Brian Wehrle considers the state of Anglicanism on both sides of the Atlantic
This past summer I had the good fortune of completing a placement at St Luke’s Shepherd Bush, with Fr Richard Bastable. This proved to be a very beneficial experience in many ways, not least of which was the opportunity to observe first hand how a declaration parish functions within the Diocese of London, and, indeed, within the greater Church of England. It also provided me with the opportunity to learn more about the Five Guiding Principles, and how they have recently been put to the test vis-à-vis the See of Sheffield.
Unfortunately, North American Anglicanism has not been as successful in maintaining the unity in diversity that the CofE has thus far managed to maintain. For those of us who hold to the traditional understanding of Holy Orders, the Five Guiding Principles have been of particular interest, as no such provision exists for Anglicans in North America. Certainly, there are jurisdictions such as the Diocese of Fort Worth in the Anglican Church in North America (‘ACNA’), where traditionalists may flourish, but more often than not, the respect of one’s conscience on the matter of holy orders is at the discretion of the diocesan bishop.
As a response to substantial dissent concerning the canonical change that allowed for the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate in 1976, a so-called conscience clause was passed by the House of Bishops which stated that ‘no Bishop, Priest, or Lay Person should be coerced or penalized in any manner nor suffer any canonical disabilities as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support of the sixty-fifth General Convention’s actions with regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate.’ This clause had no canonical authority, however, and was repealed in 1997 (the Anglican Church of Canada (‘ACoC’) repealed its conscience clause in 1986). Since that time traditionalist dioceses and parishes have dwindled; the former ‘biretta belt’ of the American Midwest, once a bastion of Anglo-Catholicism, is now a distant memory, and the last remaining traditionalist dioceses have left the Episcopal Church (‘TEC’) to become founding partners in the ACNA. Their departure has left the few remaining traditionalist clergy and parishes in TEC and the ACoC vulnerable and endangered.
The issue of holy orders remains contentious in the Anglican Church in North America. A Task Force on Holy Orders was appointed by the College of Bishops to provide a scholarly and informed study on the issue. The final report of this five-year process was recently released, followed by a statement by the College of Bishops affirming the status quo whereby ‘each Diocese and Jurisdiction has the freedom, responsibility, and authority to study Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition of the Church, and to seek the mind of Christ in determining its own convictions and practices concerning the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood.’ The college did unanimously agree that women would not be consecrated as bishops, and acknowledged that the practice of ordaining women to the priesthood ‘is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order.’ Although traditionalists have more protection within ACNA, in dioceses where women are ordained there exist scant proper sacramental provision for those who are dissenting.
One bright spot for traditionalists in North America has been Nashotah House Theological Seminary, whose policy of male-only celebrants has allowed for a mutual flourishing of sorts. Under the ‘Pax Nashotah’ divergent jurisdictions within the Anglican tradition are able to coexist peaceably. This has allowed the seminary to educate men and women from multiple jurisdictions, including Nigeria, Zimbabwe, TEC, ACoC, Australia, ACNA, the Polish National Church, as well as Continuing Anglicans. Nashotah House is also the sole Anglican/Episcopalian seminary in North America with an active and thriving Pusey Guild (13 seminarians). Yet, those of us who hold to the traditional understanding of holy orders recognize that in North America there is little protection outside of Nashotah.
Given the situation in North America, the work of The Society has been of great interest to those of us who seek to remain in ‘the highest possible degree of communion’ with our own jurisdictions and with Canterbury. It was therefore heartening to witness firsthand a flourishing declaration parish and a thriving Anglo-Catholicism protected within the Church of England. It was a privilege to meet several of The Society bishops who offered words of encouragement and hope for traditionalists in North America. It was also refreshing to observe instances of mutual respect and support between various factions of the Church.
Of the many fond memories I gleaned during my placement at St Luke’s, several stand out as being particularly instructive as to the importance of the Anglo-Catholic movement: (i) attending the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association; (ii) participating in the Holy Redeemer Day celebrations in Clerkenwell—here was Anglo-Catholicism at its best, with all its pageantry and realism bursting forth into the busy streets of a disenchanted world with the procession of the Blessed Sacrament in the midst of throngs of bemused bystanders; and (iii) attending a priestly ordination in Holt, Norfolk, by the Bishop of Richborough—it was moving to witness the Five Guiding Principles in action, so to speak, and the preservation of Catholic Orders in the Church of England, and Anglicanism in general.
My thanks to Fr Bastable for agreeing to take me on for a placement, as well as Fr Benfield, who provided me with information on the work done in Synod and by the The Society, and to the many bishops and clergy that I met during my time in England. The gates of Hell shall not prevail against the church, and it is my hope that what I experienced in the Church of England might some day reach our shores.
Brian Wehrle, a native of Canada, is a seminarian in his senior year at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin, USA. He is an aspirant to the priesthood in the diocese of Albany, NY.