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Hallo again to all.

A Caucus Race In recent weeks we have been interested to observe a curious shift in Anglican language. Like the false opposition between Anglican and Episcopal about which we wrote last week, it has something to do with the politicks and knavish tricks of serious-minded people of good will but differing opinions within our religious tradition.

Whilst visiting with friends in the Upper Midwest of the United States, a conversation turned at one stage to a local congregation of Continuing Anglicans. Their life is focused on worship in a building that had once been a Methodist church. They seem a lively group, with a careful devotion to regular liturgies and community service; they have a baseball team, barbeque suppers in the warm months, and an active food pantry for poor families nearby. We're happy to say that they don't appear to be much like the group of Continuing Anglicans we once described as 'half a dozen angry people singing Merbecke at one another'.

This group of Continuing Anglicans frames its life around a choice to perpetuate ecclesiastical practices at odds with the official decisions of the local Anglican province in the 1970s—namely, the revision of the Book of Common Prayer, and the admission of women to the diaconate, priesthood, and eventually the episcopate. They and groups like them use the word Continuing to indicate their descent from the body that promulgated the 1977 Affirmation of St Louis:

with a firm trust in Divine Providence, and before Almighty God and all the company of heaven, we solemnly affirm, covenant and declare that we, lawful and faithful members of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, shall now and hereafter continue and be the unified continuing Anglican Church in North America, in true and valid succession thereto.

In keeping with this meaning, we have heard Canadian Anglicans use the verb 'to Continue' to mean 'to separate from the Anglican Church of Canada': 'George's parish was going to Continue once after the BAS came out, but they ended up staying on'. And there is of course a Church of England (Continuing), proving as if one needed proof that the phenomenon of Continuing Anglicanism is not just a North American aberration.

We heard quite another use of the term Continuing last week when we attended the opening convocation of a theological college.

A small group had gathered for snacks and drinks after the ceremonial component of the convocation, and conversation turned to the geographic origins of the new students. One of our number gestured toward a young woman across the room who was helping herself to a cucumber sandwich. 'She's from one of the Continuing dioceses!' said one of the crowd in hushed but charged tones of admiration and excitement.

We paused inside to ask just what this meant. Had a Continuing Anglican church in fact sent a female seminarian to a theological college with ties to the Episcopal Church in the United States? By no means: this conversation was about a student whose home diocese continues to be affiliated with the official, ACO-recognized Episcopal Church headquartered in New York City. Her diocese and others like it call themselves 'Continuing dioceses', reversing the received vocabulary of schismatics-as-continuers. Since a portion of the communicants and parishes of her diocese have remained within the Episcopal Church, they understand themselves as Continuing Episcopalians—indeed, as Continuing Anglicans in the diocese in which they have always worshiped. These Continuing Episcopalian Anglicans lay claim to the tangible property and intangible identity of the dioceses in their locales, and courts tend to agree with them on the subject.

In English as she is spoke, then, Continuing Anglicans are not Episcopalians, Continuing Episcopalians are Anglicans, and Continuing Anglicans are not Anglicans. In our fairly wide observations, we've met Continuing Anglicans who believe themselves to be the only true Episcopalians, Episcopalians who say that they are not Anglicans, Continuing Anglicans who say they are most certainly not Episcopalians, Continuing Anglicans who are not Anglican Communion-recognized Anglicans, and Episcopalians who fight hard to be recognised in word and fact as Anglicans.

What to make of this sure and certain sign that we Anglicans are truly a people divided by a common language?

The rhetoric of continuity has been an important part of Christianity since its beginnings. A verifiable connection with predecessors made a community proud for its care in receiving and handing on the great traditions of teaching and practise. Continuity rose to special prominence during the European reformations, and particularly in the English phase of those movements when writers worked hard to demonstrate the continuity of the Church in England both before and after the break with Roman Catholic jurisdictional authority. One of our favourite treatments of the topic likens the Church to a garden, and asks whether a garden after it has been weeded is not the same garden as it had been before. Well into the twentieth century, our divines—such as F.W. Puller in 1913—took pains to demonstrate the legal, formal, and spiritual continuities of the Church of England before, through, and after the reigns of Henry, Edward, Jane Grey, Mary, and Elizabeth.

Anglicans and Episcopalians who today call themselves Continuing are heirs to this tradition, and they write and speak in good faith as they assert their rights to the legitimacy of continuity. All of us who try to continue, and to Continue, are doing something intentional and serious. In the Babel of Anglican Continuity, though, we wonder if it might be better for all sides to stop calling themselves Continuing, and to be clearer about who we are in point of fact: members of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, the Anglican Province of Christ the King, the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Australia, the Orthodox Anglican Church, the Church of the Province of South Africa, the Southern Episcopal Church, the Church in Wales, etc.

The rhetoric of continuity—which now means things it doesn't mean, and other things it does mean—has become a point of confusion rather than clarification for modern Anglicans. We may serve ourselves, our communities, and those to whom we minister best by being precise about just what churches we belong to, rather than claiming an adjective with deracinated meaning and slippery connotations. In 2012, we're all Continuing Anglicans, and you can be certain that we'll be Continuing Anglicans Online, right onward.

See you next week.

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9 September 2012

A thin blue line
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