A common question amongst Anglicans these days—indeed, it has been for many years now—is “where ought we to go?” As a matter of fact, I ran an online discussion forum for over a decade where this was the most discussed topic. The landscape has changed quite a bit in the last couple years, however; not only have the options mutated, but conditions within the options have been reshaped. Even for Anglicans who thought these were settled issues, the question bears re-asking and conditions need re-examination. There appear to be six basic possibilities, more or less, depending on where in the world one lives.
The first possibility is just staying put in the Anglican Communion. That is, of course, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Anglican Church of Australia, and so forth. These ecclesial assemblies are in undisputed communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and therefore Anglicans who do not believe in the Virgin Birth, Deity, or the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus belong in these groups. It has been said that one might consider the Anglican Communion the Sadducees of our day—deniers of all spiritual reality.
The second possibility for Anglicans, at least in North America, is the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).1 There are four difficulties with this possibility, however. The ACNA requires acceptance of charismaticism as if it were a legitimate part of Christian tradition despite the obvious historical and theological objections. Secondly, the ACNA has a loose understanding of liturgy, leading to the third difficulty that the most objectionable trendy liturgies are officially accepted by this body. The fourth and most profound difficulty is that the ACNA claims to be in communion with Canterbury. By being in (or even just claiming to be in) communion with Canterbury, the very validity of their sacraments are therefore questionable.2 Anglicans who have no problem with these difficulties would find a ready home in the ACNA.
The third possibility for Anglicans today, again at least in North America, is the Anglican Mission, originally the Anglican Mission in the Americas. The AM appears to be in the process of separating, whether voluntarily or not, from the Anglican province in Rwanda, the body through whom the AM had claimed connection with Canterbury. If this separation is indeed complete, then one major difficulty with the AM fades, but the AM shares similar difficulties with the ACNA in the AM’s nearly complete abandonment of liturgy and tradition in favor of promulgation of charismaticism as if it were a legitimate part of Christian tradition despite the obvious historical and theological objections. Again, like the ACNA, Anglicans who find these difficulties no barrier would do well to choose the AM.3
The three options above all consider that apostolic order is secondary to following the spirit of the age in that all three of the above have abandoned the apostolic succession. Anglicans for whom this is not a problem should consider only the first three possibilities above. Anglicans who value apostolic succession should consider only the three possibilities that follow.
Fourth in the paths for Anglicans is the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI has made a very attractive offer in Anglicanorum Coetibus, and the first two personal ordinariates for former Anglicans are up and running: in the UK the personal ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and in North America the personal ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter. The difficulties with the ordinariates is perhaps more subtle than those with the preceding possibilities. Although some cite issues with Marian dogmas, there is support within the first seven Ecumenical Councils for all of them. Remaining difficulties would be the issues with the papal dogmas, especially those of universal jurisdiction and infallibility. Anglicans who have no difficulties with these dogmas certainly should feel the spiritual obligation to connect with the ordinariates. A problem one might encounter here is the relative sparseness of distribution—outside of Texas and the south of England, ordinariate parishes and missions are few and far between, although numbers are expanding.
Anglican Catholic Church
Fifthly we should consider the older, so-called “continuing churches,”4 the original group of separatist Anglicans. There are two difficulties to weigh here, however. The liturgical issue is narrowly defined, and the only options are for older style English.5 Admittedly, like other difficulties, for some this is a plus, not a minus. The second difficulty is, like the ordinariates, the sparseness on the ground.
The sixth possibility facing Anglicans today is the Western Rite of Orthodoxy. This option has recently grown considerably, with two canonical Orthodox jurisdictions offering a Western Rite: the Antiochian6 and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Both these orthodox churches offer a Western Rite vicariate with a structure and liturgy very familiar to Anglicans. The difficulties faced here are identical to those facing the ACC: sparseness and language. The Western Rite in ROCOR face an additional difficulty, however, and that is the Old Calendar—not many Anglicans can get worked up over Calendar questions. We have enough to worry about without it. There seem to be a rapidly growing number of WR parishes and missions all over the US. This may be the most attractive option for many.
One additional difficulty is shared by all the options—and that is the attitude of being embattled in the culture wars. To what degree will bitterness and what my mother used to call “contrariness” fill the ecclesial bodies to which we flee? And how will attitudes afflict our ability to grow and attract others? This final question is one that will need to be answered with specific congregations in mind, in order to make the preceding paths’ evaluation complete.
I hope this short summary may make planning simpler for some. For all, happy hunting!
1This is the second body to be called by that name. The first body was formed by the St Louis Congress in 1978, later changing their name to the Anglican Catholic Church.
2This point is too complex to be gone into in detail in this venue, but put succinctly, the necessary parts of a sacrament involve matter, form, minister, and intent. Any body claiming communion with any other body that has abandoned apostolic order demonstrates its intent to be party to that abandonment, thereby declaring, whether explicitly or implicitly, that the orders they hold are to a ministry other than apostolic.
3It should be noted, however, that with the AM’s abandonment of liturgy and embrace of charismaticism there doesn’t appear to be any real justification for the AM to remain apart from, and real advantages to joining with, organizations such as the Assemblies of God.
4Pundits have talked about “hundreds” of tiny splinter groups, but the truth is that there are really only five. Of those five, two are talking about intercommunion, and three have already achieved it, so the reality boils down to the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) or one of the two ecclesial bodies in communion with them.
5Of course the advantages in poetic language must be weighed against the corresponding changes, good and bad, in appeal to an unchurched mission field. To what degree is traditional language a barrier to evangelism? Or isn’t it?
6Scholars, please bear with this, for although the usual and customary term in academia is “Antiochene,” the church itself chose to coin the term “Antiochian,” so “Antiochian” it is.