuing Anglicans interested primarily in presenting Christ, or in constructing their own little refuge? The two are not necessarily exclusive, but which is first? Would a non-Anglican person interested in orthodox options be attracted to such a movement? After all, there are other possibilities, other options, and in today’s competitive market of ideas and causes, there is no place for groups of wounded psychology or those unclear on what they’re really about, or their mission.
Let us not forget the lessons of history. When faced with the very real threat of Arianism in the fourth century, different sectors of the Church and different congregations adopted different strategies and reacted differently. Different leaders chose different paths in those difficult years; some adapted their strategies over the years. It took a while to sort things out, and there were many strange twists and turns in the story. The same may prove to be true for the Continuing Anglicans as well. They may yet have a significant role to play. They may have something very valuable to contribute, not only to their own people or to those concerned with the Anglican tradition, but indeed to all Christendom. We shall have to wait and see.
Michael F. Gallo is a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
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“The Continuing Anglicans” first appeared in the Winter 1989 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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