Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Optimistic Thought on Anglican Division.

Western Rite Orthodox Priest
from Western Rite Orthodoxy
Maybe its because the Sun is shining after long days of winter (which were not that long ago in the Upstate NY), but I'm feeling uncharacteristically optimistic today - perhaps even unrealistically optimistic.  I have been reflecting on some Anglican news items recently, especially in connection with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  

The Roman Catholics, of course, have invited Anglicans to join the Ordinariates.  Anglican priests joining an Ordinariate can become Roman Catholic priests, even if married, and can retain significant parts of the Anglican liturgical tradition - that which is vaguely called the "Anglican Patrimony." I have posted before about the Ordinariate, and though I don't have any particular desire to join it myself, I think the Ordinariate is a good thing.  

In the Orthodox churches, as well, there are Western Rite Orthodox parishes.  The Western Rite Orthodox are in full communion with the Eastern Orthodox, but use some form of Western liturgy.  Some use the Tridentine Mass, translated into the appropriate locale tongue and adapted slightly to fit more with Orthodox Eucharistic Theology.  Others use a modified form of the Anglican liturgy, referred to as the Liturgy of St. Tikhon.  

The Western Rite has always been a small group. As far as I know, in the US the only Orthodox jurisdictions that have Western Rite 'vicarates' are the Antiochian Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).   However, talking with a few people involved with the ROCOR vicarate.  

Meanwhile, of course, we have ACNA/ GAFCON and the Continuing Anglican churches which are still moving forward.  The Continuum always seems to have struggled, but if you stalk Continuum blogs, as I do from time, you can find some evidence of renewal and growing unity among the members.  ACNA, despite its instabilities as a newly formed ecclesial body really does seem to have a sense of mission, and is growing.

And of course, the old Canterbury communion still goes on.
Worship at Blessed JH Newman
Ordinariate Community.  From
The Anglican Patrimony Blog

I have long been of the Michael Ramsey school of thought on Anglican identity, i.e., Anglicanism exists in part to put itself out of business.  I think Anglicanism has a certain ecumenical mission, the mission of forming some kind of bridge between broken and fragmented parts of the Body of Christ.  The current state of affairs makes it easy to throw up our hands in despair, to decide that if Anglicans have failed to accomplish unity among ourselves, how can we possibly contribute to the unity of the wider body?

And maybe we have failed.  Maybe our divisions are fatal.  On the other hand Anglicanism isn't exactly disappearing with all these divisions - in a strange way it is flourishing, with little Anglican groups popping up all over the place.  So here is my optimistic thought: Perhaps Anglicans are not only being divided but dispersed, and perhaps it is by being dispersed that we will serve the end of Christian unity.  When I have attended Mass at Ordinariate churches, I have had a clear sense that I was worshiping with fellow Anglicans.  There was a sense of communion, that we were somehow of one faith - in a way and to a degree that I have never felt in any other Roman Catholic Church.

That is a terribly subjective thing, and I am not attempting to base an argument on my emotional experience of worship.  In a way, I am not trying to make an argument, just to suggest a line of thought. I cannot be the only Episcopalian who finds that when I go to a Western Rite Parish, or an Ordinariate Parish, or an ACNA parish, I am encountering my fellow Anglicans. Perhaps the scattered Anglican groups provide points of contact between various churches, a point where communion seems like a real possibility and the boundaries between (for example) Roman Catholics and Anglicans are particularly permeable.

It remains to be seen, of course, how the Holy Spirit will employ Anglicanism in the life of the wider Church, and I may be way off, but I see this as a possibility, and a hopeful one.