Ask an Anglican: Why Enter (or Remain in) the Episcopal Church (USA)?

William writes:

Might you have some encouraging words for someone who is recently converted to Anglicanism / Episcopalianism—who does not want to join ACNA, AMiA, or, for example, the Reformed Episcopal Church—who wants to enter TEC but is frightened because of its current, tragic state?

This is an incredibly distressing time to enter TEC. If I don’t get some encouragement soon, I just may pass altogether. I could merely hold my beliefs but worship elsewhere.

Christ came to save sinners (see Mark 2:17 and 1 Tim. 1:15).

Christ came to save sinners (see Mark 2:17 and 1 Tim. 1:15).

I rarely respond to questions by beginning with my own personal experience. My reason for this is simple: theology should consist of deduction from first principles—and autobiography is not and cannot be a first principle. I don’t wish to deny the importance of subjective hopes, fears, desires, etc. In truth, these have a very important place in human life and thus in Christian life. Most importantly, Christ came not to save the principles of logic, but to save sinners in all their messy, tangled subjectivity. But in Christ, God interrupts our subjectivity—and although our experience of this interruption is intensely personal, it far too big and far too important to be confined to the narrow borders of our own subjective experiences. God interrupts me, but the grace in question extends far beyond the boundaries of my own life.

Two points should therefore be made. First, our life in Christ is a life oriented toward and by the divine Logos, which orders all things (see John 1:1 – 18, where the Greek ‘Logos’ is translated as ‘Word’). In Christ, our subjectivity is called and enabled to look beyond itself. Second, theology is for the wider community of the Church. If we have a question concerning the Christian life-in-community—if we are concerned with being in and remaining part of the Church—we must ultimately turn to those catholic truths—those catholic first principles—which have been shared by all Christians, in all times and in all places. In what follows, I begin with my own story. I then turn, however, to wider, shared points of Christian belief and practice. (Readers should note my assumption that William, like myself, holds to the orthodox nature of the Creeds, the effectual nature of the Sacraments, the inspired nature of the Scriptures, and the normative nature of the historic threefold ministry.)

A Very Brief Spiritual Autobiography

I was not raised Episcopalian, but come from a non-denominational, charismatic background. When I was 16, my parents began attending a Reformed church, and I left that decisively not long after turning 21. I spent a little over a year attending a ‘continuing’ Anglican parish of the EMC (Episcopal Missionary Church), where I grew to have both an appreciation of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and a sense that it was somewhat outdated and in need of revision. I later moved on from that parish and drifted for some months between various liturgical churches, but shortly before I finished my undergraduate degrees, I was invited by a friend to visit the Episcopal student center, affectionately known as ‘Chapel House’. I did so, and when I first walked through the doors of the chapel I felt like I was home for the first time in my life. It is an experience which I had never had before and which I have never had since. It is an experience that profoundly shaped me; I do not exaggerate when I write that it is an experience and a memory that I still carry and feel in my bones.

St. Arthur Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury (1961 - 74). His books should be read by all serious Anglicans.

St. Arthur Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury (1961 – 74). His books should be read by all serious Anglicans.

I was confirmed about a year and a half later—on May 22, 2005, to be exact (my confirmation certificate hangs on the wall of my room)—after reading a good bit of Rowan Williams, Michael Ramsey, William Reed Huntington, Lancelot Andrewes and the Greek Fathers. Andrewes was the most moving of these authors; Ramsey, more than anyone else, gave me a sense of the Anglican ethos. His closing words in From Gore to Temple: An Era in Anglican Theology made a tremendous impact on me shortly after my confirmation: ‘the theological coherence which a Gore or a Temple exhibited came, not from a quest for tidiness, but from a vigorous wrestling with truth for truth’s own sake’ (p. 170). These words move me even now. And yet, as intellectually compelling as I find such a view, at the end of the day my movement into Anglicanism was an event of the heart, which was then followed and confirmed by my head. Put somewhat differently, my move into the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion was not just the result of study, but the result of an unexpected, charismatic experience. My conversion to the Anglican way was the joint action of both Parakletos and Logos; the former inspired unexpectedly, and the latter enjoined communicable discourse on the matter. (One without the other, or one set against the other, lacks the fullness of orthodoxy.)

Why be Anglican/Episcopalian—and, why be Christian?

Does one convert to a church because of its current state or because of the integrity found in the depths of its tradition? As the above shows, my own conversion was not inspired by the current state of Anglicanism! Without question, now is a distressing time to enter the Episcopal Church (USA), and I recognize that not all readers can appeal to a charismatic experience or the deep movements of the heart. But at the same time, as noted above, I sought to test my experience by turning to the study of church history and theology. In studying the roots, I found not just traces but effectual signs of life. I converted because of these; I embraced these, I learned from these, and I sought and seek to live faithfully according to these. Grounding these are the universal theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity—and charity is nothing if not patient and longsuffering, rejoicing in the truth. Ultimately, love fails to fail because it never fails (see 1 Cor. 13). If I may be so bold: if one’s current frustrations cause one to lose sight of the simple fact that the greatest of Christian virtues is charity, then one’s problems with church membership are located less in a particular church than in oneself.

None of this is to deny the binding nature of Christian duty. Sadly, it may be difficult to observe one’s Christian duties in a particular church. Some churches, whether ‘left’ or ‘right’, are genuinely destructive of one’s wellbeing—for example, they may undermine one’s marriage, or inhibit one’s ability to be a faithful Christian parent, or even be abusive in any number of ways. If this is the case, then yes, by all means leave that church and go elsewhere! Other churches call ministers who are not fit for their position because they do not adhere to the duties of the Christian ministry. Perhaps their sermons are heterodox, or perhaps they lack Christian character, or perhaps they are impious and/or irreverent toward the sacraments. If this is the case, I fully sympathize with the desire to go elsewhere. In truth, it is important for churches to be reminded that they cannot do whatever they wish; bad decisions can and should have negative consequences, and there is nothing remotely Christian about allowing oneself to be bullied into ‘unity’ by a negligent church hierarchy.

However, we must be careful; it is tempting to say that you should seek a church where you can be fed (note the passive voice of this statement)—but this borders on two falsehoods. The first error is the heresy of Donatism and Puritanism: the assumption that the means of grace are invalidated by erring clergy and/or erring laity. On the contrary, Christian faith—both the orthodox faith that I believe (fides quae), and the personal faith by which I believe (fides qua)—is stronger than the errors of anyone in any given time or place. No less importantly, the gifts of God remain pure and undefiled gifts even if misused by laity (which Puritanism cannot accept), or by a particular church and/or its particular ministers (which Donatism cannot accept).

The second error is that of making one’s own subjective experience the measure of objective truth. I suspect that this is the real problem today, not Donatism and Puritanism. People too often think that the answer to their discomfort is to find a place where they feel fed right where they are, but this is false. Insofar as you pray in church (any church), you are fed; insofar as you sing hymns in church (any church), you are fed; insofar as you profess the Creed in church (any church), you are fed; insofar as you hear the Scriptures in church (any church), you are fed; insofar as you participate in the Eucharist in church (any church), you are fed (and this literally!).

The bulk of the Christian life is lived outside of church, and thus the bulk of Christian discipline and Christian maturity must be pursued and attained outside of church. However, church membership and the Christian life are identical in this: neither is about us; both are about faithfulness to the promises given and the way of life enunciated in Word and Sacrament. Such faithfulness may make us uncomfortable at times, even in our own church, but discomfort and struggle are part of becoming a mature human, not to mention a mature Christian (and I fail to see how you can attain the latter if you neglect the former). When it comes to both motivation and action, the weight of my pleasures should always be outweighed by the weight of my duties. Maturity recognizes this and lives accordingly, while immaturity does not.

Discomfort and struggle are not, in and of themselves, a free pass to go off in search of more comfortable surroundings. One is certainly not free to leave a church because it is supposedly ‘dead’; this excuse is usually used by people who do not wish to accept their duty to be Christian toward other Christians within the Church. Rather, they simply want to be fed (and again, note the passive voice of this statement). Sometimes it is our job to feed others (now note the active voice of this statement), and it is always our job to crucify our own egos and judgments through service and the love of our neighbors. A church with just one member is a living church; a church is not dead until it ceases to exist—and until that happens, we are all bound to our Christian duty, which calls us to be the ‘living stones’ (1 Pet. 2:5) which help enliven and sustain all that happen within the four walls of a church.

Discipline your own appetites and then you will see the rest clearly. And thus we are left with two catholic truths. On the one hand, we are bound by our Christian duty. If a given church fundamentally undermines our ability to be faithful to our Christian duty, then we must leave and go elsewhere. This is not a mere hypothetical; this can and does happen, and no guilt should haunt those who, in obedience to the dictates of faith, hope, and love, must leave one church for another. On the other hand, we are bound by orthodoxy and must repudiate any Donatist or Puritan heresy which claims that the good gifts of God might be fundamentally vitiated by human sin or error. If you leave a church, leave in love to the best of your ability. If the direction of the will is not toward charity in such a situation, flee from resentment and keep from slander, insult, and the like when you discuss your former church. Wherever you are, be faithful by recognizing the objective goods in the objective gifts of prayer, hymnody, creed, and Word and Sacrament.


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24 Responses to Ask an Anglican: Why Enter (or Remain in) the Episcopal Church (USA)?

  1. Pingback: Ask an Anglican: Why Enter (or Remain in) the Episcopal Church (USA)? | Covenant

  2. Matthew Taylor says:

    I myself have been going back and forth with the state of the Anglican/Episcopal church. I was a Roman Catholic for over 30 years and discovered Anglicanism about 7years ago. Since then I have been received at out our parish.So has my wife , a Roman and our 2 daughters have been baptized in the Episcopal church. I guess for me it’s that we have and amazing rector who goes and tries to tailor all different ways to experience Christ. For myself I am and always will be one who loves the orthodoxy and traditions of the church. I will always be an Anglo Catholic I guess. Don’t leave a parish because of what the broader communion is doing. As one respected priest in another communion told me. The church starts with Jesus Christ first and foremost. Without Christ there is no church. The community starts at the parish. Its not just the priest that makes or breaks, it’s the whole parish. To Fr. Jonathan thankyou for this avenue to be able to learn the whole faith and the different aspects of the faith. This truly has helped me on my journey.
    In Christ,
    Matthew Taylor

  3. Rev. Scott Browning says:

    Interesting parallels between my experience and the authors, but in an opposite direction. I had been a priest in TEC for a number of years, and found myself in a state of growing unease/disappointment/anger with the developments. My experience of the Spirit’s direction was that I got a definite command to leave, but it was done in such a way that the anger had gone away (replaced by sadness and grieving for a season) and in a manner in which there was no collateral damage to speak of, and in which healing could begin.
    I pray daily for all of my faithful friends who are still in TEC (I assume under the direction of the same Holy Spirit who bade me leave) and for the health of TEC and the blessing of God on her.

  4. Ralph Davis says:

    I was raised an evangelical Presbyterian, at a large nationally respected Church. In ’04 I finally followed God’s call to attend seminary–at a very conservative Reformed seminary, for which my home church provided a scholarship. I have always been a Calvinist, but due to study in seminary and in Germany, I’ve grown to respect Luther’s theology a great deal–and I have never been what we called in seminary “totally reformed” (referring to the most strict (and unreasonable) Calvinists.)

    The “Puritan Regulative Principle” [in worship, we must not do anything the Bible doesn’t specifically prescribe], a bulwark, or founding principle, to Calvinism…I found in seminary NOT to be biblically supported. It seems to me the Lutheran/Anglican regulative principle [in worship (and life) don’t do anything that is forbidden in scripture] is the more balanced & biblical approach–avoiding the extremes of Calvinism (extremes which are more evident in Europe than the USA).

    I also find the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer very compelling (and it actually has many Presbyterian leaders jealous in recent years). I’ve also been convinced of the Real Presence of Jesus in the eucharist…so Anglicanism (via PEAR) is the place for me. I was confirmed in 2011.

    Since I’m still an aspirant to ministry…I cannot stomach the idea of being under the authority of apostate bishops, or voluntarily joining myself to what is way too often a false Church, as what TEC in the majority has become (still with a few parishes as exceptions).

    I must admit still not understanding biblical obedient Christians who would now enter into voluntarily sharing communion with the likes of Katherine Schori et al. I can understand if one has been with TEC for a long time, not leaving….but I admit great puzzlement over why one would choose to be unequally yoked to non-believers who seem to fully control TEC–and who are actively persecuting congregations and leaders who dare to leave TEC.

    Are the “new” Anglicans perfect? NO! In fact we are mostly poor, without good church buildings (and it’s easy to idealistically say “the church doesn’t need a building!” but try going years meeting in a gym, or a borrowed hall–especially since Episcopal church-buildings in the USA have been some of the most beautiful worship centers there are…) and struggling to get organized. Our liturgy is generally too modern for my tastes…BUT, our bishops and pastors are godly men, given to Jesus Christ, who are conscientiously trying to be obedient to the authority of holy scripture. To me, that is of more value than even much fine gold…

  5. This is William, author of the question you answered. I thought you might be interested to learn that I’m transitioning into The Episcopal Church, out from the Southern Baptist church in which I was raised. Back when I emailed you that question, I didn’t get an answer right away, so I had to do a lot of soul searching. I came to many of the same conclusions you did:

    “If I may be so bold: if one’s current frustrations cause one to lose sight of the simple fact that the greatest of Christian virtues is charity, then one’s problems with church membership are located less in a particular church than in oneself.”

    What a great comment/truth! I asked myself why I was willing to “put up with” supposed frustrations with one tradition (Baptist) but not with alleged frustrations with the one I currently received (Anglican). I had a meeting with my former Southern Baptist pastor this past April and informed him I would be searching for an Episcopal church to join.

    I also realized that Christ loves His church, and that includes The Episcopal Church. Why would I not join a community loved by Christ, especially since I agree with that tradition (theologically, ecclesiologically, sacramentally)? I truly appreciated the Donatist/Puritan connection, as well, and I am in agreement with you. Thank you for answering me with all the grace and love of a good shepherd.

  6. Ralph Davis says:

    I must admit writing my little testimony before fully studying the original Ask an Anglican answer. While very graciously written with circumspection, it sounds as if those of us who cannot in good conscience join in a denomination–which despite its godly history–is presently controlled by non-believers, must possilbly lack charity for them…or be schismatic to the leadership (Donatist) or divisive to the laity (Puritan).

    I wonder how this standard would apply to the generation of Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer regarding the Church of Rome?

    • slink says:

      I would really love to see this question about Latimer et. al. addressed. I am not a Roman Catholic although I will admit to having a had a bout of Roman fever about 6 years ago. I did enough reading back then to know that many a Roman apologist would happily point out how Anglicans are effectively Donatist since they can’t accept the leadership of the Pope or some of the Roman dogmas. I’m not suiting up to swim the Tiber but why wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, the standard mentioned by Ralph Davis be applied to Anglicans no matter how orthodox they may be?

  7. barefootbrian says:

    Your article here is excellent. I would say that the Church you joined in 2005 is vastly – VASTLY – different than the Church in which I was reared (and which I left in 1982). However, your points are well made.

    In my own mind – and in my own departure – I had come to realize that the Episcopal Church was Protestant – dressy Protestants, but Protestant none-the-less. The fruit of the last 30 years has proven this to be true. Female clergy, all sorts of interpretations of Scripture, liturgies that are adaptable to any circumstance (gay marriage, etc.), rejection of the Councils and Church Fathers, anchoring time in the 16th century rather than the first, and worship services that range from high church to circus-like: these are the trademarks of Protestantism. Bishops act more like “district superintendents” demanding dissenters tow the line rather than providing pastoral care. There has been irreparable damage to relations with the Orthodox and Roman Churches, especially in matters of ordaining women (and the whole gay mess).

    There is even selective Fundamentalism. Some of the most liberal Episcopalians I know are down right Fundamentalist on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist – “Jesus Himself says, ‘This is My Body…” and yet they will say people are crazy for believing that Mary was a virgin when she conceived or that the physical Resurrection of Christ is an historical event.

    Just like the Protestants.

    I am somewhat hypocritical on this matter because I have launched into Protestantism full bore – I am a Protestant pastor. But I am as guilty as Lot’s wife when it comes to looking back and wondering what happened. I married a Protestant who was interested in joining the Episcopal Church until the parish priest got drunk at a progressive dinner and made a physical pass at her during the dessert. Perhaps our reasons for never returning to that parish are thus a bit “Donatist” also. But it was the only Episcopal parish around, so we went elsewhere.

    I read your blog because I wish there had been more voices like yours back in the sixties and seventies to prevent the disaster that the Episcopal Church has become. You are even tempered and straightforward, which I like. Thank you for all you do.

  8. Fr. Jonathan says:

    A fine reflection, Ben. Makes me think I should write up something about my own journey.

  9. Fr Rich says:

    I made the journey from Roman Catholic priest to TEC. For me the transition has been a logical commitment to the principles of Vatican II.

    Stepping down from active ministry after 30 years as a Roman priest and 24 years as a military Chaplain…retiring as a Colonel, I could no longer live a celibate life and in integrity saw no options in Roman rite left open for me. My decision resulted with me living in a condo room in Anchorage, AK. Spending my days fishing…not a bad transition time. Started dating a wonderful woman in Hawaii (an active duty nurse). Thought my days of public ministry were over.

    We needed to find a place to worship where we felt “welcome.” The Episcopal Cathedral community at Honolulu was a great experience. We found a wonderful worshiping community with a theology which felt true to tradition and our beliefs. Often I say, “the Roman’s had Vatican II but The Episcopal Church is living it!”

    I was first asked to consider having my orders accepted while in Hawaii. One bishop told me, “I don’t think God is done using you yet.” It took time, we are now both retired. My orders were accepted by the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado this past January.

    Often asked, “why join The Episcopal Church vs a separatist group?” I remind people I’m a “big Church” type of person. My hope for the people of God is unity…not diversion.

    Thank you for your wonderful reflections on the Episcopal tradition.


  10. Joshua Bovis says:

    I would want to make the following points to William:
    1. Affirm the great rich depth of Anglicanism, (the Scriptures, the authority of Scripture as exprssed in the BCP, the 39 Articles, the Ordinal)
    2. Encourage William to pray, pray, pray.
    3. Say something about the essence of authentic Anglicanism and that just because a group claims to be Anglican does not make it so.
    4. If William was set on joining TEC, then to prayerfully search for a TEC parish where the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed faithfully, where the sacraments are administered faithfully and a church where he can be encouraged, loved, built up and nurtured in The Faith. And of course a church where he can serve also.
    However if the only church that meets these requirements are an ACNA parish, then I would encourage him to speak with the Priest of this parish and to visit the church several times.

    Here is a video I found helpful from Rev Jonathan Fletcher in the UK

    BTW Jonathan, Hope you are well. It has been a while since I have posted on your blog.

    Grace and peace
    p.s This weeks Collect = GOLD!

  11. Whit J. says:

    I’ve had a post about “Why I’m TEC and not ACNA” in my head for my own blog for a while now- I do worry about where the Episcopal Church will be in 30 years when I’m 60. But the fact remains that despite decline TEC is by far the largest Anglican church in the USA. There are no ACNA or Continuum parishes closer than an hour’s drive away. I was much more liberal as a Methodist then I have become as an Episcopalian, and the direction of the national church was an attraction when I joined TEC. Then I did some historical reading and discovered the Caroline Divines, Laud especially, and the Church Fathers through them. Because I’m already a member of a TEC parish it’s not a matter of “where to join” but “do I have to leave”, and I do not get the feeling that I have to leave. The denomination has not formally apostatized; the Creed is central in our worship. And leaving TEC would be betraying a wonderful but precarious country parish. Finally, I feel called to a monastic vocation and ACNA does not have monks.

  12. I was going to leave ACNA out of the equation; but since it’s been brought up: According to its website’s Theology page, ACNA’s “three-stream” or “three-rivers” theology (like AMiA) is not something to which I could subscribe; in particular, its Charismatic or Third Wave-ish tendencies.

    ACNA affirms the 1662 Prayer Book. Why not the 1928 BCP? Since the 1979 BCP is the only Prayer Book I have ever known, I have come to appreciate it greatly. The arguments against it that I have read on-line have not swayed me from using it daily.

    ACNA affirms the 1571 Thirty-Nine Articles. Why not the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1801, as established by the PECUSA? I also deeply appreciate the Catechism of the Episcopal Church. That, too, is not affirmed by ACNA. And, of course, ACNA is not a member in full communion with the Anglican Communion.

    There are other issues I maintain about ACNA, that I will not share here, but hinder me from even considering joining. The Episcopal Church has not apostatized — sexual ethics is not a core tenet of the Christian faith or the Gospel of Christ, though some are vying to make it so.

    • Some of your information seems a bit off:

      In the ACNA, we use the 1928 BoCP. At least in my parish, we are very Anglo-Catholic and not charismatic. My understanding is that we in the ACNA are fully in communion with various Anglican Churches in Africa (Nigeria, Sudan, etc.), yet we are not “part of the Anglican Communion”, which confuses me. While sexual ethics are not in themselves core to the Christian faith, belief in God and the sanctity of life are: John Shelby Spong and Katharine Jefferts Schori are both sadly lacking here, respectively.

      • guyer says:

        The increasing fragmentation of Anglicanism in the USA has seen some new Anglican groups claim that they are part of the Anglican Communion when they are not. The two main offenders here are the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA). Membership in the Anglican Communion consists of two things: being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury (this was determined at the 1930 Lambeth Conference, Res. 49), and being on the roster of the Anglican Consultative Council. This membership is expressed in a wide variety of ways such as being invited to the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates Meeting. No bishop from the ACNA or AMiA has ever been invited to the Lambeth Conference; no bishop, clergy, or laity from the ACNA or AMiA have been invited to the ACC; no archbishop or primate of the ACNA or AMiA has been invited to the Primates Meeting. Why do you think this is?

        Being in communion with this or that province does not make one a full blown member of the Anglican Communion. If it did, then the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America would be part of the Anglican Communion by virtue of its being in communion with the Episcopal Church (USA), and the same is true of many other churches around the world. Ecumenical relationships do not make one part of the Anglican Communion. And of course, being in communion with someone else who is in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury does not automatically also place one in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Communion is a legal category, effectively no different than describing the membership of this or that visible church. Membership is hardly the same as being a good Christian. And, being a good Christian is also not the same as being the member of any given church. The differences here are of kind, not degree. This may not be ideal, but so it is in the visible church.

        I hope this helps. The hierarchy of the ACNA and the hierarchy of the AMiA will no doubt continue to assert otherwise. But assertion is not the same as explanation – and given the above, each of these groups has some explaining to do. I have a very hard time believing that the misunderstanding of these hierarchies is wholly accidental. I suspect that they have simply become blinded by their own passion. And of course it is also a great myth to tell the laity.

  13. Rob Scot says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post.
    “Does one convert to a church because of its current state or because of the integrity found in the depths of its tradition?”
    Great insight. Unfortunately, I think the “current state” does make it difficult to evangelize. In my case, the question is not converting, but remaining, as I have grown up in TEC. Why would I leave a family, my home, especially when that home has such a treasure as the Book of Common Prayer guiding its common life? True, the actions of not a few leaders in TEC seem to be undermining the orthodoxy that is woven all through the life of the church, but under the circumstances, doesn’t that put said leaders on the ropes, no matter how great their influence or numbers? I continue to believe that the law of prayer will indeed shape the law of belief, and that can only mean good things. It may take a while, but I think Christians should take a long view of most things, as the above quote testifies. And I also believe that Christians are called to live in hope, not fearful speculation about the future.

    • Matthew Taylor says:

      Rob, you hit the nail right on the head. I have only been in TEC for about 7yrs, and I am not leaving. If anything I want to stay and keep my beloved Holy Trinity Episcopal alive and kicking.

  14. br.s.joseph says:

    paryer gospel in poor village in india

  15. With You In Spirit says:

    My wife and I recently left the Episcopal church, during of all things, confirmation. Our departure stemmed from a longstanding clash of personalities with the local vicar, though the clash could also be seen as generational.

    I had attended this church for a decade, and it was there I married my wife. My wife and I spent months reading scripture and performing daily devotions using the 1928 prayer book in preparation for confirmation. We lit candles and performed the full morning and evening services on waking and before bed. The routine was tough. During confirmation classes we mentioned our use of the 1928 prayer book and the vicar’s response was dismissive and flippant: “if *I* prayed from the older prayer book *I* would attend another church, probably Methodist”. Immediately afterwards, the vicar issued a patronizing lecture on the importance of women’s rights completely unrelated to anything we had been discussing in class, and my wife, exasparated, told the vicar that as a women what he was saying was both unnecessary and unneeded. What followed was a ten minute lecture on Hooker’s theory that the church rests on three legs, and the leg which we were deficient in was reason. As he spoke I recall his Starbucks coffee cup trembling. With no break in his lecture he ended class early and walked us and the other attendees out of the church, addressing us the whole time, stating how he knew plenty of conservative in the church, and “though he disagreed with everything they stood for”, he supported their freedom of speech.

    For clarification, my wife is a member of a teacher’s union and I consider myself a protectionist democrat, though we never bring up our politics at church.

    My wife and I attended church the following week and the vicar attacked us in the sermon, portraying us figuratively as “those who would exclude”, darting eyes, and drawing snickers from the pews. In the same sermon he cited me by name in a rhetorical example, “it would be as if went around town behaving as if he wern’t a Christian then said he was a member of our church”. We walked out during the service and have not returned.

    And I don’t know why we would. My wife and I read about Spong, Schori, and the other clergy currently held in reverence and we find that we have little in common with either their beliefs or aims. To use women’s rights as an example, as average Generation X-ers with a desk jobs, we have more female supervisors and coworkers than their male counterparts, and thus the ’60s femanist dialectic just doesn’t wash, and certainly doesn’t lead us closer to Jesus. The feminist and gay rights “issues” were solved by Jesus 2000 years ago when he told us to turn the other cheek. Unfortunately, the church appears desparate to magnify and heighten greivences rather than teach others be at peace. Rather than directing people away from their passions the church is mired in the language of social justice and critical theory. The hatred of tradition espoused by the current generation of church leadership is at times bewildering: apparently an Episcopalian worshipping from the 1928 prayer book should leave the church, while in that same church Episcopalians are expected and encouraged to celebrate the Jewish Seder. If one disagrees they can expect to be fillibustered and attacked in sermon, usually through blindingly hypocritical appeals to progress and tolerence.

    It just got to be too much for us. As two of the youngest members of the church we hoped that we could “hang in there” until the current generation in power moved on, but of course that didn’t happen. The wife and I are part of a generation that seems destined to endure the Baby Boomer’s tantrum against the past, and we found we just don’t have the patience. The Silent Generation are meekly enduring the politics of their nephews during their final decades, while the Boomers seem to be either in the clergy basking in the limelight or absent altogether. The alphabet generations would rather play their video games than listen to their parents politics on Sunday. The pews are empty, and one must ask what exactly separates the morals of MTV from the morals of the modern Episcopal church? If they are both the same, why show up? And if the church is going to become active in social issues, why not address those which the average person actually comes in contact with daily, such as rampant usury, ever-expanding payday loan rackets, a culture educated to illeteracy by television, a widespread contempt for manners and etiquette, casual defimation of Christianity in the media, education an healthcare treated as a business opportunity, automation and thoughtless “progress” destroying trades faster than they can be learned, and a unquestioned reverence for reductionistic science. Again, why parade out the St. Rosa Parks in 2013? Move on, get over it, or better yet, rise above politics altogther and focus on Jesus, the apostles, and the saints. Teach people how to make prayer a ritual and thereby escape from an increasingly fickle and inhuman world to something that endures.

    So where did we go? You’d never guess. When the vicar wasn’t incorporating references to the Rolling Stones or sports trivia in his sermons he was slandering Baptists. Sure enough, we took it as an endorsement. While we are still adjusting to the karaoke choir and powerpoint projector screen, we have found levity and laughter …though we still do our daily devotionals and read our scripture from Knox.

    Peace be with you, remaining Episcopalians. May you be stronger than us.

    • Whit says:

      Personally, I could never be a Baptist, or a member of any other congregationalist tradition. I just can’t get past the pastoral epistles. These may not be genuinely from the Apostle Paul himself, but they are certainly the work of some of his earliest students and describe the organization of the Early Church. And that organization is one of three orders, those of bishops, elders, and deacons. And those doing the work of ministry are clearly accountable to the wider church, not just to the laity in their congregations. That looks a whole lot like Anglicanism, and it doesn’t look like Baptists. Now, I’m not saying that you need to stay in a church with a rector who despises you.But are there no other, more traditional, Episcopal churches where you live? Are there no Continuing Anglican churches in your area? They use the 1928 prayer book. Are there no ACNA parishes? Liturgical United Methodist or LCMS churches? Surely there are options that don’t involve abandoning liturgy, the sacraments and an episcopal polity!

      • With You In Spirit says:

        Thanks for the reply, Whit.

        When we decided to leave our church we weren’t sure where to go. We have no continuing Anglican churches less than three hours away, unfortunately. We would definitely attend if one were local. I had attended a Missouri Synod service in town some years ago and liked the people there, however, the church suffered terribly from modern aesthetics. The LCMS church used plastic communion cups, had stark florescent lighting (~6500K), a drop-tiled ceiling, used banquet chairs in lieu of pews, etc. This was not for want of money either, rather, the church was a larger congregation that just seemed to prefer the efficiency-expert touch. Attending the church felt like worshiping at Wal-Mart. The same can be said for the other churches we’ve visited over the years, whether Methodist or Lutheran: plastic plants and projector screens. We even tried the Catholic church and were surprised by the kitschy 70’s hymns being accompanied by a Casio keyboard replete with a MIDI drum loop. Lord, how we miss the aesthetics of the Episcopal church!

        Anyway, the walk to our old church regularly took us past the Baptist church previously mentioned. Based on the “endorsements” of the vicar, we stopped in one Sunday and were amazed by the friendliness. We now regularly visit the pastor and his wife at their home have long talks on the porch. Occasionally we even disagree, but amazingly, the disputes never became bitter as was the case with our vicar.

        While I’m no expert on Church history, I have read through Augustine and have spent time with the 39 articles of the BCP and hope to have an understanding of the importance of catholic faith. That being said, I do not believe that the hierarchy of the Church is steered infallibly, or, that God is incapable of abandoning certain churches or even entire denominations if those denominations become corrupt. Paul warned the early churches in his epistles because those warnings served a purpose; churches are fallible and thus perishable. Moreover, at some point even the act of attending an errant church signals an endorsement, and frankly, the insincere and pompous seminary graduates we’ve met seem more deluded than many of the straightforward and humble Baptists we’ve recently become acquainted with. Erasmus’ Praise of Folly critiques “learned fools”, and so too is there something comforting in the laconic honesty of Baptists when set aside the politically correct sophistry which passes for wisdom among the current Episcopal clergy. Such people seem more concerned sounding good rather than actually being so. Anyway, we considered our departure a vote with our feet. If that makes us Donatists, then so be it.

        At this point we’re over the branding of the various denominations. Christians are what they do, not what they label themselves, and being a Christian certainly involves more that being “up” on the latest thoughts and opinions that are in fashion. We gave up on television years ago and the last thing we want to be subjected to on Sunday is a return to regularly scheduled programming. I still consider myself an Anglican in spirit in that I worship from the prayer book and prefer the older traditions of the church, but when publicly worshiping I’ll go where I hear laughter, readings from the bible, and common sense. This is likely what my wife thinks as well. We’ll be praying for the Church and hoping for the best.

        Peace be with you all.

  16. barefootbrian says:

    Whit replied in a manner that underscores three parts of the problem facing many who have left the Episcopal Church. He wrote: “Personally, I could never be a Baptist, or a member of any other congregationalist tradition. I just can’t get past the pastoral epistles. These may not be genuinely from the Apostle Paul himself…”

    The first part of the problem is that many who grew up Episcopalian want legitimate bishoprics. When women began being ordained it was only a matter of time before they became (or expected to become) bishops. This departure from apostolic faith is irreparable. So where do you turn? Rome? Constantinople? Those are good, but they aren’t Anglican in spirit or tradition.

    The second problem Whit illumines is doubt. What valid Biblical scholar questions the authenticity of Paul’s epistles? And yet, “doubt” and “skepticism” have become sport in the Episcopal Church. The Church used to be a people of faith. This sort of doubting game nauseates.

    The third problem is the greatest of them all. As much as I love liturgy (and most readers of this blog do, too), Church is more than liturgy. It is finding a home in a community of faith. It is to be with God’s people.

    I would rather be with a Baptist who prays for me and who cares about my family than with an Episcopalian who keeps trying to shove homosexuality down my throat. I would rather be in a community of evangelicals whose faith is solid than in an Episcopal group trying to defend or apologize for the likes of Spong or Jefferts-Schori. It seems to me that worship with people who sing from the heart is more important than fine tuning the paid choir and window dressing the lifeless sanctuary.

    As much as I loved my growing up years in the Church, the old ship of the Church has sunk for good. Faith in Christ is what matters. God has called us to be one in Christ, not in our Church structure or denomination. Unity is not found in by-laws and legal maneuvers, it is found in Him.

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