Communion in a Divided Church

Those who believe the Anglican Church can be saved from within, will find naught for their comfort in Canada.

The four Atlantic Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, are the most conservative part of the country, traditionally loyal to throne and altar. The United Empire Loyalists who fled the new fangled republic of the United States, found refuge in Eastern Canada, having lost all their worldly wealth in the process. Among these Loyalists was the first Anglican bishop in Canada, Charles Inglis, who had been rector of Holy Trinity, Wall Street, New York, before being driven out of that parish by George Washington. The Atlantic Provinces were peopled with Tories, stiff churchmen, Tractarians and Evangelicals. They were served by a learned and pastorally hearted clergy. One of their seats of learning was the University of King’s College, now sited in Halifax, an institution that corresponded with Pusey and Keble. To this day the College makes an impact on the young. Adult baptisms are not uncommon. Matins, Evensong and Compline are conducted daily by students. Worshippers come from far for the music and preaching. And of course there’s a daily Mass. Learned and prayerful men offer themselves for the ordained ministry.

But one and all, they are rejected. The Anglican Church of Canada is flexible about trivia like the Trinity, the pre existent divinity of Christ, the authority of Holy Scripture, the universal consensus of Christendom. But there’s one dogma about which the Anglican Church of Canada will tolerate no flexibility whatever: it is compulsory to believe in the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate. If, for example, a young man from King’s offers himself to the Lord Bishop of Nova Scotia he must submit an essay supportive of women priests. But Kingsmen, knowledgeable about the Bible, the Fathers and church history, can find no warrant for such an innovation. If any reader of this letter in, say, Central Africa or Papua New Guinea, is searching for dedicated young clergy, I advise him or her to write at once to the chaplain of King’s, The Rev. Dr. Richmond Bridge at King’s College Chapel, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 2A1, Canada, Tel: (902) 868-2219.

King’s does more than influence the young. Together with the Cathedral of St. Peter, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and together with many a learned country parson, King’s has been active in promoting annual theological conferences. Canon Malcolm Westin, the hard working and imaginative rector of St. Peter’s Cathedral, founded a quarterly magazine, the Anglican Free Press, and St. Peter’s Publications, which printed, among other things, the verbatim transcripts of all the lectures delivered at the conferences. Participants came from Sweden, the British Isles, Australia, the United States; from the ranks of evangelicals and anglo-catholics; from other churches, including the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox. You might hear a Scots Plymouth Brother like Dr. James Houston extolling St. Bernard Clairvaux, or you might hear an American Episcopalian telling you what he thinks of Bishop Ed Browning. If any group was likely to save the Anglican Church from within, it was these young men and women of the Atlantic Provinces. With them have worked the enthusiasts of the Prayer Book Society, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, led by their energetic full time Director, Mr. Graham Eglington, an Australian and a barrister.

But so far there’ve been few signs of salvation. Quite the contrary. After years of battling the liberal establishment, Canon Malcolm Westin of Charlottetown Cathedral has been ordained in the Church of Antioch. Malcolm’s son, Fr. John Paul Westin, who was turning St. John the Evangelist’s in Montreal into a springboard in Central Canada for orthodox Christianity, has been driven out of that parish, and has taken work in Sweden. Dr. Wayne Hankey an erudite professor of classics at King’s and a former librarian of Pusey House, has joined the Church of Rome.

In 1919 when there were some 9 million Canadians, there were some 3 million Anglican in this country. Now that there are some 27 million Canadians, there are some eight hundred thousand Anglicans. The Anglican Church of Canada learns no lessons. Indeed, its new hymnal will quite deliberately address God as mother, and as age-ing mother at that (so the elderly women of the country, who now constitute the bulk of Anglicans, don’t feel left out). I’m not sure what reforms the hymnal proposes for the left handed, the freckled and the red headed. At any rate, the Anglican Church is determined not to recover its Christian tradition.

And the sad thing is that the young traditionalists have been so cleverly out manoeuvred by the middle aged establishment men of 600 Jarvis Street, Toronto, and by the bishops. Perhaps there are countries in which the Anglican Church can be saved from within? Australia, the USA, the United Kingdom? But Canada does not seem to be among them. As I say, here there is naught for your comfort.

Some of us agree with Dr. Hankey that it’s no longer possible to be Anglican within the official Anglican Church of Canada. St. Athanasius did not beg the Arian Church for permission to form a Christian ghetto within Arian structures. St. Paul argued there was more to being a Jew than circumcision. Similarly, we argue there’s more to being Anglian than being in communion with Canterbury. “He is not an Anglican who is one outwardly.” (Romans 2. 28) However, the way forward for us is not joining other denominations, Roman, Baptist, whomever. For us there is joy and peace in belonging to the Traditional Anglican Communion.

Robert Mercer CR is Bishop of Canada in the Traditional Anglican Communion.