Robert Prichard's brief history lesson on the Anglican Communon

Robert Prichard has an article in the most recent Living Church magazine (Sept 25) titled "The Anglican Communion: a brief history lesson."  It is one of a series of articles by the Living Church, whose editor Christopher Wells is doing his best to see that good arguments FOR the Anglican Covenant are in place. No doubt this series will become a "packet" of material available for Deputies and Bishops at General Convention. 

Professor Prichard's beginning point is an odd one. He says, "The response of many Episcopalians to the proposed Anglican Covenant is based in part upon a historical reconstruction about the relationship of the Episcopal Church to the Church of England. According to this reconstruction Episcopalians sought and gained their independence from the Church of England during the American Revolution. The Church of England, however, adopted a strategy to undermine this hard-won independence: it created the Anglican Communion as a means of control."

He then goes on to tell the tale as he understands it. He does a good job of that, except for the odd drop off of the proviso that the first Lambeth Conference was distinctly not to be understood as a synod making decisions for the churches gathered.  Mostly the short history lesson is just that, short, history, and mildly relevant to the issues concerning the Anglican Covenant.

The problem is, however, at the beginning of the essay. Prichard posits the opinion of Jack Miles as a "reconstruction" of history that somehow has been taken up by "many Episcopalians" concerning the Anglican Covenant.  

Miles, if characterized correctly, is just wrong. Prichard has him pegged. But Prichard has set up a straw-Episcopalian.  I know of no one articulate in their opposition to the Anglican Covenant that would suggest that "The Church of England, however, adopted a strategy to undermine this hard-won independence: it created the Anglican Communion as a means of control." This is just foolishness.

Some of us opposed to the Anglican Covenant precisely believe the Anglican Communion to be a vital gift of God for the Churches in the communion and that the Anglican Covenant runs contrary to the best principles of Anglicanism as it is practiced by the various Churches in the Communion. 

For example, the notion that The Episcopal Church might claim "The Book of Common Prayer" as an instrument of its common life and claim its relation to the BCP of the Church of England, while at the same time understand it to be a book that also offers opportunities not yet possible in England to work some reform and improvements in the BCP, is entirely based on the experience of the Church of England in its reform efforts of earlier years.  

Both tradition and experience played a hand in the changes, and the American experience worked changes in many areas of Church life. Most notably the American experience changed the role of bishops in the life of the Church.  For the first time the role of lay people in church governance became a reality, and the role of State (later Diocesan) Conventions and General Convention marked a new direction for our common life as a church.

The problem with the Anglican Covenant is not some nonsense about the Anglican Communion being a means of control, by the Church of England, over life in its former colonies. (Why in heaven's name would any church want that?)  

The problem is that the Anglican Covenant relies too heavily on bishops, and particularly on Primates - that new level of hierarchy only possible in the Anglican Communion by virtue of Arch -Episcopal patterns absorbed and adopted by some, but not all, of the churches of the communion.

To put it plainly, if there is a strategy of control it is one produced by "heads of churches" bent on making the Anglican Communion a world wide Church, one much like those produced by Rome, or perhaps more generously, like the Orthodox Churches. But that strategy has to begin at the beginning, with the assurance that people have been talking about an Anglican Church for a long time (which is why Prichard mentions it) and even longer about a world wide synod (which is why he mentions that as well, leaving out the part about not meeting to make decisions).

The Living Church is doing us all a service. It is mounting the best it has to offer in support of the Anglican Covenant. The series to date is listed HERE. We may hope that Prichard's article will be added to the list.

TLC is also trying to drum up interest at a time when there is little energy for this odd document. But I find the articles are far short of what is needed to convince. Perhaps they are there not to convince but to gently assure deputies and bishops that the Anglican Covenant is no danger to the church, so why not be nice and good and cooperative.

However, Straw-Episcopalian arguments do not help. If we have brains rather then heads of straw then we will need something more than the arguments put forth so far.


  1. Well done. Thanks as ever for bringing some clarity to the table.

  2. While I have not read the TLC article, the notion that TEC sought independence from the Church of England as part and parcel of either the Revolution or its aftermath is nonsense. One only has to read the correspondence of William White with English Bishops to more than sufficiently demonstrate that White and the emergent TEC was willing to take instruction on what must be in the BCP here in order to be acceptable to the C of E. If we wished real independence I can hardly imagine why White would cater to the views of English Bishops.

    And indeed they did have control, the control of making American Bishops. we should note that White, unlike Seabury who got himself irregularly consecrated as a Bishop, negotiated a relationship that allowed the American Episcopal to blossom from English soil, not just Scottish.

    I think too Mark, that you are missing part of what is really going on with the Anglican Covenant. It is a power struggle between the ACC which I suppose the ++ABC believes he controls, the ++ABC and the Primates. It was a totally predictable power struggle based on the wretched work of the drafting committee in inventing four Instruments but failing to define any relationship or checks and balances between them. Indeed it insure anarchy by allowing these fictitious instruments to decide who would be in relationship with them, alone, independent of what other Instruments decided. They created a monster in which the Primates might not recognize TEC while the ACC and the ++ABC did. The permutations of anarchy here are plentiful.

    The Anglican Covenant was a failure once the GafCon people decided that their OWN proposal would not make the Primates Primary and sulked off to rally under the Jerusalem declaration. It continues to be openly displayed as a failure as everyone talks talks about the need to reform the Instruments of Whatever before the Provinces have even finished saying yea or nay to the purportedly "final" draft.

    This is more than stupid, it's insane. Why should any province, including TEC affirm a document which is being revised as votes are taken? Who in their right mind signs on to a contract that is only half baked? The only gesture we should make to the ++ABC is that we will consider faithfully a document once it is actually finished, The only responsible thing the ++ABC should do is withdraw it until it is reformulated.

  3. TEC's relationship with the CofE was troubled for a long time, in spite of White's efforts. How long was it before TEC clergy could be licensed in the CofE? And whose idea was the first Lambeth Conference? Churchmen in North America. The Archbishop of York was so much against it that he refused to attend. Far from being a CofE effort at control, the Communion might be seen as a North American effort at building relationships.

    The word verification is "unwoo" - apt!

  4. How is it that Seabury was irregularly consecrated, as opposed to White's and Provoost's consecrations?

  5. No obvious 'regular' rule book. Seabury was a Loyalist. Wanted consecration in C of E. Not possible. Went north to Aberdeen. Non-jurors were free to consecrate. Returned to US. Fractious time. Took a while to get peace with White and Provoost. Latter never liked Seabury and refused to participate. Thought Seabury was an opportunist...fated. No one else could ordain clergy during the revolutionary period.

    White finally got some peace and Seabury also got his pro C of E concessions, indeed, many think he was responsble for putting pressure or otherwise communicating information to C of E Bishops unhappy with perceived latitudinarian and overly democratoc polity.

    Basic history of colonial anglicanism in the US.


  6. “Basic history of colonial Anglicanism [sic] in the US."

    For those of us who actually know it, your presentation is more like a cartoon history of colonial Anglicanism.

    Kurt Hill
    Brooklyn, NY

  7. How do you square, Mark, your criticism of the Covenant on the basis of the enhanced or augmented power it gives to the Primates and Bishops with the elevated role that our PB seems to have both taken and with revision to title IV been given? Just asking.
    JOHN 2007

  8. OK, Kurt. I am a PhD trained historian. Can you alert us to what is 'off' in this account?

    Or, alert us to what is the new 'Kurt Hill' version?


    (sic) is used to indicate spelling errors reproduced so as to honor and original text and indicate preservation of such.

    It is NOT used to say one disagrees with a text cited.

    Not that careful historiography matters to the new TECdom.

  9. Should have signed that, Bart.

    On proper use of (sic):

    "...errors reproduced so as to honor and (sic) original text and indicate preservation of such."


  10. Bart, I am not at all sure what you meant by "No one else could ordain clergy during the revolutionary period." Until Seabury was consecrated in 1784, after the revolutionary period, ordinations in North America were not possible. That being the case, the sentence I cited seems inaccurate or irrelevant. Which may be what prompted the cartoon comment.

  11. After 1784 and before there were other Bishops, clergy from MD, DEL, NY and elsewhere travelled to CT so Seabury could ordain them. Provoost in particular was infuriated by this. He and White were not consecrated (by C of E Bishops) until 1787.


  12. All this in response to the comment (David) about 'irregular' -- the point being that everything was irregular in a sense until things were regularized.


  13. Many thanks for your continuing interest in TLC's series, Mark. Our posting the essay online was delayed until Monday by my being on vacation. It's now available here.

  14. "There may be good reasons for opposing the adoption of the proposed Anglican Covenant but an appeal to the perpetual independence of the Episcopal Church {{and a characterization of the Anglican Communion as an incursion of ambitious archbishops of Canterbury seeking to snare unsuspecting Americans certainly}} is not one of them."

    Fr Harris: if you do not agree with the part of the sentence in brackets, fine. That can be debated.

    But the remainder of the sentence (as written by the President of the Historical Society) is spot on. The invention of an independent episcopal church serves the purpose of arguing for such today. But it is not true to history. All one has to do is read the proceedings of the period, which can be easily procured on line.

    Thanks to the TLC for this essay and for the exchange between Radner and Franklin as well.


  15. I want to be as clear as I can. The autonomy of TEC has been clear since the drafting of its Constitution. Its dependence on the CofE for consecration of bishops did not change that. The internal disagreements of the early years only serve to confirm this autonomy.

  16. One more thought about autonomy: try telling the GAFCON Primates that their churches are not autonomous.

  17. Fr Weir

    In a food fight you can proscribe throwing oranges.

    But a real meal does not entail this kind of thinking.

    When members of the anglican communion say 'we will eat pomegranates' and our autonomy demands this, we are not in a Communion but are in a smorgasbord.

    NO ONE in colonial TEC--not Seabury, not Provoost, not White--believed this was catholic anglicanism.

    GAFCON's doing what it wants is irrelevant to this point unless you want to be its mirror image on the left wing.



OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.