More From Richard Kew
-- kendall @ 7:08 pm, 4/25/2004
This last week I spent several days at the convocation of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches in Hutchinson, Kansas. It was a delightful interlude in the middle of a crowded Lent, and I much appreciated the brothers and sisters in Christ who I met, with whom I worshiped and broke bread.
The CEEC is one of the newer Anglican bodies that has come into being in recent years, and seems to be growing at a goodly pace. They are gathering newcomers from various directions, including disaffected Episcopalians, through to several large charismatic or non-denominational congregations and networks of congregations. These folks are drawn to the historic church and rootedness of the Gospel in time and history.
As someone whose whole Christian experience is in a mainstream Anglican setting, it is encouraging to see fine folks being drawn to the treasures that I have always taken for granted. I am just sorry that ECUSA is such a disaster that these wonderful fellow-Christians cannot in conscience attach themselves to our denomination. However, I would like to suggest that it is out of such gatherings as CEEC that a new Anglican consensus is going to be built on these shores. I, for one, and prepared to do all that I can to make this happen.
There is something of a jolt when encountering the CEEC. We met at The Father's House, formerly known at the Abundant Life Community Church, in Hutchinson. This is a large congregation in the charismatic-pentecostal tradition, whose pastor, Quintin Moore, has been on that long journey from a consumer-style midwestern, independent church charismatic Protestantism, toward a discipled commitment to the historic church with all the checks and balances that go with that.
This journey has been filtering through Quintin's life for a long time, but now is incarnating itself in the sanctuary of this classic last 20th Century building, designed with preaching and entertainment-style worship in mind. There is now a self-conscious liturgical church overlay. The Lenten color prevailed and a communion table is, literally, now in center stage. At our worship on Friday evening was an array of vestments, copes, etc., that would do the average ECUSA high churchman proud! As a low church evangelical Anglican I would not be seen dead in some of the things these guys were wearing....
The worship was a little like Azusa Street meeting Canterbury within the context of the Midwest. Praise band, a Pentecostal sermon that was far longer than the average Anglican would try to get away with, and yet a sense that all was being done decently and in order, walking in the footsteps of the Apostles and the Fathers. These folks have a way to go in their absorption of some of the strengths of Anglicanism (particularly its worship), but I hope that they do not in the process pick up some of our worse habits and ways.
The CEEC reflects the complexity of the changing face of Anglicanism. When it comes to beliefs and convictions these good people stand in the very center of an Anglican understanding of the Gospel, and are much more in tune with the worldwide Communion and Church Catholic than the high church unitarianism that establishment Episcopalianism is fast becoming. Yet they are not part of the Communion, although many of them (alongside a lot of those in the separated Anglican traditions) would very much like to be.
One of the questions in coming years is how this blending will take place, especially in light of the overtures now being made by a wider array of Anglicans toward folks like the Reformed Episcopal Church, whose leaders, together with those of the Anglican Province of America, will be meeting with Archbishop Drexel Gomez in Nassau during the next week. Meanwhile, stern letters are passing from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA about the care and nurture of the orthodox faithful who are part of the old line denomination. All this is reformational - and even the Archbishop is ready to admit he does not know where it will all lead.
Which brings me back to ECUSA. Last week the piece that I put up on here suggesting that the confirmations in Ohio were a precursor of us moving toward less geographically-ordered dioceses, found its way (with my permission) to the House of Deputies and Bishops listserv. The responses have confirmed just what fundamentalist literalists the left are when it comes to reading and interpreting the canons. Re-symbolize the Scriptures to your hearts content, sisters and brothers, but God help you if you bring the same hermeneutic tools to the Canons of the church!
As a result I have found myself engaged in individual conversations with several people online. I am beginning to think that what this is is long- term intellectual guerilla warfare. The ideas that are being presented are so skimpy, yet clothed in the mantle of raw power, that it is necessary for us to keep challenging them and challenging them, slowly eroding their pretended veracity. Just as there has been a steady sowing of seeds of doubt in the public mind about the wisdom of abortion over the last thirty years, so there needs to be a steady sowing of the same seeds of doubt with those who have are taking the church down a misguided path. I have determined that, within reason, I am not going to let these folks get away with their statements - which many of them truly believe to be beyond contradiction. I will be as persistent with this approach as any politician in his/her rejection of the opponent's assertions.
Which brings me full circle to the CEEC. I left Hutchinson grateful for the opportunity I had had, but realizing that as great as they are, this was not somewhere I belonged. My place, for better or worse, is in ECUSA for I am a mainstream Anglican with a different set of hang-ups and sensibilities than CEEC types. I determined afresh that I am going to do all in my power to see what can be salvaged from the Episcopal Church for world Anglicanism. The debate is often hard and debilitating, but this is the setting in which we are called to witness, and for that witness the Lord will give us the words.
However, there is a little twist that has come into my mind. I think it was in 1958 that the Lambeth Conference passed a resolution that in the great ecumenical church about which people dreamed in those days, the day would come where Anglicanism should willingly surrender its unique identity in favor of whatever it was that was being born. I am starting to wonder whether that time has not come.
I am starting to wonder whether in the reconfiguration of western Christianity that is taking place, Anglicanism is not the catalyst that will enable something new and healthy to emerge - but that the price it will pay is to surrender its own life. The treasures of Anglicanism will continue to live on, but in different earthenware vessels and new wineskins. I am only at the wondering stage, but perhaps this is something to talk about as we take aim at the increasingly hostile world that is coming into being, and our Christ-given obligation to minister into it.
-Richard Kew is a priest in the diocese of Tennessee
Return to the home page