Almost unnoticed in all the rage and fury in the lead up to the Episcopal Church’s General Convention are the real “on the ground” ecumenical snit fits that are taking place.
We are all, of course, familiar with the Windsor Report’s warning that “condemnation has come from the Russian Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, as well as a statement from the Roman Catholic church that such moves create “new and serious difficulties” to ecumenical relationships.” (WR par 28). But as we all know, no part of the Anglican Communion is currently in communion with either the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Churches, which is to say none of us are invited to communion with them, so it is a bit hard to take all that too seriously. Still, it is true that these churches and many others find what the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have done to be a source of real difficulty.
However there are, in the ecumenical world, churches with which churches of the Anglican Communion are in communion that are making decisions similar to those made by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. How would they fare in a breakup in the Anglican Communion? Think of the Scandinavian Churches that are in full communion with the Church of England and are becoming fully inclusive of gay and lesbian members. The Lesbian Gay Christian Movement in England has an enlightening article on just what that might mean for the future of relations among the various Churches who are participants in that communion scheme.
Back on the home front, in an op-ed piece in the Living Church (May 28, 2006) The Rev. Ray Kasch argues that should we be thrown out of the Anglican Communion (he thinks of it as leaving), “Instead of being a part of the universal Church, the Episcopal Church would be a small American sect.” The spectre of being "just a sect" has been heard before.
Now, aside from a wrong headed sense of what is happening (that we are leaving) and of what constitutes our inclusion in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (that it is through the Anglican Communion that we have it), there is a strange smell about this. There is a skunk on the ecumenical table here and it is this: arguments that if we are not part of the Anglican Communion we are (dismissively said) a “small American sect” are an insult to many churches with which we are currently in dialogue.
For years the Episcopal Church has been in ecumenical dialogue with a variety of churches in the United States, none of them part of the Anglican Communion and most of them believing that they are real churches and not some “small American sect.” The argument that we must do whatever is necessary to stay part of the Anglican Communion because otherwise we might be like, say, the United Church of Christ, or perhaps, say the United Methodist Church, “sects” large or small, does tremendous damage to any ecumenical conversations with these churches.
The ecumenical scandals of the Episcopal Church are many. It has seen itself clear to relate to other northern European tribes of equal reformation certification, and to lust after reunion with Rome, but has not found it sufficiently important to push hard to find a communion framework with African American Churches and reformed churches, and certainly not to churches that sprang from the inability of the Episcopal Church or the Church of England to address religious and social needs in a timely fashion. (That covers everything from the Methodists to the Metropolitan Community Church.) Perhaps that is because we do indeed think of them as “sects” not worthy of being named as churches within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
The argument that we dare not be so autonomous as to be thrown out of the Anglican Communion because “out there” there is no connection for us with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” is strange indeed. It is, of course, the argument that was advanced by the Western Church (The Roman Catholic Church) at the time of the Reformation against the Church in England. If Anglican Churches, or members of our own church, use that argument against us, shame on them, for these Churches were once scorned for being mere shadows of real churches. If we as the Episcopal Church allow ourselves to be cowed by this argument, shame on us, for we have claimed otherwise all these years, claiming that we are indeed part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church despite the obvious lack of communion that now exists among the various churches.
Then again, we could embrace the awful, and say, yes indeed we are a small sect among a field of large and small sects none of whom have a claim on the fullness of the vision of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Or perhaps we could say, such an aspiration is a wonderful thing, too bad it has never been completely operative.