October 30, 2009

No, Thanks. Back to Mission.

I recently joined the editorial board of a news web site called Episcopal Café ( For the most part, the experience has been highly rewarding, requiring me to call on whatever skills I may have left over from my days of training as a journalist and spot writer, together with my understanding of what The Episcopal Church is, how it works, and how, by God’s grace, it manages to remain together these days.

Sometimes, when a particular news story is coming up, it can be difficult to know just what sort of impact it may make, and whether it will be worthy of being placed “above the fold” at Episcopal Café. No better case-in-point could serve to illustrate this than the conversation that was had recently, when there was a vague sense (based on small and spurious reports) that the Vatican might soon make a conciliatory move to incorporate members of the Traditional Anglican Communion. The story was thought to be a small one because the TAC is in fact a minor sect of Anglicans who, in 1977, declared separation from The Episcopal Church over the ordination of women, and who, 20 years later, formally petitioned to the Vatican to be fully included in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. There had been rumblings over the past year or so about this move possibly being honored, but that was about the extent of it.

All of that was one evening’s worth of conversation. When morning came around, we learned that the Vatican had in fact made just such an announcement, referring to a “forthcoming Apostolic Constitution” (which we have yet to see) – a document that would set forth the parameters of an arrangement intended to “balance on the one hand the concern to preserve the worthy Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony and, on the other hand, the concern that these groups and their clergy will be integrated into the Catholic Church.” Most unfortunately, none of what was officially announced mentioned the Traditional Anglican Communion by name. It merely referred to Anglicans as a general group, and thereby left much to the imagination.

I don’t personally view that neglect as having been unintentional on the part of the Vatican. Rather, it strikes me as a provocative invitation to join the Catholic Church – a summons to all Anglicans at a vulnerable time in our common history to join the comfort and safety and numbers of the Catholic Church – and that is just not something I’m interested in doing.

The congregation of which I am Rector is a constituent member of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, which itself is a member of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, and it is only through our membership in these instruments that we understand ourselves as Anglicans. In other words, we are Anglicans because we are Episcopalians. (There’s more to say about that coming up.)

Even those who have left The Episcopal Church in the past six years and begun their own initiatives in disagreement with church practices have been careful to say that they’re not interested in becoming Catholic. In short, the idea hasn’t found traction.

The matter was well summed-up by Leo Frade, bishop of Southeast Florida, who wrote, “As far as the Episcopal Church is concerned, I do not think that there will be many takers among Episcopalians – including those who have taken an extremely conservative position on many issues in the church. Even those who have left the Episcopal Church to form other denominations of an Anglican flavor, or to seek affiliation with other provinces of the Anglican Communion, also seem to be not too interested and have approached the invitation with a “thank you, but no, thank you.”

All of this confusion and speculation might have been headed off if the Pope’s ecumenical officers had been clearer about the Vatican’s intentions, but that’s not what happened. So, quite a lot of attention has been devoted to understanding all this well enough to be able to address it clearly with people.

So, if I may be allowed to bring all this to a clear and concise level, regardless of what gossip you may have heard:

  1. I am a Christian who also refers to himself as an Episcopalian, but that word is shorthand intended to simply crystalize further what it means, in my case, to be a Christian.
  2. I have no interest in becoming a Catholic subject (capital “C”).
  3. All baptized Christians are members of the universal church – the church catholic (little “c”).
  4. We remain, first and always, the servants of Christ and him alone. Before we rush to apply any label to ourselves, we must recognize that we are Christians. And as Karl Barth said, especially when I am engaged in some rigorous debate, I am still not to forget that others who call themselves Christians are in fact Christians, even if their opinions are at odds from mine.
  5. We turn away from anything that takes our attention away from our mission to represent Christ to each other and our community through our actions and our words.
  6. To use language familiar to our Christian brothers and sisters around the world irrespective of denomination, we pray for the peace of God, which passes all understanding, to prevail in the hearts of all persons.

I hate to have to stop and dignify such a distraction, but it has proven to be a very heady and attractive distraction. Nevertheless, let’s get on with “the work we have been given to do.”


DG said...

Fr. Torey, with due respect, the invitation wasn't offered directly to you. While I think the tone of your article is respectful, the title is needlessly provocative.

This, after all, was a gracious reaction of the Pope to existing calls from the Anglican side---from those of your brethren Anglicans who are of a less Protestant, evangelical, and liberal bent, and not an initiative of his own doing.

[found via your tweet]

Tim Sean said...

Torey. This is Tim Sean Youmans in Shawnee. I was checking into the Cafe this morning and noticed your name at the bottom of the story on Trinity Church's invitation to Yankee fans to return to church (I'm a big baseball fan).

Anyway, it was good to see you working with the Cafe. I enjoy the site (though I think they are a little hard on old Rowan, poor chap.)

Hope things are well.