A small but ardent group of unsettled Midwest Episcopalians gathered for a two-day conference on conservative thought at Christ Church Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills, in the Diocese of Michigan on May 21-22. Approximately 200 people from Michigan and the surrounding states attended "A Place to Stand in the Midwest," to hear from and question some of the movers and shakers of an increasingly bellicose rebellion against the decisions made by the Episcopal Church last August, most prominently the consent to the election of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson.
Each speaker, however, marked deeper roots of rebellion and the long-simmering resentments of "the orthodox movement" that have eroded their confidence in the leadership and direction of American Anglicanism.
The Rev. Geoff Chapman, rector of St. Stephen's in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, led the conference in Bible study and explained later that there's been "an Anglican Diaspora" since the 1870s and the current crisis affords "a homecoming of all the separate Anglican bodies" in the United States.
"The future witness of the Anglican Communion is what's at stake," he said to the multitude that stayed into Saturday afternoon to ask questions of the panel. "I believe it is a war [and] you are on the point of the spear. What you do is critically important."
The Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian and communications coordinator in the Diocese of South Carolina and a priest who led the floor fight in the House of Deputies against Robinson becoming a bishop, agreed that the fundamental issues have been present for decades. He marked the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer as a significant turning point.
"The full theological measure of its ethos has yet to be completely felt, but we are now at a place with enough distance from the 1979 Prayer Book to begin to reflect," said Harmon. "The conclusions are deeply unsettling and disturbing."
The 1979 prayer book puts forth "an under-emphasis on God's transcendence, holiness and judgment," he said, "combined with a very weak sense of sin, combined with a liturgical practice that makes, for the first time in Anglican history, the confession of sin optional, combined with a strong emphasis on baptism, combined with a baptismal covenant that is de-coupled from its Trinitarian and scriptural mooring."
The present fury of the orthodox movement has erupted, Harmon explained, with two recent developments: the consecration of Gene Robinson as a bishop and "the increasingly common practice of open communion in the Episcopal Church."
"We have completely lost a sense of the divine vocation to save other people from their sins," said Harmon.
"There has to be a realignment of Anglicanism in North America," Harmon added, because "at Minneapolis, the Episcopal Church decided to risk the future of the whole Anglican Communion on these two votes [Robinson and C-051, on same gender-relationships]."
"The issues have been with us for some significant time," said the Rev. David Anderson, who is the president, chairman and CEO of the American Anglican Council (AAC). The AAC led the resistance to the election of Robinson and became the bulwark against General Convention's vote to consent last August. In April, the AAC announced that it is fully dedicated to realignment of the Episcopal Church--a commitment Anderson made clear while in Michigan. Anderson said that the AAC, which has been an advocacy group since the mid-1990s, is now "an army in the field [which] is worrisome for some bishops but great hope for many parishes and parishioners."
He offered frank advice for priests and local congregations to protect themselves from their bishops and when it comes to paying diocesan apportionment: "Stand on their air hoses; that will get their attention."
"There will be no retreat from the call for realignment," said Anderson in response to questions at the close of the Michigan meeting. He explained that the walkout that occurred when General Convention voted to approve Robinson's election was more than a gesture of protest. "Most of us said 'we have no home here anymore.'" He said the AAC does not plan to participate at the 2006 General Convention.
"We were very well organized for Minneapolis but we did not win. We lost on the two key issues," Anderson said, referring to the consent of the election of Robinson and Resolution C-051. He explained that it is too expensive and the prospects for success too unlikely to mount an effort to reverse the actions of the Episcopal Church.
"To go back and rework those same processes," he explained, would not be productive. "It is more important to build the infrastructure and the connections to the international communion where our theological home is found."
Yet, even as Anderson appealed for Midwestern support of the orthodox movement that he insisted would abide no retreat from realignment, he described how the refocused orthodox movement avoided a dire conundrum at its very founding last October. In stepping back from the brink of its own disintegration, his realigning alliance seemed to clear a path for the whole Episcopal Church.
Following the critical General Convention last August, the AAC held a meeting in Plano, Texas, to begin laying the foundation for a realigned church, but Anderson admitted at the Michigan conference that the whole movement "almost came undone" over the question of women in leadership roles. He explained that the two sides--those opposing ordination of women and others in favor of it--were at a standoff.
"We have to assure both those who do ordain and those who don't, there's a place for them in the emerging church. How are we going to do that? It isn't going to be easy," Anderson said. "At Plano, [we experienced] a wonderful coming together in a live and let live [attitude]. But both sides must give the other side the space to exist.
"We will need God's grace to see if it works out. But I believe it can," he said.