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Frustrated By Divisions In Continuum, APCK Diocese Aligns with ACA

Frustrated By Divisions In Continuum, APCK Diocese, Bishop, Attempt To Catalyze Unity By Aligning With ACA

By Auburn Faber Traycik
The Christian Challenge (Washington, DC)
July 25, 2007

JUST WEEKS after an Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK) bishop voiced serious frustration with longstanding divisions in the mainstream Continuing Church, he and nearly all parishes and clergy of his diocese have left the APCK for the Anglican Church in America (ACA).

In a July 23 letter lamenting the APCK's failure to advance dialogue begun with the ACA and another leading Continuing body, the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), a few years ago, Eastern States Bishop Rocco Florenza told new APCK Archbishop James Provence that 12 of the 14 congregations in the eastern diocese are realigning with the ACA, and that he is going with them.

He said that, as of that day, he and the congregations had notified the ACA of their wish to be received, and had been assured of the ACA's willingness to take them in, with Florenza continuing to shepherd his flock therein "for such time as God allows me to do so." Archbishop Provence, based in California, told TCC he was saddened by the move, contending that Florenza had never discussed his ideas for unity with the ACA with fellow APCK bishops. And he signaled his intent, as he begins his archepiscopate, to try to repair old breaches in the Continuum.

IN HIS LETTER to Archbishop Provence - recently chosen to succeed longtime APCK leader Robert Morse, with Morse's strong support - the Connecticut-based Florenza built on a pastoral letter he issued several weeks ago, when he publicly declared his diocese in full communion with the ACA, "a respected body that has been in real and visible communion with this diocese and the province."

The bishop said that he had not granted the requests of most of his parishes to join the ACA "lightly, but after much prayer and reflection on the needs of the people and clergy under my pastoral care and on the future of Christ's Church as it is found in the traditional Anglican expression. I believe that I can do nothing less and remain true to Scripture, tradition, and the foundational principles of our movement."

Noting that he had been a cleric in the APCK since its inception, Florenza said that, now, as bishop, "I no longer believe that it is possible to remain divided from those with whom we share the same Apostolic origins, the same theology and the same Sacraments. As stated in my recent pastoral letter to my diocese, such division stands in contradiction to the will of Christ, has been a stumbling block to our work for Him in the world, and has inflicted damage on the witness of the traditional Anglican expression.

Our clergy recognize this, and, more importantly, our laypeople well know the cost of a fragmented witness. This was the reason for such great hope over our meetings (involving ACC and ACA leaders) in Fond du Lac (Wisconsin) two years past, and cause for such great disappointment when our province, which had convened those meetings, did not move forward to build on that moment," he wrote.

"A community truly centered on Christ present in the Sacrament cannot be closed in upon itself, as though it were somehow self-sufficient; rather it must strive for harmony with other catholic communities. We cannot erect artificial barriers to the unity of the church based on old wounds and particularized views of communion based on those past events. We are called as the people of God to press forward together, to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus," Florenza stated.

The seven APCK parishes and five missions that have decided to align with the ACA include: the Anglican Church of the Resurrection, Ansonia, CT; Anglican Church of the Ascension, Manchester, CT; Holy Apostles Anglican Church, Peewaukee, WI; St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Liverpool, NY; St. Alban's Anglican Church, State College, PA; St. Mark's Anglican Church, Benton, KY; St. Anne's Anglican Church, Columbus, OH; St. Paul's Anglican Mission, Crystal Lake, IL; St. Matthew's Anglican Mission, Custer, WI; All Souls Anglican Mission, Schylerville, NY; St. Michael's Anglican Mission, Albany, NY; and St. Therese Anglican Mission, Washington, NJ. Florenza estimated that the departing congregations include some 400-500 souls.

The losses represent a further painful winnowing of the APCK that Florenza sees as linked to the province's isolationist posture. Once reporting over 70 parishes, Archbishop Provence says congregations now number 44, though Florenza believes the figure is lower.

In the earlier pastoral letter to his clergy and people, Florenza sharply criticized what he called "the brokenness of our witness for Christ as traditional Anglicans." Some 30 years after the Affirmation of St. Louis, the mainstream Continuum's manifesto, the few major groups rooted in the 1978 Denver consecrations of four Continuing bishops by retired Episcopal prelate Albert Chambers "remain apart...despite sharing communion and in some cases clergy," Florenza noted. In addition to the some four or five salient Continuing bodies, some 20 to 40 other groups also call themselves "Anglican," he said.

He asserted that it is "in the interest of the unity of the Body of Christ" that his diocese had renewed efforts to rectify this situation. He said he had pledged to increase the diocese's cooperation with the ACA, which has a strong presence in the northeast and with which there had already been considerable interchange. He went on to declare "a state of genuine unity and full communion with these our brothers and sisters who hold fast to the same eternal truths as do we."

The pronouncement was welcomed by Bishop George Langberg and other ACA leaders, as well as by Archbishop John Hepworth of the Traditional Anglican Communion, the growing international Continuing Church fellowship of which the ACA is a part. The ACA House of Bishops said: "We join our brother in Christ in proclaiming that we are in full and unimpaired communion with each other," and pledged cooperation.

Contacted about the ACA's new arrivals, Bishop Langberg, president of the ACA's House of Bishops, told TCC that: "Bringing together parties with an adversarial history can only be accomplished when all involved are ready to recognize their own contribution to past problems. Everyone has to agree to put aside old 'bones of contention' (especially those related to the personalities and egos of bishops) and move forward together in pursuit of our Lord's clearly stated will for the unity of his followers. I sincerely believe that the ACA and Bishop Florenza, along with the parishes which continue to follow him, have reached such a position with respect to each other."

IN A TELEPHONE INTERVIEW with TCC, Bishop Florenza confirmed that he hoped that his and his diocese's realignment would help catalyze unity among mainstream Continuers. But he said he was prepared to be accused instead of the divisiveness he and his flock are trying to help remedy. He maintained, however, that there were no other options.

He said that during his four years as an APCK bishop he had seen the province repeatedly make initial movements toward unity with the ACC and ACA that were then suppressed by the province's top leadership on the basis of alleged difficulties (e.g. a lack of theological education or "moral problems"), none of which, even if genuine, was insurmountable.

"We have met with the ACC three times," he noted, for example. After each encounter "we'd intentionally shut the lines down. Because the intention was never to have unity, but to create a little fanfare and make it look good," Florenza stated. He alleged that "if you talk about [unity] in the APCK you find yourself (pushed) out." In an explosive allegation, he also claimed that, during dialogue with the ACA, the latter offered Archbishop Morse the headship of a consolidated APCK and ACA. Remarkably, according to Florenza, Morse refused the position, quashing the potential unification by telling his colleagues that the fact that the ACA had an equal number of bishops would cause the APCK bishops to lose control.

But, if Archbishop Morse has been scored by some (as he has) for being hyper-controlling and isolationist, what about giving his successor a chance to effect change?

"I love Archbishop Provence," who is "a friend" and "a good man," Florenza told TCC. "But he has said to me that, when it comes to the ACA, he's not interested in global Anglicanism, and when it comes to the ACC I'd rather not repeat what he said." Florenza believes "there will never be unity between the APCK and any entity," and any apparent steps in that direction would only be "for political and public relations."

Nevertheless, he said that he would continue to seek, via the ACA, unity in the Continuum at large, including eventual reunion with his APCK brethren. He praised the ACA for its willingness to "listen to everyone," while being careful about communion relationships. He said one reason for linking with the ACA, rather than the ACC, was that, in line with the 1977 Affirmation, the ACC and TAC seek to continue in communion with all faithful Anglicans around the world.

-APCK Leader Responds-

"We're not going to accuse [Bishop Florenza] of anything. I think the fruits of his action will speak for themselves," Archbishop Provence said when TCC contacted him about the departure of APCK's eastern diocese and bishop.

Asked about the latter's claims, Provence contended that Florenza had never brought his ideas of union with the ACA before a meeting of the Council of Bishops. "The first we heard about this" was Florenza's declaration of communion with the ACA, he said. And the Archbishop thought "suppressed" was "a pretty loaded word" to describe the APCK's approach to relations with the ACC or ACA, maintaining that this was more a recognition that there was much history to be overcome, particularly between the APCK and ACC, which have been operating separately for nearly 30 years. Of the ACA's alleged suggestion that Archbishop Morse lead a combined APCK and ACA, Provence said there was talk of it but could not recall if such an offer was officially made.

Discussions with that body had stalled, he added, in part because the APCK did not share the ACA's level of interest in relations with Rome. (The APCK also has joined the ACC in viewing the ACA as outside the "foundational" Continuing bodies, though it includes bishops and clergy who came from the ACC, and now from the APCK.)

As for Florenza's account of Provence's remarks, the latter said: "With regard to global Anglicanism, I think...we have a lot to solve right here in the U.S., and from my perspective that should be our first priority. I'm not sure what [Bishop Florenza] means about my comments about the ACC."

More importantly, however, Provence denied that ecumenical efforts had ceased since the Fond du Lac gathering, maintaining that progress had been made in the areas of cross-licensing and other forms of local cooperation between Continuing jurisdictions.

Further, he said long distance discussions preparatory to face-to-face encounters had begun between leaders of the APCK, ACC, and United Episcopal Church of North America (UEC), another body stemming from the St. Louis movement. And the clearest sign of the current trend, he said, was the spate of statements on unity by ACC and APCK leaders (on which more in a minute).

Both the talks and the statements are recent, however, with the latter plainly appearing to have been triggered by Florenza's communion declaration. Does that mean the action of the eastern diocese and bishop is indeed succeeding in spurring moves to unify the mainstream Continuum?

"I think to some extent it's an overlap," Provence told TCC. Florenza's communion statement came at the same time as the change in the APCK's leadership, he noted. And Provence, who has been with the post-1976 Continuum since its inception, indicated that his direction for the APCK includes an effort to "repair the breach" that began in the movement at its 1978 constitutional assembly in Dallas. He stressed, though, that Archbishop Morse is "fully supporting" this aim as well.

"From my perspective, we are now in a unique position, one we haven't been in for almost 30 years, where I think we can look back to the original source of disunity and begin to correct that," Provence said. "We're going to have to deal with some tough issues," he said. But he was hopeful that "we can build a unified face of orthodox Anglicanism in the U.S."

-ACC, APCK, Speak On Unity-

Also building momentum, in the wake of Florenza's communion statement, were the aforementioned unity statements from the former and current ACC Metropolitans, Archbishop Brother John-Charles FODC and Archbishop Mark Haverland, respectively, and from Archbishop Provence. The latter two statements envisioned a slow unification process, at best, but the letter from Brother John-Charles, formerly a bishop in the Anglican Communion, expressed more urgency about putting the Continuum's house in order.

Asking "what divides us?" Brother John-Charles came up with little of an essential nature in reviewing the possibilities.

"Many years ago, I was asked in a public forum if I could explain how Christians in general had come to be so divided. I rose, went to the microphone and said one word: 'Sin.' I believe this answer also holds the key to our present state of disunity," wrote Brother John-Charles, now retired in his native Australia.

"Yet I am far from implying that the fault lies only with those who have left the ACC. An unbiased investigation of our history as Continuing Anglicans does not allow any of us to escape blame. Nor do I wish to pretend that every division or schism has been due solely to clashes of personality, power-seeking or trivialities.

"No, all of us must frankly examine ourselves and admit where we may have failed the tests of charity or straightforwardness," the prelate went on. "We must also all remember that, in the absence of a solution to the initial ECUSA descent into heresy authorized and imposed 'from above,' Continuers were forced to solve the problem themselves by voluntary association.

While this was unavoidable in the emergency situation they faced, and thus actions normally impermissible and irregular were covered by the doctrine of economy, there can be no doubt that such a beginning made later divisions much easier. (It may well be that only by re-establishing communion with other branches of the Catholic Church, and so making ourselves more directly accountable to a wider Communion, will this flaw that was present ab initio be overcome.) And we must face up to the one issue of genuine substance that remains to keep us separate.

"I refer to our different policies on the limits of communio in sacris. While this is not an area of difference in dogma strictly speaking, it is an important area of what we might call 'applied ecclesiology' that makes closer relations difficult by its very nature.

It has become increasingly clear to us in the ACC that the only way for those Catholic traditionalists still in the Anglican Communion to be fully faithful to their beliefs is to make a clean and public break with it. Vague statements about 'impaired communion' are not enough: public, clear, and complete repudiation of heresy and sacramental communion with heterodox Anglican provinces is what is required at the very least. Better still, all except unavoidable historic association with the Canterbury crew should be rejected. Rather than encouraging those left in the mire to retain some attachment to it, we must confront them with the need to make a choice.

"Quite apart from questions of sacramental integrity," Archbishop Brother John-Charles continued, "there is the matter of providing an honest witness to the world. Similarly, it is surely important that Continuing Anglican Churches which can lay claim to the doctrinal heritage of the Affirmation and the jurisdictional continuity of the 'Chambers Succession' avoid establishing full communion with bodies of vagantes or heterodox origins until we are quite sure, with moral certainty, that these bodies have abandoned earlier errors and, if necessary, had their Orders regularized."

Brother John-Charles concluded: "I beg that as fellow pastors of the flock we set our house in order, discuss and overcome any theological differences that might remain, make the necessary apologies and present a unified and forthright position to Anglicans who remain in the chaos. My own experience, having remained in ECUSA longer than was tolerable, assures me that providing them an escape route back to the Church is our duty."

In his recent statement, Archbishop Haverland, current leader of the ACC, which includes over 90 U.S. and 60 non-U.S. parishes, noted that the ACC's official policy has been to seek unity among Continuing Anglicans in general, but first with the APCK and the UEC, which (though, again, some will debate the point) the ACC sees as "the other two Churches that share our beginnings" in the St. Louis movement, the "Chambers Succession" and the Denver consecrations. "In part, this beginning point rested on a judgment of principle, namely that the unfulfilled hopes of 1977-1978 should be realized as soon as possible. In part, this judgment rested in the practical expectation that Churches with so much in common might find it easier to unite than would bodies with less in common."

Haverland went on to make several points, among them that the ACC 'believes itself to be in state of full communio in sacris with the APCK and the UEC." Indeed, the ACC recently restored its formal communion relationship with the UEC, which claims some 27 U.S. parishes, though a like relationship with the APCK has never been officially secured.

The Archbishop contended as well that "one cannot serve the cause of unity by undermining or dividing any of [these] foundational Churches of the Continuing Church movement."

Echoing John-Charles, Haverland, also said the ACC "believes that we cannot be in a state of full communio in sacris with any ecclesial body which is a member of the Lambeth Communion or which is in communion with any body that has such membership."

He called on bishops of the UEC and APCK to join him in affirming those assertions, and pledged to "work with them, quietly and patiently, in order to build full organic unity amongst ourselves."

In a brief response, Archbishop Provence conveyed the APCK's support for Haverland's statement. "We share a responsibility to the trust that Bishop Chambers placed in us to be a beacon for unity among traditional Anglicans in the United States. The [APCK] will do all that we can to foster that unity," Provence said in part.

In a July 10 pastoral letter after his formal installation as Archbishop, Provence also wrote that APCK bishops "are committed to increased efforts toward unity with the other two branches that spring directly from the root of the Chambers Succession: the [ACC] and [UEC].

We believe that any progress toward unity must begin at that source." But he added that, while unity is "an important goal, the primary responsibility of bishops is to feed the flock of Christ with the Word of God and the sacraments of the Church.

This is the commission given to Peter, to the rest of the Apostles and to the bishops in their direct succession. Aware of this solemn responsibility, it is our commitment to continue leading this branch of Christ's Church in this most holy mission."

Electronic circulation of the foregoing is permitted, provided that there are no changes in the headings or text. To subscribe to or learn more about THE CHRISTIAN CHALLENGE, please visit http://www.challengeonline.org

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