Monday, December 18, 2006

Episcopal Church Begins to Split

The Anglican Church has always had an identity crisis. When it was first founded by King Henry VIII it was for all real purposes the Roman Catholic Church with two differences of mass being in English and a new line of bishops. When Henry died the new King Edward VI became the monarch and the church became very Protestant in nature. However, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the church reached a "middle ground" which would lead to confusion and further schism from groups like the Puritans, Methodists, the Oxford Movement, and others.

Today's latest split comes from the United States. Currently the Episcopal Church (the United States' church in the Anglican Communion; countries have their own independent church united in a confederacy of other churches all steaming from the Church of England) has been dogged in its progressive streak by its support of practicing homosexual bishops and priests and its recently election of Katharine Jefferts Schori (who made conservatives mad with her "our mother Jesus" speech).

In response several churches in Virginia have seceded from the Episcopal Church and join the Church of Nigeria under the control of Peter Akinola. These churches are conservative "low churches" which are closer to the Protestant version of Anglicanism than the Catholic past. Some high-church Episcopals are also upset. Several dioceses (above map) are in the process of asking for their own American Anglican church.

The center cannot hold and it has been failing for sometime now. On the high-church side groups like the Continuing Anglicanism split off in the 1970s and 1980s over the issue of ordination of women. Some groups have gone to Anglican Use, Anglicans in union with the Roman Catholic Church, or groups like the Traditional Anglican Communion are in the process of trying to obtain their own rite with communion in Rome. On the low church side splinter groups like the Reformed Episcopal Church have signed agreements with the Anglican Communion Network and the Church of Nigeria.

This Yahoo! Maps mashup of Continuing Anglican Churches is insightful. One can see the conservative, high-church movement is based in areas of high English-decent concentration while lacking any real outreach expect to some Indian reservations.

The Catholic Church had some hiccups after Vatican II but has been busy slowly "reforming the Reform" and splinter groups like the Society of Saint Pius X are being marginalized. The Anglican Communion on the other hand has member churches not recognizing each other and treading into each other's territory. All is not well in the house that Henry built.

There are geoimplications on this. "Western" (read "white") churches in the Communion are not replenishing their numbers. This is actually a fact of pride to their leadership. Meanwhile more conservative churches in the global south (mostly Africa) are having children and those children actually believe in the traditions and teachings of the church. Slowly but surely these believers will impact the direction of Anglicanism and Christianity on a whole (read the guest review of the excellent The Next Christendom).


Pictou County said...

You did not mention the Anglican Orthodox Church. See
The theology is Reformed and there are more members in the South Pacific than in the U.S.

Catholicgauze said...

Thanks Pictou. I never heard of the group. The fact that there are more in the South Pacific then the US is a fascinating sign of things to come. Thanks again!