June 7, 2009

Episcopal versus Anglican

Now that Bishop John-David Schofield has left the Episcopal Church to form an Anglican diocese, that’s changed.

Journalists have found it convenient in stories about the Diocese of San Joaquin and others involving departures from our church to distinguish between “Episcopal” and “Anglican.” This is a terminology encouraged by the traditionalist malcontents and accepted, perhaps reluctantly as a necessary expedient, by Episcopalian leaders. We should discourage this deceptive distinction.

I understand the journalist’s frustration with what to call which organization. Not only have I discussed this with local journalists, but I have experienced the frustration keenly myself. When Bishop Robert Duncan and his minions left The Episcopal Church last October, Duncan had already registered a corporation named “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” with the Pennsylvania Department of State. ( The diocese had been unincorporated. See “Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?”) Both the Episcopal Church diocese and the Duncan group offered Web sites branded “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” (The Duncan site prefixed the name with “The.”) How was a journalist—or an Episcopalian, for that matter—to distinguish the two? (Duncan’s site is now branded “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican),” by the way.)

There are, of course, two basic meanings for “Anglican” in an ecclesiastical context. On one hand, it often means a church (or, possibly, diocese) in the Anglican Communion. With the recent talk of each of the “instruments of communion” being able to acknowledge churches independently, the notion of membership in the Anglican Communion is becoming increasingly fuzzy. What still seems to count, however, is recognition as a member body by the Archbishop of Canterbury. (See the Communion’s “Provincial Directory.”)

On the other hand, there is the more generic notion of “Anglican,” indicating a church whose roots can be traced back to the Church of England and that has certain characteristics typical of such churches. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees about what is characteristically Anglican, and adoption of an Anglican covenant could make even the Anglican Communion seem less “Anglican.” Anglicans Online has an extensive list of churches considering themselves Anglican but that are not members of the Anglican Communion.

Robert Duncan’s or John-David Schofield’s or Jack Iker’s claiming Anglicanism for his band of departing adherents has been justified as a move to achieve a connection to Canterbury and inclusion in the Anglican Communion. The diocese of Pittsburgh or San Joaquin or Forth Worth (or Quincy), however, was already in the Anglican Communion by virtue of being a part—an inseparable part, I would argue—of The Episcopal Church. The departure of members of those dioceses for a more tenuous connection to Canterbury through an irregular arrangement with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone is surely ironic. In any case, although “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)” is certainly Anglican in some generic sense, its claim to be a part of the Anglican Communion is hardly strengthened by its departure from The Episcopal Church. And there would be no need for anxiety about being outside the Anglican Communion were not the likes of Robert Duncan working actively to have The Episcopal Church thrown out of it! (This is akin to rats abandoning a sinking ship after having eaten a hole through its bottom.)

The Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Pittsburgh has at least as much right to call itself “Anglican” as does its Southern Cone rival, and it should not cede the term to the schismatics. Currently, the banner of the Episcopal Church diocese reads:
Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh
of The Episcopal Church in the United States
The diocese should append a tag line:
A Diocese of the Anglican Communion
Arguably, the other “diocese” in town cannot make such a claim.

And how should journalists distinguish the “dioceses”? I think
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (“Anglican”)
would do the trick.

Postscript. For more of my thoughts on the importance of being Anglican, see my 2006 paper, “Saving Anglicanism.”

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