Hallo again to all.
Behind this tranquil front page, you'd not know that we've been in skirmishes now and again about the venerable* name on our masthead, Anglicans Online.
That name was chosen one cold December night in 1994 by a young Canadian living in Vancouver, Tod Maffin. No doubt 'Anglicans Online' seemed a reasonable choice, since he was creating a site that could connect the various strands of the Anglican Communion. He began by linking all four existing web sites at the time. (Recall that there was virtually nothing on the web in 1994. If you happened to visit a website in 1994, consider yourself a pioneer.)
It wouldn't do to call the site 'The Church of Canada Online', as the site wasn't official and besides it wasn't directed only to Canadians. 'Episcopalians Online' made no particular sense, since that noun is limited mostly to North Americans and the Scottish Episcopal Church. 'Anglicans' was a fine noun that described unacrimoniously at the time Christians round the world whose common mother was the Church of England and whose official bodies, in their various countries, were recognised as being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. So far, so simple.
But even in 1994, there were splinter groups, soi-disant Anglicans of one kind or another. Virtually all of them were in the States and had departed from the Episcopal Church in the late 1970s for reasons of language (no new Prayer Book) or sex (no women in holy orders). But in 1994, they had no online presence and were not ranging outside their own carefully guarded boundaries of apostolic succession. We doubt Tod was troubled for a moment by any possible confusion of Anglicans.
From the first, Anglicans Online made it a point of listing all the legitimate splinter Anglican groups when their websites came to our attention. Much time was spent sorting out whether an 'Anglican Church' or 'denomination' was in fact more than one man and a website. Were there actually any services? In a physical building? Front time to time, we were forced to adjudicate amongst breakaway groups, each claiming to be the 'orthodox' one. For many of these tiny groups, being listed on our Not in the Communion page was a mark of legitimacy, odd as that may seem.
Mostly, though, questions of nomenclature were quiet through the 1990s. There was the occasional cranky letter from someone in a splinter group who argued about the appropriate use of 'Anglican', but those were few.
In 2000, the landscape altered with the creation of the Anglican Mission in America, an outgrowth of the First Promise movement in the States. Better organised, better funded, led by men who conceivably could have been bishops in their official provinces, the organisation moved quickly to online muscular Christianity. With the creation of AMiA churches, Anglicans Online was pressured to include them in our official parish listings. We said, politely and rationally, 'No', setting out our reasoning for all to read.
Then in 2003 came the consecration of the Reverend V. Gene Robinson as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. We don't need to review the consequences which followed. More splintering, more schisms. With more people online in developing countries, there was greater international linkage between people whose understanding of doctrine aligned more perfectly than it did with those in their own national church.** We've all lived through what has followed during the tenure of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury.
So the question comes down to 'Who's Anglican?' We hold the definition we've cleaved to from our start: Anglicans are those members of national churches and provinces in communion with the See of Canterbury and recognised in the official roster kept by the Anglican Communion Office. But we freely admit it's a confusing Anglican world. North Americans who have chosen to leave the Episcopal Church use 'Anglican' as a synonym for 'Not Episcopalian'. So occasionally a hapless and unhappy 'Not Episcopalian' comes here hoping to find the centre of the 'Not Episcopalian' universe and instead, horror stricken, finds a directory of actual Episcopal churches in the United States. To wit, from our mailbag (name changed to protect the guilty):
We politely responded to Mr Hardwood, pointing him to our Not in the Communion page. We doubt he was satisfied.
Interestingly, before the late nineteenth century, the word 'Anglican' was most uncommon. The Anglican Communion had existed de facto since the creation of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of American in 1785 and expanded with the increase of the British Empire, but in England people were members of 'the Church' — Church men and women, not Anglicans. The young American Episcopal Church was often 'the Church'. Whether one applauds or shudders at the concept that the Church of England and its daughters were the One True Church — against the detestable enormities of Rome or the errors and wanderings of the protestant sects — we weren't a 'denomination' and we didn't need any other appellation than 'Church'. By the end of the 1960s, that had mostly faded away. Anglicans and the Anglican Church became common parlance. In the US, Church men and women became Episcopalians.
So here we are now, in a land of taxonomic confusion. It's likely much keener in the States than elsewhere in the Communion, but it is representative of the underlying question of just what defines 'Anglican' and how much it will continue to matter as the year pass.
As for us and our household, we shall carry on with the name we've borne for so long — Anglicans Online — comfortable in our understanding of the term and its definition. We hope you're quite all right with that.
See you next week.
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