Michael Heidt on getting out or staying in and getting on with it
The late great Fr Brindley had a message on his answering machine which ran thus, ‘Through the miracle of modern technology, you may speak with me though I am not here in person.’ Since those halcyon days the miracle has been expanded to email and ECUSA priests in the Diocese of Washington DC now benefit from the electronic Ad Clerum. The server has been busy, especially given recent furor over authorized and unauthorized same sex blessings. Bishop John Chane is a champion of the SSB and thought it best to send to conclude his recent electronic missive with,
‘In all things it is time now for us to re-examine the nature of Old and New Testament covenants between God and humankind, and to understand in a far deeper way what it means to be in baptismal covenant with Jesus Christ. Faithful relationships with God and each other, imbued with the divine gift of inclusive love, are at the very heart of defining who we are as God’s children. It is this love and faithfulness in relationship that I affirm and bless and that has been lived out for so many years by so many who have waited so long for Christ’s Body, the Church, to say Amen: So be it.’
At last, all becomes clear. The Bishop of Washington has given the baffled Anglo-Catholic mind a handy key to unlock the closed circle of ECUSA decision making. Perhaps till now we had been wondering why the princely prelates of the Episcopal Church had felt free to ride roughshod over the rest of the Anglican Communion. Now we know, they had been waiting ‘for so many years’ for ‘Christ’s Body, the Church, to say Amen: So be it.’ Which roughly translated reads, ‘we had been waiting for so many years for Christ’s Body, the Episcopal Church, to say Amen: So be it.’ The key has turned, the door has opened and we are free at last to enter ECUSA World, a fairy tale kingdom where 864,000 communicants have become The Church. Of course SSBs are valid, The Church has spoken. Laying aside the eschatological significance of the eight hundred and sixty four thousand, we do well to consider their doctrinal justification. How can a part of the Church, which was so alive to Catholic Faith and Order, have so completely lost its moorings?
The answer to this seems straightforward. In jettisoning the Tradition of the Church and her Scriptures, the innovator has to find a source of authority. This resides in the self and goes under various names; Anabaptists and early Quakers were well familiar with it and called it ‘The Inner Light’ or ‘The Power’. It did for poor James Nayler, who was whipped and worse through the streets of seventeenth-century London for his unrecanted enlightenment. But that was then and this is now, today’s ECUSA enthusiast follows our old friend, ‘The Inner Light’ and calls it ‘The Spirit’. The same spirit that gathered the small body of the elect out of the reprobate mass of the Caroline Church has been at it again in the New World, calling the fortunate few out of the darkness of exclusive Anglicanism. That has been left behind as the eight hundred and sixty four thousand find themselves raptured by inner conviction and dutifully elevate General Convention to the status of General Council. No wonder baptism is the only sacrament talked about in ECUSA these days, it brings the initiate into the Mystical Body of the Inner Light and all else fades to myth and symbol.
This explains the bizarre double-think of people who recite the Creed Sunday by Sunday, chanting out, ‘I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’, and then proceed to legislate contrary to everything she believes in. Why not? The ECUSA is the Catholic Church and if her ‘Amen’ isn’t heard by the rest of the world, then ‘So be it.’ It’s tempting to trace the physical lineage, Phrygian Montanist to Cathar, Albigensian to Anabaptist, Anabaptist to Baptist, Amsterdam to London and then the Colonies. The case has been made before, leaving us to wonder how many ECUSA bishops that come out of Nonconformity are the actual descendants of a religion that was never quite eradicated by the Church. Regardless, the issue before us now in America is what to do in the face of The Power, which has voiced its Amen at such cost to the Body of Christ.
The popular solution is to walk away. Episcopalians have been voting with their feet for decades, which accounts for their mystically small number today. We can continue in this vein and march bravely into the arms of the veritable supermarket of religious options that confront the modern American. But which option to chose from? The answer isn’t easy; join a ‘Continuing Church’, but as Fr Kirk reminds us, ‘If I’m going to jump ship, I’d rather climb aboard one that’s larger than the one I’ve left.’ What about the new Network? For the Catholic this seems to mean a return to the status quo ante Minneapolis 2003 in which the Church’s tradition was ignored in favour of the ordination of women. This leaves Rome or Constantinople, with both the Tiber and Bosphorus seeming infinitely preferable to being buffeted by The Power along the shores of the Potomac. Both would welcome us, big ships that they are, satisfied that we’ve finally found the good sense to become Catholics. But there’s the rub, we already are and cannot pretend otherwise.
So what do we do? There is another alternative, we could, for a moment, lay aside escape plans and work towards the goal of converting people, perhaps even Anglicans, to the Catholic Faith. This method has been tried before and we’re the living proof of its success; after an absence of some thirty years it might well be that North America, and even the Church of the Inner Light, are ready for it again. After all, it’s what we’re supposed to be in the business of doing and no amount of pretence can alter the fact that the Church is with us in the work. As the Global South and the overwhelming majority of Anglicans worldwide prepare to express the mind of the Church, we would do well to pour our energy into what we’ve neglected: her missionary work. With this in place, the Holy Spirit and The Power will collide and we know the outcome of the shock, a very different ‘So be it’ to the one voiced at present in the Diocese of Washington DC. May we rise to the action, remembering, in the words of Bishop Terwilliger that ‘those who oppose the Spirit will be relentlessly destroyed by the same.’