The announcement in December 2008 by a group of conservative Episcopalians that they were moving ahead with plans to form a U.S.-based branch of the Anglican Communion separate from the Episcopal Church seemed to signal a major realignment of the U.S. denominational system. But did it, really? Since then, Bishop Joseph Welby, the spiritual head of the world’s some 77 million Anglicans, pledged in 2012 to begin attempting to amend the rift in the Anglican Communion. Those close to Welby say they believe he has what it takes to hold the Communion together.
At a time when denominations are floundering — even the Southern Baptist Convention is losing members — the formation of another denominational-like structure runs counter to all the congregational trends of the past 40 years.
Study after study confirms that increasing numbers of churches choose not to affiliate with any denomination. Yet in a New York Times story, leaders of this breakaway faction insisted “the need to provide a home for disaffected conservatives is too urgent to wait.”
That may have been the case for the four dioceses that wanted to break away from the Episcopal Church: Pittsburgh; Fort Worth, Texas; Quincy, Ill.; and San Joaquin, Calif. But in other parts of the country, there were questions about the strength of the calls for absorbing churches that had left the Episcopal fold as long as a decade ago, or formed as Anglican churches independently of the crisis in the denomination. How invested are they in this new plan?
For a list of these other Anglican churches, go to the Common Cause Partnership, and look up your state. While some newer churches may welcome a denominational structure, many others have gotten used to flying solo and may be wary of joining up. Among their reasons:
- Leaders of these churches don’t want to get caught up in politics. It tends to drive away newcomers.
- They’ve dropped many of the trappings of the Anglican Communion, such as vestments and formal Anglican titles (rector, vestry, senior warden, etc.)
- They’re used to giving away money for specific projects and are unlikely to welcome a superstructure that demands monetary commitments.
- They’d rather avoid fresh battles over the role of women or the use of the Book of Common Prayer.
Ask these church leaders to weigh the pros and cons. Talk to leaders in other denominations. Go beyond the hype that accompanied the bishop’s announcement and tell readers about the fragmentation of the old-style denominational framework.
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The Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III is the priest-in-charge at Trinity Church in Boston, an Episcopal church. He was the ninth dean of the Washington National Cathedral, and he preached from the cathedral’s pulpit about global warming and the need for Christians to act. Email him through the contact form on Trinity Church’s website.
Mark D. Chapman teaches church history, Catholicism, ecclesiology and Anglicanism at the University of Oxford. Chapman researches Anglican theology and church history.
Kwok Pui Lan is William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass. Her books include, as co-editor, the 2007 release Off the Menu: Asian and Asian North American Women’s Religion & Theology.
The Rev. Jerome W. Berryman, an author and Episcopal priest, is a senior fellow with the Center for the Theology of Childhood in Houston. He has developed an internationally used approach to religious education called “Godly Play,” inspired by the Montessori approach to learning, which teaches children through parables, silence, liturgical movement and sacred stories. It’s used internationally by congregations (from Pentecostal to Catholic to Lutheran), in hospitals, homeless shelters and other settings.
The Rev. Bruce Chilton is an Episcopal priest and executive director of the Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Chilton is the author of Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography and other books aimed at popularizing the latest historical research on the Bible. Chilton is also rector of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist in Barrytown, N.Y. He is an expert on altruism and Christianity.