Sunday, November 16, 2014

EPISCOPAL...ANGLICAN...WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

I am not a "cradle Episcopalian." 
I was not born into a long line of Episcopalians; I came into --- I joined --- The Episcopal Church as an adult, after careful, in-depth deliberation, and after comparing its approach to spiritual matters with those of other fellowships. The two most important things that led me to make the choice to join The Episcopal Church were: (1) The beautiful, orderly Episcopal liturgy spoke to my soul; and (2) in The Episcopal Church I would not have to pretend to embrace ideas that I simply did not accept --- as a layperson, that is. As a clergyperson, I'd have been expected to promise early on to uphold the "discipline and doctrine of the Church," and there were --- and are --- certain central, fundamental doctrines of the Church to which I simply do not subscribe. That was the reason, in fact, that I didn't pursue what I considered my original calling, into the Episcopal priesthood.


Addressing the point about the liturgy: I have to admit that I am profoundly INSULTED by the fact that one of the two things that initially attracted me to The Episcopal Church is now considered by many in The Church to be old-hat, old-school. I believe that the idea of trying  to be everything to everyone was what would have kiled the Roman Catholic Church back in the 1960s and '70s if it were not for the fact that they condemn any form of birth control, so there are always lots of little Roman Catholics coming down the chute (so to speak). Well, we Episcopalians don't have any such moral objection to birth control, so many of our Episcopal churches are dying.

A friend of mine at (my Episcopal) church comes from a family of New Orleans Roman Catholics, and it must have been as difficult for her to have gone against her family tradition --- and identity --- as it was for me. Actually, more so, because the religious tradition in which I was raised was not the dominant one in my family.

During my spiritual search, I learned a lot of things which those born into the spiritual traditions they now practice probably have never considered, which is why I fully understand my ex-New Orleans friend's bewilderment; I went through that stage, too. Unlike cradle Episcopalians who were in attendance, I think I understood what she meant when she asked certain questions, and it is what I consider the most important of those questions that I want to address now:

What's the difference between Episcopalian and Anglican? The answer to this question may seem simple and straight-forward, but actually it's rather convoluted. I'm not going to get into all the historical and theological arguments on one side or the other, but it boils down to this:
  • There had been a Church in England, usually in full communion with the Roman (Catholic) Church from at least the 7th Century C.E. This is not the place to point out that the leaders of the Church in England had often embraced Arianism (non-trinitarianism) instead of Athanasianism (accepted trinitarianism); that's for another time and place. The only relevant point here is that there had long been a Church of Jesus Christ in England.
  • For reasons which are murky, and which we definitely will not get into here, Henry VIII cut ties with Rome, and declared that the Church in England would become the Church of England, with the British monarch as titular head and the Archbishop of Canterbury as the spiritual head. That remains true to this day.
  • The Church of England became the Mother Church of the Anglican (English) Communion, the worldwide confederation of independent Churches of which the Church of England was --- and is --- the Mother Church.
  • In the United States, the officially-recognized member of the Anglican Communion is the Episcopal Church. Originally, our Church was known as The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, but because of strong protests from the "High-Church" (Catholic) wing of the Church, and because we are really a "bridge-Church" between "Catholic" and "Protestant," we now have two official names: The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, and The Episcopal Church. As stated above, The Episcopal Church is the fellowship which is officially recognized by The Anglican Communion worldwide as a member --- although several of the more populous and much more conservative members of The Communion want us and the Western Province of The Anglican Church of Canada thrown out for several reasons.
  • There are other Churches in the United States which have been recognized by, and are in fellowship with, various Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion (but not the whole Anglican Communion itself; for many members of that Communion, we in the U.S. Episcopal Church are still on a doo-doo list). For more information about the most important of these, please go to these links (if the links don't work for you, simply copy and paste each URL into your browser): 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglican_Church_in_North_America
    http://www.stmarkportland.org/

    BTW, I came into the Episcopal Church through the above-referenced St. Mark's in Portland, OR, which is no longer an Episcopal church or even a parish in the ACNA; it now belongs to one of the smaller Anglican bodies.


    That, in a nutshell, is who and what we are. I'm not going to get into all the nuances of the faith and practices of The Anglican Church of North America, or the various Provinces of other Anglican Churches in the United States. All I'll say is this: Mainly because of theological differences and disagreement over matters such as the ordination and consecration of women and inclusion of LGBT members and clergy, there are several traditionally and historically Episcopal churches which are now part of Anglican bodies other than the officially-recognized Episcopal Church.

    At our table for the recent discussion were several Belizeans. Our parish has a very large number of people who have emigrated to the United States from Belize (a country formerly known as British Honduras), and most were members of Anglican (Church of England) parishes in that Caribbean country; some were members of St. John's Cathedral in Belize City. I have long observed that many of the Belizean members of our parish have actually seen our St. John's as being essentially the same as the Belizean St. John's, and I suppose that they're correct in a sense; but a large number of them are completely unaware of --- or uninterested in --- the historical facts that I outlined above. So I don't really think their attempts to explain Anglican/Episcopal subtleties spoke to the issue raised by my ex-Roman Catholic friend.

    In conclusion, my observation: The officially-recognized Episcopal Church, like most mainline Churches in the United States, is losing members. It's dying. Many of the leaders of my Church now are from the 1960s generation, and want to see our Church reflect the activism and youth orientation of that period. It didn't work then, and it's killing our Church now. 

    That is my take on the current situation that I tried to get across at the meeting, but which our leader would not let me express. That leader, whom I've always supported (and still support, BTW), seems to be so stuck in what I call "1960s-era race-tinged liberal orthodoxy" that she seems completely unable to hear or consider any views other than those which she embraces, and repeatedly interrupted me with what I consider irrelevancies, and would not allow me to express my opinion on issues which she had raised, even to the point of suggesting that my answer to the question that I posed as the title of this blogpost was incorrect; it isn't. 

    Anyway, I hope the above helps with understanding the difference between our approach and that of other fellowships. Those who know me well know that I will not be pressured into coughing up a response or answer that's simplistic enough to fit neatly on a lapel button or bumper sticker. That's why I found it desirable to respond to this query in greater depth here  than I was allowed to do at the meeting, and I've done that above.