Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Rose by Any Other Name?

Hat tip to Fr. Jake and ASM in PGH who, in a thread about Bp. Howe of Central Florida, posted a link to Louie Crew's Anglican Pages; where following the Documents link leads you to a vast collection of materials related to Anglicanism, the Episcopal Church, and of course Crew's project. Among these is a list of 26 sources detailing an attempt by several bishops, spearheaded by Bp. Wantland of Eau Claire, to exploit a loophole in Episcopal legal history. It was probably the last big controversy in PB Browning's career and the first to involve PB Griswold. You should read all these sources to get a decent grasp of the controversy (and maybe not even then), but below is an excerpt that puts it well (keep in mind this is 1996):

"In 1789, a church was formed as an unincorporated body to unite former congregations of the Church of England after the American Revolution. That church was known as �The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America'. Over 30 years later, there was incorporated from within the church an entity known as the �Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America' (�DFMS') for the specific purpose of fostering evangelism. The church itself remained unincorporated. In more recent times, DFMS has assumed a broader role and moved the church away from its original name so that it is now generally know to the public as �The Episcopal Church'.

"For a number of years, there has been a concern among many bishops, clergy and laity that nationally, under the leadership of DFMS, the church has been moving away from its original foundations of Faith. Previously held doctrines of virtually universal acceptance have been changed or rejected outright. This has exacerbated a decline in membership and caused censure by other Provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

"There are now many thoughtful people on both sides of the theological divide who believe that a split in the denomination is likely. There are strong indications that the theological positions supported by DFMS will cause Provinces in the Anglican Communion to declare The Episcopal Church in the United States to be out of communion with the rest of the church.

"Given the foregoing circumstances, leaders within the church felt that it was once again time for a group within the body of the church to rise up and incorporate itself for a specific purpose (as DFMS had done years before). That corporation has reclaimed the historic name of the church, and adopted as its purpose the preservation of the historic faith and order of the church."

So apparently the relationship between the broad 'association' of churches that constitutes the Episcopal Church and the specialized executive office that is DFMS is not one of identity; that is, DFMS never has been the same entity as TEC (or ECUSA, or the original PECUSA). The game then becomes to somehow disassociate TEC from DFMS and create another corporation of similar conceptual dimensions to DFMS, one that could revitalize the church and possibly come to exercise the same influence over TEC that DFMS does now. It's speculation whether these leaders intended to do what the Network has talked about: supplant TEC as the ecclesiologically and legally legitimate heir to Anglicanism in the U.S. Or whether they intended to remain as the AAC is: a useful association of parishes/individuals/dioceses within TEC. Bp. Wantland said he never intended to lay any claim to the programs and funds of 815, but only wanted his group to be "a place to stand" for faithful Episcopalians. Of course, A Place to Stand is the title of the AAC's confession. I have no idea whether there was ever any formal connection between the two organizations, and I can't find on the internet any mention of PECUSA, Inc.'s fate after it lost a court battle in New Jersey and agreed to use a name that is different enough from that of TEC not to cause confusion (1999).

All in all, this is an interesting attempt to galvanize orthodox Episcopalians, but it seems like it didn't work. I don't know why. It would be interesting to chronicle all the similar attempts to do this, from the Reformed Episcopal Church to today. I don't think any previous orthodox attempt has received the kind of support both at home and among Anglicans abroad that the AAC and the Network have received.

And I must admit to being impressed at all the stuff Louie Crew has made available on his site. As much as I disagree with his theology, you've got to admire all this research.

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