“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
Alas (once you start quoting Shakespeare, it has an effect on your own word choices), the Bard may have just got this one wrong. To give some perhaps unneeded context, the four largest and most stable of the church bodies that form the majority of the so-called Anglican Continuum, the groups which trace their heritage through the St. Louis meeting over forty years ago, met last October in simultaneous synod and agreed in complete communio in sacris, full sacramental intercommunion and mutual recognition of validity of orders. There was more, but this was the big news eleven months ago. Some wag began referring to these four church bodies as the “G-4,” and the humorous nickname has stuck.
Although humorous, “G-4” is hardly descriptive and far from euphonious. One bishop has pointed out that this historic action has in effect already made us in these four jurisdictions into one church, sacramentally. Think of it, already “one church, sacramentally.” It’s enough to give a simple country parson goosebumps. Thanks to the efforts of one parish, we even have a “G-4” parish cycle of prayer! The plan going forward, we are told, is that when the four bodies become one, none of the existing four heads of the bodies will be the head of the unified body. Such an agreement was probably necessary, simply for the sake of success. We’re all familiar with the quip that every time two church bodies merge, there emerge not one but three groups: the new merged body and two rumps! We pray that those days are behind us. (Pun intended.)
What hasn’t been discussed is what name might this new church body take? Forty years of history have seen tiny splinters and phony garage operations eating up nearly every possible combination of names and acronyms. Is there anything left, we have to ask? The odds are every desirable name is possessed, whether by a real organization or not, probably by a litigious attorney.
So can a name be chosen without any hint of triumphalism? Our history wouldn’t seem to suggest we are capable of such mature behavior. But if God is good–and He is–we can avoid crashing on this reef and act like Christians.
The bishops of the G-4 are meeting next month at St. Mary’s, Denver, a parish distinguished by a long history. If I could whisper in their ears, I would suggest that a name should be chosen for the G-4 as soon as possible, so that we all have time to acclimate to it and maybe even begin using it.
Such a name must be both descriptive and accurate. Some might consider words like “Traditional” or “United,” both of which have been trademarked and made unavailable. Some would suggest “Anglo-Catholic,” but the prefix “Anglo-” looks to hispanic eyes as a racial designation, “whites only” sign that has no place in Christian life. Some might suggest the least complicated choice would be “Anglican Church in America.” Sadly, the Canterbury communion has so tarnished the word “Anglican” as to make its unmodified use untenable, forcing us to constantly distance ourselves from the organizations that have abandoned apostolic order and biblical morality. I have a friend who thought out loud “American Catholic,” yet that, too, is taken and gone, probably for the best.
Our name must be simple. I would venture to be so bold as to hold that the best choice is for the new body to be called the “Anglican Catholic Church.” I suggest this not because I am a priest of that body, for I am not: I am a priest of the Anglican Church in America. I suggest it because it is what we are: Catholics of the Anglican variety. If the present Anglican Catholic Church could be persuaded to allow all of us to use that name, surely that would be a happy solution.