Edwin Barnes reflects upon a journey through the USA and Canada in search of real Anglicans and the politically incorrect

IF YOU COULD ONLY get a recorded message from my phone in November. this is to explain why.

What struck us most in our time away? The warm hospitality of Americans and Canadians; the affection of traditional Episcopalians for England, and the Church of England; the devotion to the Book of Common Prayer (as amended, along the lines of the 1928 Book, in both the USA and Canada); and the pressure on everyone to conform to the new `P.C.’ agenda (P.C. being “Political Correctness”).

We began – for my wife Jane accompanied me on the American part of the visit – in Texas. Thunderstorms in the Dallas/Fort Worth area delayed us in Chicago, then had us diverted to Houston. It eventually took us twenty-four hours to get from Heathrow to Grand Prairie, where Fr Greg Sherwood was our host. Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth invited me, still jet-lagged, to speak to his Diocesan Convention two days into the visit. His is one of the most firmly orthodox dioceses in the States, and it was good to see the overwhelming support they gave to their bishop in the face of a few `liberal’ (but in reality very illiberal) speeches. Convention decided that any new Canons which might be approved by the General Convention (America’s “General Synod”) would not automatically apply in Fort Worth. It would be for the Diocesan Convention to ratify or resist such Canons. This is the logical conclusion of the “autonomy” which the Anglican Communion has been claiming as a new virtue – for instance in the report of the Eames Commission.

The question for our Church, though, must surely concern where boundaries are to be drawn. May a diocese or a province make any unilateral decision and still be part of the Anglican Communion? There are considerable strains imposed by the “impaired communion” which has come from decisions to ordain women. Some Provinces are already threatening to break communion altogether if certain P.C. novelties are adopted by other Provinces or Dioceses. Can the Anglican Communion survive beyond the Lambeth Conference of 1998?

Top of the list of P.C. ideas is the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions, and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals. Many diocesan Conventions were meeting this autumn and several have put down motions for next year’s General Convention seeking to have Canons adopted approving these activities. In more traditional dioceses, meanwhile, there is outrage that the liberal agenda should be careering out of control.

All this is happening while the Church is being pilloried by such organs of rectitude as “Penthouse”. That magazine, in the issue published during our visit, had a long article and photographs alleging a trade in young male Brazilians for the sexual entertainment of certain priests in the Diocese of Long Island. A priest from the Diocese assured me that the article could have been even more damaging. If names had been published of some of the senior clergy involved in the “wedding” of a priest and one of the Brazilians even New York might have been shocked.

The Bishop of Dallas, like others who would call themselves “traditionalists”, has ordained women as priests, but on every other issue stands alongside Jack Iker and the orthodox bishops. It was good meeting him, and also the Bishop of Lexington. There are many others, I am told, who can be relied on to ensure that the liberal agenda is not accepted without protest. In England some in the Synod have doubted whether there is a liberal agenda. After visiting the States, there is no room left for doubt.

In Kentucky we visited a former “Shaker” settlement. That was immensely moving, to see relics of what was once a large and influential religious movement now turned into a tourist attraction. Those pious souls, who revived the idea of religious community in a hostile environment, have left behind a legacy of music – “The Lord of the Dance” is from that source originally – and a tradition of furniture making. Reproduction pieces now sell for a fortune to decorate fashionable apartments. But “revival” in religion now only means twenty-four hour telecasts from huge Southern Baptist temples, with appeals for pledges of money every hour on the hour.

The conscience clauses and assurances of an “honoured place” for traditionalists have mostly disappeared in the American and Canadian churches, and have often been replaced by a mean and persecuting spirit. In a long conversation which I had with the Bishop of Washington it seemed he had backed himself into a corner by endorsing every novelty. The only way out would be for him to permit a visiting bishop to act for those parishes and congregations which still resist. Pray that he may be a big enough man to do this. The Eames Report, endorsed by the Primates’ Meeting, proposed it as the best way to hold the Anglican Communion together.

Liberals, though, seem to see every issue in terms of “rights”: the right of women to be ordained, the right of gays to be married, the right of priests to express their sexuality in any way they choose. The only ones without rights are orthodox Christians, and at present they are being denied the right to maintain the faith once delivered to the saints. PC prayer books and hymnals are being insisted on (presumably because the Almighty has a right to be addressed as “Mother”), and those doubtful about the ordination of women within the catholic priesthood are being treated as non-persons. In Washington and also in Canada I met former Anglicans who have joined one or other “continuing” church, as the only way open to them of living in the christian tradition of their baptism.

Can England continue to do better than this? The system we have evolved (of which the PEVs are only a small part) can survive at present provided those on both sides are charitable and generous in the way they work the Act of Synod. As the mother church of Anglicanism, though, the Church of England has a responsibility beyond our two provinces. It was good to be invited to St Asaph last month to join in the consecration of Bishop David Thomas, who is to serve the orthodox constituency in Wales. In February, I am asked to speak in Glasgow to Affirming Apostolic Order, Forward in Faith’s Scottish sister. Yet even in Scotland, difficulties have arisen with bishops who want to silence me and are determined to prevent me from preaching.

The bishops of the Anglican Communion are generally resisting notions of “parallel jurisdictions”. It is very natural for those in power to want to hold on to it. Unless some real authority is given to Provincial Visitors, however, the time will come when parishes and individuals will simply act as though they already had it. Some bishops suggest that all authority stems from them, and is handed down to priests and parishes. The reality is rather the reverse; bishops exercise authority when it is freely accorded them by the people. When, as in North America, bishops are reckoned to have ceased to uphold the catholic faith, parishes and priests leave them and transfer their allegiance. I had an interesting meeting Fr Allan Hawkins, a contemporary of mine at theological college, now running a Roman Catholic parish in Arlington, Texas. His whole parish transferred with him from the Episcopal church, and is now an “Anglican Use” parish of the Roman obedience.

PEVs have no rights; only the pastoral and sacramental role for those who have voted for it, in places where diocesan bishops have provided no local orthodox suffragan. As we fulfil this role, though, parishes begin to say, “Isn’t that what a bishop is for? Are there any more important tasks for a bishop than being a pastor and a minister of the sacraments of ordination and confirmation?” If pressure to conform becomes too great, is it inconceivable that the time might come when those in communion with orthodox bishops seek to move not just a parish but a whole section of the Anglican Communion into fellowship with another part of the world-wide church?

This will not be necessary if the Anglican Communion recognises that we, traditionalists in Britain, in large parts of Africa and the two-thirds world, in North America, Canada, Australia, are a distinct and separate entity, in full communion within itself but in impaired communion with some others still reckoned Anglicans. Some have referred to this as the “third Province”. It is only third in relation to York and Canterbury. Perhaps it would be better described as the “Free Province”, that part of the Anglican Communion world-wide which refuses to give present-day liberal fads more importance than the imperatives of the Gospel. It would be “Free” in the same sense as Jesus promised when he said “the Truth shall make you free”.

Am I planning for such a Province? No, because the breathing space of the Act of Synod, and the generosity of spirit of most of the English diocesans, does not at present require such action in England. Do I foresee such a Province? If others ask “Come over into Macedonia and help us”, which orthodox Anglican bishop will be able to deny them? Once that happens, the Free Province will have begun to take shape. It will be the natural outcome of actions by P.C. dioceses denying orthodox Anglicans room to live.

We are all deeply indebted to lay people, priests and bishops throughout the North American continent who have remained loyal to our Anglican heritage despite all sorts of bullying and bribing. Their faith should be an encouragement and a challenge to us all. I would especially like to express my own gratitude to clergy and would-be ordinands in Nova Scotia, and to all those who were so hospitable at St Clement’s, Philadelphia; at St Paul’s, K Street and at the Ascension and St Agnes, Washington; in Dallas/Fort Worth, in Lexington, Kentucky and in New York; and priests and religious from the Province of Christ the King and from the A.C.C. Above all, I am grateful to Forward in Faith and to many who read New Directions for your prayers and practical support. We are part of a great army of Christians, not divided, one in faith and doctrine. Laus Deo!

Edwin Barnes is Bishop of Richborough