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Topical Tuesday: Territorial Anglicanism?

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Posted by Peter Adam, 5 Sep 2017

Reverend Canon Dr. Peter Adam points out that overlapping Anglican jurisdictions are not a new phenomenon, and argues that Anglican territorialism is one of its least attractive features.

The ordination of Bishop Andy Lines as missionary Bishop to Europe by 50 Bishops including 11 Primates has upset some Anglicans. They protest that this action opposes the 4th Century Canons of Nicaea, though it is not clear how those Canons apply to this situation, nor what authority they have today. [See Mark Smith’s previous Topical Tuesday post on this subject: Loose Canons?]

The claim is made that Anglicanism is opposed to having more than one Bishop in one territory. This claim is less plausible when seen in the light of the reality of Anglican practice:

1. There are already two distinct and separate Anglican jurisdictions in Europe: each one with its own Bishop. One is the Diocese in Europe, which is part of The Church of England. The other is the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, part of The Episcopal Church of USA. So, for example, in Paris there is St Michael’s which is part of The Church of England, and St George’s which is part of the USA Episcopal Church. You might well think that one Anglican church in Europe is enough, and that more than one means schism. Apparently having two overlapping Anglican episcopal and diocesan structures is not out of the question! Perhaps this is an instructive model for the future. There is already room for two different expressions of Anglicanism in the same territory. Anglicanism is more flexible than first appears!

2. When The Church of England set up its Diocese in Europe, and later when The Episcopal Church of the USA set up its Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, they did so despite the fact that the territory of Europe was already covered by a network of Roman Catholic Dioceses and Eastern Orthodox churches. Presumably neither Anglican Church thought that the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches were not part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Yet according to this use of the Nicene Canons, both were causing schism!

It is one thing to reform your own national church, it is quite another to impose a church which claims to be part of the Catholic Church where there is already a Catholic Church firmly in place!

The proprietorial face of Anglicanism is one of its most unattractive features. The Bishop of Australia, William Grant Broughton, refused to attend a reception at Government House in Sydney 1840s, because the newly appointed Roman Catholic Bishop had taken the title Archbishop of Sydney. Over its history the Church of England has persecuted Jews, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and Methodists, as well as many of its own.
To use an expression popular in contemporary Anglican ecclesiology, perhaps we should describe the recent GAFCON ordination as nothing more than ‘an anomaly’. But it is no more anomalous than what is already in place. Proprietorial and territorial Anglicanism is not very attractive.

Furthermore, the purpose of the Nicean Creed and Canons was to preserve orthodoxy against current heresies. The purpose of Catholic order is to preserve Catholic faith. We would do well to pay more attention to faith than order!

This article was previously published in The Melbourne Anglican.




Peter Adam is Vicar Emeritus at St Jude’s Carlton in Melbourne, Australia

Photo by Diocese of Europe

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