Continuing Anglican Unity

I usually feel at a distance from church meetings, especially ones for discussing unity and ways getting around differences of doctrines, practices and personalities. I will be attending my own Diocesan Synod in early May, for which I have already sent a report of my priestly ministry. We tend to discuss essential business. Fr Jonathan Munn looks after the money and gives his detailed accounts. Each priest reports on his parish. Our Bishop will have much to tell us about the church shop in Canterbury. All these things are a part of our family life and witness to the life of Christ within us. I am not much of a meeting enthusiast, but they are important for any community.

Fr Jonathan Munn has just written Defragging the Anglican Church, using the analogy of a computer reorganising its hard disk. A fragmented hard disk is like dividing up the books in a library and putting the sections into the shelves in a more or less random fashion. To read a book, we would have to find and read the first section, and then search for the other sections and read them in order. Fragmentation slows a computer down, even if it searches through its hard disk much faster than our efforts in a disorganised library. In French, the computer is called an ordinateur, an organising machine that puts information into order. That’s what it does. I’m not sure such an analogy describes the efforts of bishops of different Churches to resolve their differences and work for unity. Obviously, the word fragmentation is something in common, which inspired the use of this analogy.

However, the method does not consist of merely organising information into a rational order. Fr Munn’s article points us to the blog of Bishop Chandler Jones of the Anglican Province of America. There is a certain amount of reorganising and rationalisation to be done with church constitutions, but the important part was discussing the existing problems in view to working out a solution.

In the most tumultuous days of the TAC’s ordinariate movement, mostly in early 2010 and through 2011, the ACA resisted the most and came under the criticism of the ordinariate-bound parts of the TAC. I remember reading the arguments accusing the American bishops of duplicity and infidelity to their promises made in Portsmouth to go along with any plan proposed by Rome. I will not go over it all, especially now that memories are fading and documentation is indeed fragmented, but I will say that Americans are more concerned for pragmatic considerations and self-preservation than anyone else. The experience was a kind of catharsis that caused the Continuing Anglican remnants to become a little more serious about saving the entire Continuing Anglican idea. Not all Anglicans want to remain with the “revisionists” or become Roman Catholics or Orthodox. Continuing Anglicanism is not a shipwreck to be exploited for spare parts and things useful to other agendas. It has its own integrity and ecclesiology as an expression of Catholic Christianity.

Institutional instruments like constitutions and codes of canon law are important, but there is a human, pastoral and theological basis that is not being neglected. We are too thin on the ground, but the American Continuing Anglican Churches, at least the ones generally recognised to be legitimate, look much more mainstream with their church buildings and schools for the children. The clergy over there are generally stipendiary and that makes a big difference, making a priest much more available for his ministry – just as long as it doesn’t all become too “corporate” and with the same bureaucratic blight as with the old mainstream churches. There are real ideas for collaboration and unity without absorption.

The Episcopate is being seriously professionalised, and this can only be a good thing. I understand that our own Archbishop Metropolitan is involved in the discussions. They are working on an assembly of bishops to help distinguish between the genuine and the “false”, since there are bogus internet churches, looking very big and official (yet no one has heard of them), but lacking substance. People need to be educated in the notion of predictability and likelihood. The real churches are known about and there are no “lost worlds”.

It is important for particular Churches to retain their autonomy and freedom. This is conciliar ecclesiology, not ultramontanism or Papal imperialism! We will continue to have overlapping jurisdictions for some time to come. Such collaboration could bring about the sharing of the most costly resources like seminaries for the training of new priests. Importantly, this kind of plan would reduce the risk of rogue bishops and amateurism in the Episcopate.

This is not the first time such meetings have been held, but the ongoing effort leads to hope. What about Continuing Anglicans outside North America. Personally, before joining the ACC, I took care to resign from the Traditional Anglican Church honourably and with respect and courtesy. It is incredibly difficult for any of us to make much headway in England and Europe. I understand that the Traditional Anglican Church in England is getting back together again, now they have a Bishop and a few of the confused clergy who returned. We need to look at other Churches as positively as possible.

Many problems remain to be solved, and they cannot be minimised or dismissed as insignificant. I do believe that the ACC has been right to hold to certain principles that other churches find difficult to follow. However, we can be thankful that dialogue and work are under way.

Indeed, we look forward to the fortieth anniversary of the Congress of Saint Louis, and to much progress having been made to recover from bad experience in this process of Christian healing and reconciliation.

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10 Responses to Continuing Anglican Unity

  1. There is much in this article giving grounds for hope in the issue of Continuing Anglican Unity.
    Without indulging in polemic and seeking to express constructive opinion I would raise an important issue which I think must be addressed. I recall that some time ago this matter was considered in depth on Sarum Use.

    Perhaps for the avoidance of controversy and discord it would be best to work towards two groupings. One for the Catholic and another for Continuers advocating the 1662 Prayer Book,close derivatives and the 39 Articles.

    As regards unity I would think that the way forward could be best explored at this time by recognition of Orders and validity of Sacraments. Unity would be a most desirable outcome.
    Having moved to a traditional Old Catholic jurisdiction and speaking entirely for myself I would also like to see De Jure inter communion agreements between ourselves and the continuing Anglo Catholic jurisdictions. We are on much common ground.

    There is already a certain amount of De Facto inter communion around on an ad hoc basis.
    I would advocate formalising this. Would readers please note that I use the term Old Catholic to describe those churches and individuals accepting the Declaration of Utrecht .Those ‘churches’ remaining in the Union of Utrecht are accurately described as ‘Liberal Catholic’. By their changes to doctrine the Union churches have allied themselves with Liberal Catholicism a 19th Century sect.

    • Interesting points. There are some questions that don’t seem to be avoidable, though the APA and the ACA are by and large Anglo-Catholic. I don’t know to what extent they insist on the 39 Articles having any actual authority. The scheme does not seem to include the more specifically Prayer Book / anti-Missal jurisdictions.

      Intercommunion. I give Communion to Roman Catholics who wish to do so at my Mass, because I recognise them to be Catholic Christians. I would have more difficulty if I know that a given person was not baptised or made an issue about not believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I intentionally set the hurdles low, trusting each person to approach the Sacrament with a good conscience. I am not the Gestapo!

      Historical documents affirming our particular identity are important. The Declaration of Utrecht was important in 1889 in fending off Ultramontanism. It is not nearly so relevant to Anglicans, but there are some good guiding principles such as refusing the Immaculate Conception as a dogma. We all seem to believe Mary to be the sinless Mother of God and worthy of our devotion, without it being “infallibly defined”.

      Just to put the record right. The Union of Utrecht is not Liberal Catholic. Liberal Catholicism was a “rogue” outgrowth from Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew’s Old Roman Catholic Church in the early twentieth century. To this day, there is no link between the Liberal Catholic Church and the Union of Utrecht, even if the clergy and people of the latter are very “progressive”.

    • Dale says:

      It would appear that this group does not celebrate the old rite, but the modernist Vatican II one.

  2. Fr Anthony,

    Your description of the Union of Utrecht is of course completely accurate. On reflection I should have used more carefully defined language. It is possible that I was inadvertently slipping into polemic against the current membership of the Union of Utrecht. I was seeking to differentiate Old Catholicism around the world the OCC UK, The Nordic Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church and others from the small ‘l’ liberal members of the Union of Utrecht.

    The Union churches ordain women, conduct sames sex marriage and in other ways diverge from traditional Old Catholicism.

    I will be more precise in my terminology here and elsewhere.

    It was encouraging to read your words on inter communion.

  3. William Tighe says:

    I have never hitherto heard of the OCC UK, and would like to know more about it. Am I correct in inferring that whatever it is, it is not that body which is envisaged to result from the “Free Church of England” entering (as many suppose, or hope) the Union of Scranton?

  4. Dr Tighe
    Full information about the OCC UK is available on

    Interestingly many Church of England priests back in the first decade of the 20th Century held secret membership of Archbishop Mathew’s Old Catholic jurisdiction. This being in a time when expulsion from the C of E appeared imminent. Over the years defections to orthodox Old Catholicism from Catholic Anglicanism have occurred and into the OCC UK.

    I have long standing connections with Forward in Faith/ Society of St Wilfrid and St. Hilda.

    A new Catholic jurisdiction for Anglo Catholic dissenters is being worked upon in detail behind the scenes as I type.

    What I have gathered is that this will be available in months rather than years.

    Assorted ‘little birdies ‘cheep in my ear’ about this matter. So far as I am aware from my avian informers this will be in addition to the Free Church of England.

    Catholic members of the C of E would certainly feel unable with good conscience to join the Free Church of England as that church’s current doctrines and worship stand.

    I hope this will be of some use and my apologies to Fr Anthony for engaging in Old Catholic Church matters here on this Continuing Anglican Unity thread.

    • I have corrected the link you gave to open a site you have already given me.

      What I find amazing is that this Church is so little known, yet has the structure of a large mainstream church. I have seen many internet churches that look very grand, very official with lots of offices and bureaucratic functions, but are elusive when one actually tries to find out what is really there. Some are no more than a little group of bishops-of-nothing.

      I would appreciate from you an account of your own experience in one of this Church’s parishes. Where did they get the money from to acquire the old Dominican Priory? Or do they just rent the church Sunday by Sunday?

      I don’t mind discussing Old Catholic communities, but I do expect their self presentation to be in accord with what they actually are and do. We in the ACC are what it says on the label. We expect no less from anyone else.

  5. Fr Anthony,

    I will answer as you would rightly expect from me with total honesty. I have yet to attend a service of the OCC UK. My initial dealings have been encouraging. My diocesan bishop is a former RCC priest who left after reporting paedophile abuse on which no further action was taken.

    The clergy comprises former Anglican and RC priests. I have dispersed membership similar to that offered by the ACC and the Nordic Catholic Church.

    As a Catholic Christian I believe that attendance at Mass is a necessity. We Catholics are a Eucharistic Community. I attend a Society Mass at St Peter and the Holy Apostles in the West City Centre in the city of Plymouth. This is occasional given my differences with the C of E as a whole. That said I believe that for the time being that this is a valid Mass (witings St Ignatius of Antioch 1st C).

    I also attend RCC services now and then. I am fully entitled to attend RCC Mass and receive the consecrated Host by virtue of Dominus Iesus a Declaration of 16th June 2000. This was ratified and ordered for publication by Blessed John Paul 2nd. It was countersigned by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in August of that year. It was placed in the public domain.

    I refrain from doing so locally because ex CE priests now members of OLW are, if I may lapse into idiom, ‘More Catholic than the Pope’ I think it best to avoid controversy in the matter. I will receive the Blessed Sacrament in the RCC church of St Josephs on Jofridavstadir in Hafnarfjordur in Iceland in a couple of weeks time. The RCC in Iceland have no problem with this and I have previously attended the Cathedral in Reykjavik.

    So far as I am aware the OCC UK is totally above board. I have had long conversations and exchanged many lengthy E Mails. They are hoping to establish a Mass Centre here in the South West and I have advised them to be looking at either Plymouth or Truro. Should I discover anything which places my current position into question I will act accordingly. I do not know whether the Cathedral is rented or owned. I do know that many OCC services are conducted there.

    I will publicly state here that when the new catholic jurisdiction which will become available to C of E Anglo Catholics is up and running later this year I will prayerfully weigh up my options.

    I’ll close by saying that not only do I respect the ACC here in the UK I include the Bishop, clergy and laity in my daily prayers.

  6. Pingback: On Continuing Anglican Unity | Fr Stephen Smuts

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