A Sad But Inevitable End

It's hard to believe that we sprang from this. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say we were sprung out of this mess by the Holy Spirit. The following article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, and as I read it from a thirty-year distance, it's like coming across an old acquaintance, once an important and dear friend, who's now laying drunk in a gutter.

How could such a thing happen to what seemed to be such a solid and venerable institution? It's probably more reasonable to ask, "How could it not happen?" When a tree is uprooted, it cannot live for long. A body cannot live without a head. When there is no legitimate authority to guide, chaos will take over. Even what seems to be beautiful, when separated from discipline, eventually grows ugly.

As you read the article, you might be tempted to shake your head in disbelief. Rather, we should give thanks to God that nearly thirty years ago, with the establishment of the Anglican Use parishes of the Pastoral Provision, He allowed us to begin to preserve what was true and beautiful and holy in Anglicanism by bringing it back to its birthplace; namely, Christ's Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church. May God bless and multiply the Ordinariates in continuing the work begun.

What Ails the Episcopalians

By Jay Akasie


Episcopalians from around the country gathered here this week for their church's 77th triennial General Convention, which ended Thursday. Although other Protestant denominations have national governing councils, the Episcopal Church's triennial gathering stands apart. For starters, it's one of the world's largest such legislative entities, with more than 1,000 members.

General Convention is also notable for its sheer ostentation and carnival atmosphere. For seven straight nights, lavish cocktail parties spilled into pricey steakhouses, where bishops could use their diocesan funds to order bottles of the finest wines.

During the day, legislators in the lower chamber, the House of Deputies, and the upper chamber, the House of Bishops, discussed such weighty topics as whether to develop funeral rites for dogs and cats, and whether to ratify resolutions condemning genetically modified foods. Both were approved by a vote, along with a resolution to "dismantle the effects of the doctrine of discovery," in effect an apology to Native Americans for exposing them to Christianity.

But the party may be over for the Episcopal Church, and so, probably, its experiment with democratic governance. Among the pieces of legislation that came before their convention was a resolution calling for a task force to study transforming the event into a unicameral—that is, a one-house—body. On Wednesday, a resolution to "re-imagine" the church's governing body passed unanimously.

Formally changing the structure of General Convention will most likely formalize the reality that many Episcopalians already know: a church in the grip of executive committees under the direct supervision of the church's secretive and authoritarian presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. They now set the agenda and decide well in advance what kind of legislation comes before the two houses.

Bishop Schori is known for brazenly carrying a metropolitan cross during church processions. With its double horizontal bars, the metropolitan cross is a liturgical accouterment that's typically reserved for Old World bishops. And her reign as presiding bishop has been characterized by actions more akin to a potentate than a clergywoman watching over a flock.

In recent years she's sued breakaway, traditionalist dioceses which find the mother church increasingly radical. Church legislators have asked publicly how much the legal crusades have cost, to no avail. In the week before this summer's convention, Bishop Schori sent shock waves through the church by putting forth her own national budget without consulting the convention's budget committee—consisting partly of laymen—which until now has traditionally drafted the document.

Whatever its cost, the litigation against breakaway dioceses—generally, demanding that they return church buildings and other assets—has added to the national church's financial problems. Many dioceses are no longer willing or able to cough up money to support the national organization, and its bank accounts are running dry. On Monday, for example, the church announced that its headquarters at 815 2nd Avenue in midtown Manhattan—which includes a presiding bishop's full-floor penthouse with wraparound terrace—is up for sale.

In the past, General Convention, for all its excesses, at least gave ordinary laymen a sense that they had a democratic voice in governing the church. But many Episcopal leaders have chosen to focus more on secular politics than on religion over the years. Donald Hook, author of "The Plight of the Church Traditionalist: A Last Apology," estimates that church membership has declined to fewer than one million today from three million in 1970. This is another reason, along with financial woes, to save money with a slimmed-down legislature.

And yet there are important issues at stake if laymen are further squeezed out of what was once a transparent legislative process. A long-standing quest by laymen to celebrate the Eucharist—even taking on functions of ordained ministers to consecrate bread and wine for Holy Communion, which is a favorite cause of the church's left wing—would likely be snuffed out in a unicameral convention in which senior clergy held sway.

Also in jeopardy would be the ability of ordinary laymen to stop the rewriting, in blunt modern language and with politically correct intent, of the church's historic Book of Common Prayer. The revisionist bishops who would hold sway over a unicameral convention in the future haven't hid their desire to do away with all connections to Thomas Cranmer, who was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by Henry VIII. He was a classic figure in the English Reformation. But today the man and his prayer book are deemed too traditional by some church bishops.

For some, the writing on the wall is already clear. On Wednesday, the entire delegation from the diocese of South Carolina—among the very last of the traditionalist holdouts—stormed out of the convention.

Mr. Akasie, a journalist and Episcopalian, lives in New York City.

Author: Fr. Christopher Phillips

Fr. Christopher G. Phillips is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he has served for the past twenty-eight years. He is the founding pastor of the first Anglican Use parish, erected in 1983 under the terms of the Pastoral Provision. Fr. Phillips was ordained as an Anglican for the Diocese of Bristol, England, in 1975. After serving as Curate for three years at St. Stephen Southmead, he returned to the United States and served in two Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Rhode Island. In 1981 he left the Episcopal Church and moved with his family to Texas, where he was subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest in 1983. Fr. Phillips and his wife, JoAnn, have been married for forty years. They have five children, all grown and married, and three grandchildren.

15 thoughts on “A Sad But Inevitable End”

  1. Well, if it's like that friend that had hit rock bottom… I don't think any of us can help them, now. But our doors are open to those who are left without a home because of this. Hopefully, they enter without spite and anger.

      1. Heh. I remember a Catholic poster commenting about how their reception to the Catholic made them feel like the Bishop or the ritual is telling them "Kneel, you Protestant dogs!"

        I wonder if that feeling is common, or they're just getting used to things.

        It's not like cradle Catholics are wildly dancing a victory dance at every breaking apart of non-Catholic Churches and pointing at the newly received Catholics going "WE TOLD YOU SO, OH YEAAAH!" and giving high-fives to each other.

        1. I've known a few who have crowed over "protestants crawling home", but thankfully they are a vanishingly small minority. Unfortunately, empty vessels make the most noise.

          It's also important to moderate one's expression of joy on the occasion of someone being received. Sometimes, this can seem like triumphalism, even though it is definitely not. It's not only what is said, but also how it is said, that is important.

        2. We Catholics have our own problems as we are being hurled closer and closer towards schism and revolution. We haven't the right to gloat at some of the grotesque and downright bizarre happenings within the EPUSA and worldwide Anglicanism. Now that all major Christian denominations are facing a continuing crisis of one kind or another.

          Having said that, I can't help thinking the next time I visit the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York I may be entering just as the City's trendiest Anglicans are finishing their Liturgy to the Great God of Reason. With Presiding Bishop Schori presiding vested in her chasuable of gold foil festooned with blue birds of happiness and a mitre of twinkling Christmas lights.

  2. Without Cranmer and the Book of Common Prayer liturgy, what 's left of Anglicanism? The 39 Articles?

    The great glory of Anglicanism is a choral liturgical and musical tradition built upon a foundation consisting of a medieval Benedictine choral heritage, the contributions and revision of that heritage by Cranmer, the genius of Coverdale, the "Caroline divines",and that shining jewel, the King James bible. Take all that away and you're left with little more than a gaggle of shrill dissenters with a made on ths spot liturgy with heavy borrowings from Rome and the Eastern Orthodox.

    What remains to draw either Lutheran and Reformed Protestants, Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox to a liturgical palace stripped of it's wealth of furnishings? Women clergy? All the major Protestant churches have plenty of them. A home for gays and lesbians? There are plenty of welcoming reformed churches open to them too.

    The actions of the General Convention help to put in perspective why so many Anglicans are departing from Canterbury and swimming the Tiber to Rome and the Bosphorus to Constantinople.

    1. Let's cross our fingers that the CofE becomes Catholic, in communion with Rome!

      (A man can dream!)

      Now… about Cranmer and his followers… Something has to be changed. How can it be Catholic if it is Protestant? Cranmer's Protestantism is disturbing, beautiful as his Book of Common Prayer may be. We must "reform the reform" so that it becomes (more) Catholic, not Protestant, something substantial, not just based on revolt and revolution, and we need to get that sort of English in wide circulation, especially in the Anglosphere. I think the English language and the Catholic rituals held in that language will benefit from the sort of thing.

    2. The "shining jewel" has, alas, been ditched by the ordinariates and by most Anglicans. An English text of towering importance is thought too quaint for modern people to use.

  3. We still have it. Of course, most continuing churches do, and plenty of eastern churches use it. So there are people keeping the use of that jewel alive, at least in the US.

  4. Lay consecration as left wing? Here in Australia, it's the evangelicals in Sydney who wanted that in my Anglican days!

  5. It would be a sign of humility (a Christian virtue) for Roman Catholics (including, especially, those in the Ordinariate) to eschew any sign of superiority and triumphalism about the struggles of Episcoplian/Anglican bodies and to look inward. Our Lord commented about judgementalism and said something about motes and beams (or specks and planks.) The Roman Church has much to repent of itself, whether in Ireland or Philadelphia.

    1. Mr Gagne, the very fact that you speak of the need for repentance by the "Roman Church" for various motes and beams simply underscores the point of the post. There is a vast difference between individual Catholics (whether clerical or lay) committing sins which are contrary to the Church's teaching, and the decisions made by the Episcopal Church to give institutional approval and encouragement to many of those same sins.

      There's nothing triumphalist about pointing out that difference. Whether or not there are inaccuracies in the article doesn't change the decisions made at General Convention.

  6. For the sake of fairness and perspective, we should note that the Wall Street Journal article is not written from a neutral point of view. It is as socially and politically biased as one could get, considering that it is a Murdoch paper and in the company of Fox News.

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