jQuery Slider

You are here

TAC Primate Flexes Muscle In Troubled Anglican Ring


An interview with Archbishop John Hepworth Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion

By David W. Virtue

BEDFORD, TX--He's been in the top job for little more than a year, but already he is flexing his ecclesiastical muscle and showing that he is made of the right stuff. He is tall, imposing, and has the right bearing for an Anglo-Catholic Archbishop. He travels extensively, hobnobs comfortably with world class religious leaders, is politically astute, and he is positioning himself and his church for major growth around the world over the next decade. Australian-born John Hepworth is barely 60, but with a shock of black hair he looks considerably younger.

The Traditional Anglican Communion is the largest Anglican group of churches outside the mainstream Anglican Communion with 85 parishes in the US. Recently I sat down and talked with the archbishop at the 16th Forward in Faith NA Annual Assembly at St. Vincent's cathedral where he was a guest speaker.

VIRTUOSITY: Why is the TAC necessary?

HEPWORTH: The TAC was formed to care of the 'chuck outs', those who oppose women's ordination. We formed a caring community as a temporary measure for what we do next.

VIRTUOSITY: The Anglican Communion is in crisis, are you trying to take advantage of that?

HEPWORTH: The Anglican Communion is disintegrating and we have to look at what sort of structures will follow from that. We are realigning our dioceses as well as parishes and people with like-minded orthodox Anglicans who share our understanding of the Anglican heritage

VIRTUOSITY: How big are you?

HEPWORTH: We have close to 300,000 formal members in churches in Australia, Torres Strait, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, India, Pakistan, Japan, England, the US and Ireland. We are about to go into Burundi, Rwanda and the Congo.

VIRTUOSITY: What is the central issue that separates you from a good portion of the Anglican Communion?

HEPWORTH: Women's ordination is the central issue for the Traditional Anglican Communion. It is the mirror image of the Anglican Communion wherever they ordain women.

VIRTUOSITY: Where do you see yourselves going? Put another way what do you think the Anglican Communion will look like in the years to come?

HEPWORTH: We are in bilateral talks with both Canterbury and Rome as a strategy to provide Anglicans with an alternative means of expressing their communion within an Orthodox, biblically faithful context, whilst together attempting a pilgrimage towards church unity.

VIRTUOSITY: You were once a Roman Catholic priest, now an Anglo-Catholic Archbishop. Are you marching inevitably towards Rome?

HEPWORTH: We have formally asked Rome to be an Anglican Church in full communion with the Holy See. We have been in conversation with Rome for over 12 years.

VIRTUOSITY: And ARCIC? (Anglican Roman Catholic talks).

HEPWORTH: We have sought to continue the ARCIC process because catholic Anglicanism has always agreed with reunion and we want to continue that with all our other dreams.

VIRTUOSITY: What of your relationships with the various branches of the Anglican Communion around the world?

HEPWORTH: Many diocesan bishops around the world where the TAC exists have requested to meet their TAC opposite numbers. We are building mutual knowledge and trust, while discussions are taking place with the Curia in the Vatican at the same time.

VIRTUOSITY: Recent actions by ECUSA in affirming same-sex unions and consecrating an openly homoerotic bishop signal too many that ARCIC is dead. Do you believe that?

HEPWORTH: The ordination of women is the primary problem in the ARCIC process. There is no hope of Anglican Rome unity now. Unity is no longer the goal of this process. Rome is looking down the road, way beyond the present corrupt situation in the Episcopal Church.

VIRTUOSITY: How would you describe the TAC's relationship with the Anglican Communion Network?

HEPWORTH: I remain to be convinced, at the moment, that the Network's inclusion of bishops who ordain women and bishops who don't, can be molded into a permanent ecclesial structure, because the two positions have, so far, not been able to co-exist.

VIRTUOSITY: Please elaborate.

HEPWORTH: The fundamental principle of the Forward in Faith communion statements and of my own communion is that there must be a separation in the two sacramental lifes - one conditional, and the other is traditional and unconditional that of the ministry of women priests and bishops. By their very nature they are not interchangeable. That has been our position for 30 years.

VIRTUOSITY: The Network seems to be forcing the issue back onto the agenda; Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, the titular head of the NETWORK believes in the ordination of women. What is your response to that?

HEPWORTH: I am not yet satisfied that those opposed to the ordination of women in the Convocation or Network is providing the ecclesial future we are attempting to create in North America. The structures of the Network allow women's ordination and they force that view.

VIRTUOSITY: Why is women's ordination a lynch pin issue?

HEPWORTH: The ordination of women was a response to a secular hermeneutic that demanded women's rights and women's equality. The homosexual agenda is a response to an identical hermeneutic from the secular world. Both have involved the reinterpretation of biblical theology and traditional church teaching. The truth is they are a continuum, one inevitably flowing from the other; they are two sides of the one coin. They both involve filtering the bible, declaring that gender is not relevant for any serious purpose in human life. It was the mantra of Germaine Greer that gender is not relevant...women can do anything. Apply that to the ordination of women and say that gender is irrelevant for the priesthood and it becomes irrelevant for the incarnation. Women's ordination becomes a feminist construction.

VIRTUOSITY: What is the TAC strategy?

HEPWORTH: Firstly to offer to the Lambeth Commission and Rowan Williams the TAC as the existing vehicle for alternative Episcopal oversight. It is ludicrous to establish a parallel structure for Episcopal oversight.

VIRTUOSITY: Intercommunion?

HEPWORTH: I would like to see full intercommunion with each constituent part with Forward in Faith International. The TAC would agree not to put a diocesan bishop in an orthodox diocese of the Anglican Communion.

In the UK we are a guerrilla movement to undermine heretical bishops and we will take them on, head on. We want to save hurting priests who are Anglicans. We have 40 plus parishes in the UK. This is also true in the USA.

We have over 60 priests in the Anglican Church of Australia, for example, who have licenses with the TAC. They have entered into a pastoral relationship with us.

Secondly we want to show that that strategy is working by exercising that oversight in places where there has been no provision whatsoever for the consciences of Anglo Catholics.

VIRTUOSITY: Can you give examples?

HEPWORTH: Yes, the recent events in Uvumbi, Tanzania where the diocese and its bishops have entered into full communion with the TAC.

VIRTUOSITY: Where else?

HEPWORTH: Following the taking of a substantial part of North Queensland in Australia and notifying the ABC, we have similar arrangements put into place where we will take the diocese out of the Anglican Communion into a new arrangement.

VIRTUOSITY: You recently consecrated Fr. David Chislett a traditionalist Forward in Faith Anglican priest based in Brisbane, Queensland in the Anglican Church of Australia to be a bishop in the TAC in Australia. What was that all about?

HEPWORTH: The Church of England has made provision for "Provincial Episcopal Visitors" or "Flying Bishops" as a way of providing for the consciences of people like us who don't agree with women's ordination. The Anglican Church of Australia and the Episcopal Church USA has offered no provision for real Anglo-Catholics. That is why we did it.

VIRTUOSITY: What has been the response of Peter Carnley the Anglican Church Primate?

HEPWORTH: He wrote a letter to David congratulating him on the appointment.

VIRTUOSITY: In the Episcopal Church there are two traditionalist priests, Fr. David L. Moyer (PA) and William Ilgenfritz (Bethlehem) who are waiting to become bishops. What is holding that back?

HEPWORTH: Their names have "lain on the table" pending consecration at the hands of sympathetic bishops.

VIRTUOSITY: Would you like to see an independent Anglican Province that orthodox priests and bishops can be united under.

HEPWORTH: Yes. Very much so. Forward in Faith in the UK are planning a new Anglican Province in England - a development that even the Archbishop Canterbury admits will probably be necessary. I don't think anything will happen until the results of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Eames Commission (on the nature of the new Anglican Impaired Communion), due to report back in October, have been released and digested.

VIRTUOSITY: How do you perceive your evangelistic responsibilities for church growth?

HEPWORTH: My first concern is the world of Anglo-Catholics where we are reaping a 30-year history of being separated from the means of grace. For a catholic Anglican the primary contact with God is through the sacramental life of the church. If there is an uncertainty their people will inevitably drift away.

Furthermore if you introduce on top of that a high level of insecurity in the priest and his family then almost certainly you remove the confidence to evangelize.

VIRTUOSITY: Where have you been the most effective?

HEPWORTH: In Africa and India we have dynamic congregations numbering in the thousands and we have been successful in neutralizing persecution by diocesan bishops.

We were in real trouble in South Africa from Desmond Tutu. But the new South African prime minister worships in one of our churches.

VIRTUOSITY: What is wrong with Tutu?

HEPWORTH: We all applauded Tutu for racial liberation, but on feminine liberation and sexual liberation, we don't agree with him and we have all drawn the line. He is applying the ANC's tactics on church life. We have taken in congregations ejected from the Church of the Province of Southern Africa. We are in townships where the established church in SA has had problems since the end of apartheid.

There you see white bishops serving in black townships to rebuild the church alongside traditional faithful parishes, while Black liberal bishops live in the former white palaces on the white side of town pushing their reformist agenda.

VIRTUOSITY: Your congregations are generally small and your priests are non-stipendiary. True?

HEPWORTH: That is true. We have worker priests but we are just beginning to be stipendiary. Some 70 percent are worker priests around the world and a majority of our bishops support themselves.

VIRTUOSITY: You are in the US. Why?

HEPWORTH: We have 85 congregations in the US. I was also here to bless the Fishing Fleet in Portland, Maine (close to Robinson the gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire). We are mainstreaming ourselves as the alternative Anglican Church in the US. We have large continuing churches with which we are contributing. Also I was invited to speak here.

VIRTUOSITY: What is your relationship like with other members of the Convocation?

HEPWORTH: I have played golf with the AMIA bishops and we are making serious efforts to understand each other. Since their statement on the priesthood we have felt enormously encouraged to have closer relationships with them.

Naturally as with the Network we are not going to place our entire future in the hands of organizations whose positions are unclear. Having women in the Diaconate is the thin end of the wedge.

VIRTUOSITY: Who else are you talking too?

HEPWORTH: "We are in talks with the Anglican Province of America, (APA) whose Primate is The Most Rev. Walter Grundorf. We are also in talks with the Anglican Province of Christ the King and we will be meeting with their Archbishop Robert Morse.

We are at the moment the only global province of Anglicans trying to create a real global Anglicanism with a single college of bishops.

VIRTUOSITY: What makes you distinct and different from other Continuing Churches?

HEPWORTH: We are THE Continuing Church player for two reasons. We are the ones who have a ministry within the Anglican Communion. We fish in the murky waters of the Anglican Communion in order to move the fish to living water.

We are continuing Anglicans. We have not started a new church. We are prepared to be totally international. English is the 7th most used language. I can celebrate the liturgy in 8 languages and be answered.

VIRTUOSITY: Have you asked Rome to accept you?

HEPWORTH: We are not applying to be part of the Roman rite. We are Anglican and catholic. We have an Anglican Use Rite not used anywhere else in the world. We want to be united but not absorbed.

We have something to offer the world of Catholicism. What we have to offer is our evangelism, we balance the beauty of holiness, the Anglican heritage of lay involvement as well as the highly developed Anglican concept of a family at the heart of the parish rather than a celibate priest. These are charisms the current church needs.

VIRTUOSITY: Thank you archbishop.

NOTE: This story is copyrighted but may be forwarded electronically with reference to VIRTUOSITY and the author. No changes are permitted in the text.


Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Prayer Book Alliance

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee

Drink Coffee

Do Good

Sustainable Ministry

Coffee, Community, Social Justice


Go To Top