Where do Episcopalians Go From Here?
By Shane Schaetzel
July 9, 2015
When I tell other Catholics that I am part of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, I get some inquisitive looks. When I explain that it is a provision within the Roman Rite that allows Anglican converts to govern ourselves, using our own liturgy and customs, that inquisitive look turns confused. It's to be expected really. Most Roman Catholics are still unfamiliar with the Anglican Patrimony within the Roman Catholic Church, and so when you present it to them, it often results in confusion.
Lately, I've tried a slightly different method of explaining this. Instead of using the word Anglican up front, I'll throw out the word English, and for some reason, this seems to get through a little better. I'll tell them I'm part of a special jurisdiction within the Roman Catholic Church that puts an emphasis on traditional English Catholic heritage.
POW! That nails it!
All of a sudden they get it, and that inquisitive look turns into curiosity. I then go on by telling them to imagine a combination between the old Latin mass, and the new vernacular mass. 'Mash them together, to get the best of both worlds, and put the whole thing into sacral English', I say. Sometimes they'll ask what sacral English is. I'll simply tell them it's an older form of high English that is reserved specifically for God, and they use it all the time. Every time they say the 'Our Father' or the 'Hail Mary' they are likely using sacral English. That's where the 'thee' and 'thou' comes from. Then I tell them to imagine a whole mass like that. Suddenly that curious look turns into an epiphany, and they get it! More than that, they usually like the idea, often requesting where they can visit such a liturgy. Once that is all done, I'll explain to them that the word Anglican is just an older way of saying English Christian, and even though the word is commonly used to describe a Protestant church, it is also used in a Catholic context to describe Roman Catholics (usually converts but not always) who prefer the sacral English method of worship. I've had a lot of luck explaining things this way to regular Roman Catholics.
Now, explaining the matter to non-Catholics, especially Anglicans/Episcopalians in America, is a completely different matter, and that is the subject of this essay.
Since the late 1970s, The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States (American Anglicanism) has been going through tumultuous changes. The 1970s were a difficult time for Western Christianity in general. The Catholic Church was affected by this too. However, it could be said that if the 1970s gave the Catholic Church a nasty cold, than it could also be said that same decade gave The Episcopal Church a fatal case of pneumonia.
While Rome gave the Catholic Church a new liturgy, and American Catholics were busy fooling around with all sorts of wacky innovations (many of which are slowly being abandoned today), The Episcopal Church was sowing the seeds of its own complete collapse. Following the Vatican's liturgical update, The Episcopal Church completely changed the American Book of Common Prayer, creating two completely separate rites, one traditional and the other modern, but unlike Rome, it didn't stop there. Along with this radical liturgical change came a massive sacramental change too. The sacrament of holy orders was altered to include women, and that was the beginning of the end for The Episcopal Church.
Quickly, Episcopalians moved into two camps, which in many ways mirrored the division that was happening in Catholicism. The two camps centred around the publication dates of prayerbooks. There was the 1928 Book of Common Prayer camp, which rejected all of the modernisations of the revised 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The 1928 Prayerbook Episcopalians had many things in common with the traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church who preferred the old Latin 1962 Missal. In fact, many of them identified not only as traditional Anglicans, but also as Anglo-Catholics, putting a great emphasis on the ecumenical move Anglicanism took during the 19th century, moving toward Roman Catholicism. Some of these traditionalists set out to start their own movements, independent of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. These included, but were not limited to, the Anglican Church in America (ACA) and the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC). However, these organisations remained relatively small throughout the years, and most traditional Anglicans chose to stay within The Episcopal Church, at least until something a little larger came along.
Meanwhile, the 1979 prayerbook camp did retain a lot of Catholic forms, but also included modern liturgy, female priests and a general move toward embracing what the Catholic Church condemned as 'modernism'. Now this move toward modernism was not universal nor monolithic. It ranged in degrees, and depended on various priests and bishops.
As I said, much of the struggle that has happened in the Episcopal Church over the last 30 years mirrors what had been going on in the Catholic Church over the last 40 years. However, there is one major difference. In the Catholic Church, the errors of modernism ramped up into the 1980s and then began to taper off in the 1990s and turn of the century. Since the year 2000, and especially after the pontificate of Benedict XVI (2005 - 2013), the shift in the Catholic Church has been unmistakeably traditional. Nearly all of the new priests, coming out of seminary, are hard-core traditional in their liturgy and theology. Virtually everything that remains of modernized Catholicism now is a remnant. It's dying, and it's gradually being replaced by younger priests, who are unmistakeably more traditional in character. In time, the biological solution will run its course. Older modernized priests will slip away into retirement, while younger traditional priests will take the reigns of parishes, and in time entire dioceses as a new crop of bishops take over. While the older (more modernist) generation still remains, we will still see modernist innovations and preaching in the Catholic Church. Their days are numbered however. What's following them in years to come is more 'old school' and traditional.
This is where the mirror image, between American Catholicism and The Episcopal Church, comes to an end. Because you see, the difference in the future direction of Rome and New York could not be more mirror opposite. Rome is gradually moving in a more traditional direction. While as New York (the headquarters of The Episcopal Church) is moving rather rapidly in a more modernist direction.
Membership numbers could not be more mirror opposite as well. In the United States, the number of Catholics has gone up from 47 million in 1968 to 66 million in 2013. In contrast, the number of Episcopalians has gone down from 3.5 million in 1968 to 1.5 million in 2013. While the Catholic Church has been growing consistently with the population, the Episcopal Church has literally imploded, losing nearly 2/3 of its membership over the last 47 years.
In comparison, The Episcopal Church hasn't been larger than the Catholic Church in America since the early 19th century, and of course, the Catholic Church now dwarfs The Episcopal Church in size, but then, a lot has changed since the early 19th century. Baptist and Methodists dwarf Episcopalians too. Nevertheless, a membership of 3.5 million in 1968 wasn't bad, and it did make for a sizeable church. How could a denomination lose almost 2/3 of its members in just one generation? From what I read in the statistics, the situation is getting no better. The Episcopal Church has continued to see a loss in numbers over the last ten years, and most experts are predicting another sizeable exodus in the very near future.
Why is this happening? The answer is simple, and I can explain it in just two words. Modernism kills. Most people want modernity in their automobiles and shopping malls, not in their religion.
In the late 1960s, and throughout the 1970s, into the early 1980s; American Christianity experimented with modernism. It wasn't limited to America of course. Canada fooled around with it too, and so did Australia. Europe when headlong into it. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. In America, the effects of this experiment have never seen more dramatic results. The Episcopal Church in the United States turned out to be the most progressive in modernism of all the Anglican provinces throughout the world. This progressive dive into modernism caused many Episcopalians (nearly two-thirds) to bail out of the denomination over 47 years. The Episcopal Church's experimentation into modernism has cost about 58% of its members! Can you imagine if the same statistic were applied to the Catholic Church?
If we started at 1968, with 47 million members in the Catholic Church, and the Church lost 58% of its members over 47 years, the current membership in the U.S. Catholic Church would be at 27 million today. Think about that for a moment. This would not only eliminate 58% of Catholics from 1968, but it would also evaporate all the growth the Catholic Church has seen since. Today, the Catholic Church's actual membership is at 66 million souls, but if the Catholic Church followed The Episcopal Church's example, she would be short 39 million people today! The number is staggering when plugged into a Church the size of the Catholic Church, but it's even more damaging when plugged into a small denomination like The Episcopal Church, simply because The Episcopal Church never had a whole lot of members to begin with.
While the Catholic Church gradually moves back in a more traditional direction, The Episcopal Church rapidly moves in a more modernist direction. Last week, The Episcopal Church voted to allow same-sex 'marriage' within that denomination. It will become effective November 1, 2015. Experts are expecting a backlash in the form of yet another exodus. My experience tells me the exodus will not be rapid. Episcopalians never run from their church. It's more of a casual stroll. They seem to trickle out gradually, one family at a time, and sometimes one parish at a time. They will leave though. Within a few years from now, the only Episcopalians that will be left in The Episcopal Church will be those who approve of female clergy and same-sex 'marriage'. The rest will be gone. As a personal prediction, I don't expect the overall membership of The Episcopal Church to ever rise above 1.5 million again. In the years ahead, as members age, and fewer young people are around to replace them, The Episcopal Church will be forced to sell off properties just to stay afloat. Some Episcopal dioceses are already doing that.
So where will they go?
Some Episcopalians have been so poorly catechised and sacramentalised over the last generation that a good number of them will be moving over to Evangelical churches. I personally know some Episcopalian families who are doing just that. Here in Springfield Missouri, I happen to know some Episcopalians who have made (or are in the process of making) the journey from Saint James Episcopal Church, and Christ Episcopal Church over to James River Church -- an Evangelical/Pentecostal church that is part of the Assemblies of God denomination. Just a brief overview of each church's website will reveal a dramatic change! These people are going from a very 'catholic' style of worship and life, over to a totally Evangelical experience. They are going from small churches, where they were once integral members of a parish family, into a mega-church where they will just be drops in a bucket. Think about that. It's a radical change. I personally don't think it will stick, but you never know. I could be wrong. Disappearing into a crowd may be exactly what they want. Maybe they're not interested in regular communion any more. Because they'll be lucky to get anything close to resembling it just once a month now. As for liturgy, they can forget that! It's gone in Evangelicalism. Maybe however, that's what they want. I spent the early years of my adulthood in that environment, and let me tell you, it gets old fast. Liturgy and sacraments added such a deep spiritual dimension to my life that I couldn't possibly imagine ever giving them up.
Meanwhile, some Episcopalians will take the seemingly easy option, and just switch over to the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which is where many traditional and conservative Episcopalians have gone. The ACNA is the most recent splinter group off The Episcopal Church created in 2009. It is also the largest. Here in Springfield Missouri, that option exists with All Saints Anglican Church. Basically, the ACNA is a jurisdiction of Anglicanism that was created after a number of Episcopal groups broke away from The Episcopal Church in 2009 after decades of trying to work for traditional reform within The Episcopal Church. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to recognize them. So they maintain their communion with Canterbury indirectly and unofficially by their connection with Anglican primates in Africa. It's an unusual situation to be sure, but it seems to work for those who are involved in it. As for the situation of modernism in the ACNA, it hasn't been fully resolved. The ACNA permits the use of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which includes the modernist liturgy that drove away the first wave of Episcopalians. Currently, the constitution and canons of the ACNA do allow for ordination of women to the priesthood. This is left up to the local bishop. However, as for the episcopate, the current canons require that bishops be selected from male priests. Essentially, what the ACNA has done is reset the clock back to 1979. Beyond that, it hasn't done much to address the core problems that plagued American Anglicanism back then. In my opinion, and the opinion of many others far more educated than I, the ACNA is in a vulnerable position which could see a gradual repeat of what happened to The Episcopal Church over the next 47 years. Episcopalians who flee to the ACNA will find a reprieve from the trials they experienced in The Episcopal Church, but there is no guarantee how long that reprieve will last. While older Episcopalians may find this a viable option, younger Episcopalians with children may want to reconsider. The ACNA appears to be a safe environment to pass on the Anglican Patrimony -- for now -- but that may change in just one generation. Today's parents may be able to raise their children in the Anglican Patrimony, but there is no guarantee this same environment will exist for their grandchildren and future posterity.
Is there a better way?
Some Episcopalians will do what others have done. They will fulfil the vision of the Oxford Movement and live out the Anglican Patrimony within the Roman Catholic Church. The Anglican Patrimony was brought into the Catholic Church back in the early 1980s, when Saint John Paul II opened the door for American Episcopalians to come into the Catholic Church, ordaining their Episcopal priests as Catholic priests, and continue with their same liturgy and customs as Anglicans within the Roman Catholic Church and under the protection of the Vicar of Christ -- the Pope of Rome. These Episcopalians traded in their communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury for full communion with the Pope of Rome. As a result, they were given the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite. This allowed them to celebrate the liturgy taken from the Book of Common Prayer and approved for use in the Catholic Church as the Book of Divine Worship. In essence, Rome simply adopted the Anglican Patrimony, allowing it to be united but not absorbed. Anglicans who enter the Catholic Church this way become Catholics in doctrine and canon law, but they remain Anglicans in custom and practice.
Under the protection of the Bishop of Rome, the issue of female ordination is forever settled. For Saint John Paul II infallibly declared that the Catholic Church (even the pope himself) does not have the authority to ordain women to the priesthood. Because of this doctrinal and sacramental protection, the Anglican Patrimony has grown and flourished within the Catholic Church for over 30 years! The prime example of this flourishing can be seen in Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio Texas.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI created Anglicanorum Coetibus, which is an apostolic constitution that guarantees the position of the Anglican Patrimony within the Roman Catholic Church forever, and also provides jurisdictions for Anglicans to govern themselves within the Catholic Church. These jurisdictions are called ordinariates, and they function similar to national provinces within the Anglican Communion. The man who governs each ordinariate is called an Ordinary, and he can either be a bishop or a priest. If he's a bishop, than the ordinariate operates just like a Roman Catholic diocese. If he is a priest, than he has all the powers of a mitred abbot, functioning as a bishop in every way (even dressing as one), and coordinating with bishops of various dioceses to handle sacramental functions reserved specifically for bishops (such as confirmations and ordinations). The Ordinary has a seat at the national conference of Catholic bishops as well, and participates just as any other bishop would. The ordinariate is a real jurisdiction that makes its own rules, and functions according to most Anglican customs. That means other Catholic bishops cannot tell the Ordinary how to run his ordinariate. Within the parishes of that ordinariate, he is the boss. In other words; Anglicans are allowed to be Anglicans, function as Anglicans, sing as Anglicans, pray as Anglicans, etc. Nobody can tell them otherwise. Doctrinally and sacramentally they are Catholics. Traditionally and customarily, they remain Anglicans. This jurisdiction for North America is called the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, and our own community in Springfield Missouri is called Saint George Catholic Church. (You'll notice me in a couple of the pictures on that website.)
It's a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me, and it's one that comes with some guarantees. I know that not only will I be able to pray, sing and live out my life within the Anglican Patrimony, but I also know that my children will have access to that same Patrimony as well, and their children, and their children, and so on. The Episcopal Church may collapse into a cesspool of modernism. The ACNA may eventually follow the same route as The Episcopal Church. The entire Anglican Communion may fracture, scatter and eventually dissolve. Yet the Anglican Patrimony will now go on and live in the Catholic Church forever.
That's what Rome does. She seeks to create unity not uniformity. She seeks to unite but not absorb. The Roman Catholic Church is not a monolith. It is rather a communion of many churches, of which the Roman Church is the largest. Within this Roman Catholic Communion there exists many smaller churches, sometimes referred to as 'rites', but in every sense they are unique churches. These include the many Eastern churches, such as the Byzantines and Maronites for example. What Rome has done for Anglicans is similar, but not identical. Instead of creating a whole new rite or 'church' for Anglicans, the Catholic Church has instead created a subset of the Roman Rite, called the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite, and ordinariates for self-governance. A space has been made for Anglicans to grow and flourish once again, without having to worry about the modernist relativism that plagues The Episcopal Church. Once more, we can focus on the gospel and evangelism again, without having to worry about the next battle to maintain orthodoxy. Within the ordinariates, Anglicans are free again! We are free to be Anglican and Catholic, fully in both ways, and at the same time get back to what's important about being Christian.
In the weeks and months ahead, those few Episcopalians, who remain true to Biblical orthodoxy, are going to have some real soul searching to do. While some dioceses within The Episcopal Church may currently opt out of same-sex 'marriage' for now, do Episcopalians really believe it's going to stay that way indefinitely? I think most know better than that. For those who live in dioceses where same-sex 'marriage' is still not permitted by the local bishop, they should understand that it's just a matter of time now. Eventually, they will get a new bishop, and when that happens, anything goes. So for those Episcopalians who seek Biblical orthodoxy, remaining within The Episcopal Church is no longer a sustainable option. They will have to soon choose one of three paths...
1. Will they go Evangelical, and just completely give up the liturgical and sacramental life they've always known?
2. Will they go with the ACNA, resetting the clock back to 1979, and hope it works out better in this generation than it did in the last?
3. Will they fulfil the ecumenical vision of Anglicanism, and the Oxford Movement, by going into full-communion with Rome through the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, thus guaranteeing their family's future within the Anglican Patrimony for generations to come?
Only Episcopalians can answer these questions. I know what my answer was. I picked option #3, and I'm glad I did it! To those who are hesitating, I say come on in, the water is fine! Not only do we have the Bishop of Rome to protect us, but they love us here! A lot of English-speaking Roman Catholics really like the Anglican liturgy, and Pope Francis has even expanded our evangelical mission to reach out to fallen away Catholics. It's easy enough too. If there isn't an ordinariate parish or community nearby, than Episcopalians/Anglicans can still join the ordinariate through any regular Roman Catholic parish. All one need do is visit the website of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, read the instructions and download an application.
As an Anglican, it's a refreshing way to go. Many of us have been caught up in the culture wars within The Episcopal Church for so long, that we've forgotten what Christian evangelism is all about. It's time to drop the siege mentality, and get on with our lives. It's refreshing to be in a winning position for a change. The culture wars haven't disappeared in the Catholic Church, but tradition has the clear upper hand. We have all the youth on our side, as well as the Holy Spirit and the Vicar of Christ. When was the last time an Episcopalian could ever say that? Today I am a Roman Catholic, but I am also an Anglican. I am both, and nobody can take that away from me. Some people have tried to make up a new term, such as 'Anglican Catholic' or 'Catholic Anglican'. Some have referred back to the old term of 'Anglo-Catholic'. I say forget it all. I am a Christian, and if you want to be specific about it, I am a Catholic Christian who worships according to the Anglican Patrimony. My goal is to live and preach the gospel, making disciples of Christ wherever I go. All the while I get to worship in sacral English, promoting the zenith of English Christian civilisation. It's the most counter-cultural thing anyone could ever do these days, and guess what? It's fun! Maybe it's time for some of my fellow Episcopalians to join me.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'
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