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Continuing Church Movement Reaches a Decisive Moment

Continuing Church Movement Reaches a Decisive Moment
Churches must grow together or wither apart, say leaders

By David W. Virtue, DD
November 18, 2017

Forty years ago, at the Congress of St. Louis and the Affirmation of St. Louis that issued from that Congress, the ecclesiastical landscape of Anglicanism in North America changed forever.

It was about doctrine, involving the ordination of women, an altered Prayer Book, permissiveness on abortion -- a triumvirate of issues that dealt the first body blow to the hegemony of the Episcopal Church.

They were Anglo-Catholics, followers of Pusey and Newman, more comfortable with archbishops like Geoffrey Fisher, Michael Ramsey and a Robert Runcie, less comfortable with the Protestant Reformation and its heirs in such evangelical archbishops as Donald Coggan, George Carey and Justin Welby.

At a press conference in Atlanta recently following the joint Anglican synods of four Continuing Anglican bodies, the Anglican Province of America Archbishop Walter Grundorf said he was interested in seeing the Continuers come back together and work in a unified Anglican effort. "We are excited about the possibilities of unity in the church," he said.

Archbishop Mark Haverland of the Anglican Catholic Church said the three issues -- to ordain women to the priesthood, adopting of a new and radically different prayer book and a permissive policy on abortion "marked a comprehensive revolution." The violation of traditional sexual morality, was a bridge too far.

For the four continuing bodies it has been a wilderness experience. "We have gained wisdom from 40 years of wandering in the wilderness," said Archbishop Brian Marsh of the Anglican Church in America (ACA).

"We have had issues surrounding personalities and various conflicts. We have gone from contentiousness to conciliators. We are getting over our past history with new challenges.

"Within the Council of the Church our imperfections can be overcome in the presence of Jesus Christ. We can bring people together in joy."

Some 500 traditionalist Anglicans came together in Atlanta to fulfill the mission that they all might be one, he said.

"We are entering the promised land of a new synergy," said Presiding Bishop Walter Grundorf of the Anglican Province of America (APA) whose 60 congregations and 6,000 members separated from the Anglican Church in America in 1995.

"We are seeing new parishes, a new commitment to missions...something exciting is coming in the next decade. Parishes are attracting younger families from evangelical backgrounds searching for an authentic liturgy and traditional music," said the Orlando-based leader.

"We are seeing growth coming from the evangelical community, families with kids. We are seeing a renaissance in this area. They are not evangelicals interested in an anglo-sized form, they want traditional Anglicanism. They are not interested in modernizing it. They want traditional Prayer Book worship reflected in hymns and organ music.

"Many churches gravitate to the fads. We offer that solidity, that biblical faith, from the earliest church counsels. I ask you what is left if that is gone. They want wonderful traditional music. If you toss that out you lose the spirit of the church. Churches who adhere to these traditions are growing," he said.

Is this a merger? No. The four Continuing churches inhabit different geographic locations so there is little real overlap, but they said they were committed both to growing together or face withering apart. "It is not a panacea, it is not perfect. The Church has always reinvigorated itself. The path forward could see a unified synod, but not at the moment," the leaders said.

Each brings a certain gift, a message of power to come back together and express forgiveness. We serve only under the banner of Jesus Christ, said the leaders.

Trying to merge without everyone in the rank and file figuring out who they are would be premature, they said.

Noticeably missing from this meeting was the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK) which has seen significant leadership changes in recent years. The APCK apparently was asked several times to join in the talks when they began and were twice invited to the Atlanta meeting. They declined. Word has it that their priests were ordered NOT to attend. At one point the APCK was "the big dog" among Continuers, but that has greatly diminished; first with the death of Archbishop Robert Morse and then a scandal involving his replacement, Archbishop James Eugene Provence, who resigned in July, 2015, following allegations of sexual abuse. Little is known of the current Presiding Bishop Frederick G. Morrison and what he and they hope to achieve with their isolationist policy.

Another Anglican denomination, the Episcopal Missionary Church under the leadership of Presiding Bishop William Millsaps, has sought but never found a home with the Continuers.

In a note to VOL, he wrote; "In 1992 we signed a Concordat with the Charismatic Episcopal Church which is still in effect. In the mid 1990's, after I was elected Presiding Bishop, I reached out to APA Bishop Grundorf and we declared ourselves in communion. I believe he has honored that and I know we have. I spoke at his synod and he has spoken at ours."

Millsaps said that on the celebration of 25th Anniversary of the Affirmation of St. Louis in 2002, his presentation centered around the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, a situation that has only gotten worse over time.

"The EMC might well have accepted a true seat at the table as the REC sought and received, but it was never offered. The EMC is growing again, but very slowly."

"We continue to make overtures to the Continuers, as well as enjoying fellowship with much of the ACNA. We would have signed on the dotted line with the Continuers, but we weren't involved in the three years of meetings and examination orders."

Reflecting on the recent Atlantic meeting, Archbishop Haverland described it as a "pivotal moment" and, in The Trinitarian, the official voice of the ACC, he said that the 40 years is no longer a metaphor, but a fact of completed history.

"We have defied many predictions by the simple achievement of survival. Parishes have been built, missions and ministries supported, new Christians nurtured, and new generations raised in the faith we saw threatened in 1976. We are certainly not a one-generation burial society for disgruntled former Episcopalians. We often have not exactly flourished. Many congregations have been planted but not endured. But the ACC as a whole is still here."

He said he saw the Atlanta meeting of the joint synods as reuniting and getting back on track. "A period of division and splitting has stopped and is now reversing. I can say, after two years of monthly conference calls and periodic physical meetings, that our leaders feel mutual confidence, are operating and cooperating by consensus, and have a realistic view of our opportunities and limits. I believe we have learned the lessons of pushing too quickly for reunification and of doing so without adequate regard for tender consciences and reasonable cautions. We are all...aware of the danger of being separate puddles drying up in the sun."

Haverland said he has never felt so hopeful, and that despite some daunting challenges ahead, (and the Promised Land has not been entered), the churches have an opportunity to get things right this time. "God has given us a second chance."


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