The Continuing Anglican Church movement began with the Congress of Saint Louis in 1977. The Anglican Church in North America was born in 2010. Between these two ecclesial movements there are points of contact, but there also is a great gulf fixed.
In regard to points of contact, both of the entities concerned are movements composed of a number of imperfectly united ecclesial jurisdictions rather than perfectly united dioceses or Churches. Both understand themselves to be Anglican and to relate in positive ways to a common history and shared theological and cultural influences. Both understand themselves to have left former Church homes as an act of fidelity to the teaching of Scripture and in the face of grave aberrations in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. Both are challenged by the need to present the gospel in compelling and attractive ways to an increasingly secular and indifferent Western society.
The gulf between us concerns mostly the changes accepted in the Episcopal Church (and the Canadian Church) between the mid-1970s and 2010. Those of us who left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada in the 1970s did so due to the adoption in those years of the ordination of women to the priesthood by General Convention (1976) and General Synod (1975). More generally, in the roughly 30 years between the Congress of Saint Louis and ACNA’s formation, the people who eventually formed ACNA lived in ecclesial bodies which increasingly abandoned elements of classical Anglicanism. The precipitating cause of the founding of the ACNA was TEC’s abandonment of orthodox Christian teaching concerning homosexuality. But prior to 2010 many of those now in ACNA accepted liturgies and prayer books with few connections to classical Anglican worship and accepted female deacons, priests, and bishops contrary to the mind of all Anglicans prior to the mid-20th century.
One of our number, in an earlier letter to Archbishop Duncan of ACNA, wrote in regard to these matters as follows:
The notion that women can receive the sacrament of Holy Orders in any of its three parts constitutes, in our view, a revolutionary and false claim: a claim false in itself; a claim destructive of the common ministry that once united Anglicans; and, finally, a claim productive of an even broader and worse consequence. That worse consequence is the claim that Anglicans have authority to alter important matters of faith and order against a clear consensus in the central tradition of Catholic and Orthodox Christendom. Once such a claim is made it may be pressed into service to alter any matter of faith or morals. The revolution devours its children. Many of the clergy represented at GAFCON and now joining the ACNA seem to us to accept the flawed premise and its revolutionary claim in one matter while seeking to resist the application of the premise in the matter of homosexuality. This position seems to us to be internally inconsistent and impossible to sustain successfully over time.
All Continuing Anglicans accept this analysis. We note that ACNA has not abandoned the putative ordination of women and that this issue deeply divides the dioceses which compose ACNA.
While we recognize that the Churches through history and today are free to adopt a variety of liturgical forms, as they are not free to accept the ordination of women, yet we also agree that any sound Anglican body today needs to relate more positively to the classical Books of Common Prayer than is the case in many ACNA dioceses.
Many in ACNA effectively accept elements of the revolution since the 1970s. If orthodox Anglicanism in North America is again to unite, then it can only do so on the basis of the pre-1976 state of the Church, without women clergy and with classically Anglican liturgies.
We recognize that the Continuing Church has failed to present a united front, has failed to grow as we should, and in general has failed to present an attractive alternative to the growing heresy and absurdity of the Episcopal Church. However, we also note that against furious opposition, and often against obstacles set up by those who later formed ACNA, we have built hundreds of congregations in North America, many of which are thriving. We have established works of mercy, publications ministries, and international missions, and we have trained and ordained a new generation of able clergy.
The Continuing Churches are said to be riven by constant conflicts and to be increasingly divided. This is not true. Those of us who are undersigned below represent the great bulk of the Continuing Church. We have among ourselves cordial relations. We cooperate on many levels and have at least as great a level of communion as that which exists amongst the disparate groups of ACNA. Our tendency is towards greater unity and cooperation, whereas we observe within ACNA a tendency, just beneath the surface, to divide along the fault line we have identified above (between many in ACNA and classical Anglicanism). We have no wish to deny or to minimize our own failures or divisions. But our divisions are largely matters amenable to improvement. The divisions facing ACNA are fundamental and essential.
We call upon ACNA to heed our call to return to your classical Anglican roots. We commend to your prayerful attention the Affirmation of Saint Louis, which we firmly believe provides a sound basis for a renewed and fulfilled Anglicanism on our continent. We urge you to heed the call of Metropolitan Jonah, whose concerns we share. Anglicanism in North America cannot be both united and orthodox on a partially revolutionized basis. We call upon you to repudiate firmly any claim to alter doctrine or order against the consensus of the Catholic and Orthodox world. We call upon you to embrace the classical Prayer Book tradition. The 30 years between our formation in 1977 and yours in 2010 were years of sharp decline in TEC numbers and of growing aberrations in all areas of Church life. We call upon you to look upon all the works of those years with a much more critical eye, and to join us in returning to the doctrine, worship, and orders that preceded the intervening decades.
Yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Paul Hewett, SSC
Diocese of the Holy Cross
The Most Reverend Walter Grundorf
Anglican Province of America
The Most Reverend Brian Marsh
Anglican Church in America
The Most Reverend Mark Haverland
Anglican Catholic Church
The Most Reverend Peter D. Robinson
United Episcopal Church of North America