Catholic Faith, Anglican Culture.Rector's Address, Annual Parish Meeting
16 January 2011
Church of the Holy Communion
Fr. M. Dow Sanderson
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I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now...
Those of you who are good biblical scholars will recognize that quote from the sixteenth chapter of John's Gospel. But I will always remember it as a phrase Bishop Allison would use with us seminarians when we attempted to ask him an intelligent question. Always, of course, with a twinkle in his eye... And always, of course, with the understanding that if we asked for a full measure, we would receive a full measure.
Well, I am more than aware this morning that you haven't asked me for anything! And so, I suppose, I should ask your forgiveness for the full measure you are about to receive. It has been my tradition for the time that I have been your rector to make the sermon on the day of the annual meeting a sort of state of the church - but, hopefully, within a devotional context.
We are here this morning because we believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior and the Lord of our Lives. We believe that he called the Holy Catholic Church into being as his living, breathing, active Body to accomplish the work of the Gospel until his coming again. We believe that this Church is a visible, physical community, established by Christ Himself, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
We believe that Church of the Holy Communion is and ever has been a manifestation of that One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church: Conceived in the heart of Bishop Christopher Gadsden in 1848. Birthed when Anthony Toomer Porter climbed the rickety ladder to survey with horror the dilapidated little room that first housed the infant congregation. And blossoming to maturity on this corner, where it has stood proudly for 156 years. Through earthquake, wind and fire. Through Civil War and Civil Rights. Through Suburban growth and Urban flight... we have never shirked the call that has been place upon us.
And it has been a rewarding vocation, but not always an easy vocation.
We all have read how the Charleston News and Courier expressed loudly its disapproval of Dr. Porter's ritualism: Church of the Holy Communion goes to Rome the headline proclaimed after Easter mass in 1871.
It isn't always such an easy thing to explain, is it?
And yet we continue to proclaim our message:
Yes, we are a Catholic parish.
Our Faith is Catholic.
Our Culture is Anglican.
Don't you get a little weary sometimes when you hear someone say to you, Well I am somewhat Anglo-Catholic...?
That is like being somewhat pregnant... Or somewhat American!
We are not merely a more elegant expression of the parish down the street.
If I were to take all our vestments and thuribles and candles and throw them off the Ravenel Bridge (I suppose I should have to do such a thing on Fr. Dan's day off) ... if I were to get rid of all of it... we would still be a Catholic parish because that is our faith.
Or if I were to take all of our trappings of worship to the Unitarians and have them march up and down Archdale Street, they would not be a Catholic parish.
Our faith is what defines us. Our ceremonial is but an outward sign of the faith that dwells in our hearts.
I state these few obvious things as a prelude this morning, because the environment in which we find ourselves as Catholic Anglicans has changed mightily since 1848.
We have always been a minority in South Carolina. But there was a day when Anglo-Catholicism was in the ascendancy in our country and in other parts of the world. There was a time when whole dioceses were avowedly Anglo-Catholic. There was a time when Nashotah House (seminary) was filled with students.
But today, there is not a single Anglo-Catholic diocese left in the (Episcopal Church) in the United States. Not one. There are scarcely a dozen Catholic parishes as large as Church of the Holy Communion left in the whole country. Nashotah House has only 20 residential students.
Now I don't say that to despair. After all, we believe in a God who raised Jesus from the dead. We do not loose heart. But it is important to know where we stand.
It is not my intention this morning to spend a great deal of time telling you negative things about the Episcopal Church. That would not bless anyone. But it is clear that the environment today is less hospitable to parishes like ours. And the conflict is not limited to the Episcopal Church. All so-called mainstream churches are deeply divided over the limits of modernity. How can we be salt and light in the world without becoming just like the world? How can we be relevant to the world's real and important issues without sounding more like the United Nations or the United Way than the Church?
That is the struggle, and we are very much in the midst of that wilderness.
Some of our brethren have thrown up their arms and said enough! And have tried to form their own "version" of Anglicanism.
The first such wave was in 1976. Approximately 10,000 Episcopalians left the church over prayerbook revision and the ordination of women to the priesthood. They stood proudly and announced all that they were against. They marched off happily, never again to be bothered by the "nasty liberals" at General Convention.
But within a year of coming together to form this new church, they found that they didn't really like each other either! And the ONE splinter group became two and then five and continued to divide until there weren't enough letters in the alphabet to describe them.
More recently, a group headed by Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh has attempted to be the coalition to bring all these groups under one umbrella called the Anglican Church in North American. Again, they have one particular issue that unites them. They are all in agreement that the Episcopal Church's liberalizing policy on human sexuality is a bad thing... but they have far less in common on other issues. Some are high church and some low. Some love the 1979 prayerbook and others hate it. Some insist that women should be priests and others argue loudly that such a thing is impossible. And before the ink was dry on the Constitution uniting the new coalition, one of its larger bodies backed away.
Now I want to be clear that I am not condemning any people nor their motives. There are dear, good Christian people in these groups. Many dear friends. People I love. People who have preached from this pulpit.
I am not criticizing people, but I am trying to point out why I disagree with the strategy.
First, it is a sine qua non that if you call yourself Anglican, you must be in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. None of the bishops of any of these groups has such recognition or communion.
Secondly, though they may claim some sort of constituent membership in the Anglican Communion through their fellowship with Archbishops of the Global South (largely Africa and Latin America)... these Global South Archbishops themselves are more and more distancing themselves from the See of Canterbury. In late 2010, a good many of them declared that that they were NOT in communion with Rowan Williams and then made the outrageous statement that there had not been an Archbishop of Canterbury worth shooting since 1620!
But finally, here is the most serious problem: Have you ever heard the joke about the sanctimonious woman who, upon becoming president of the Ladies Bible Class ran everybody off except one poor woman? Exasperated but determined, she proclaimed to her last student: You and I are the last two Christians in this church...and I'm not so sure about you!
James Joyce got it more right when he said of the Catholic Church, Here comes everybody!
Dietrich Bonheoffer (the great Lutheran martyr) when he visited Rome for the first time was startled, but impressed to see in the stately procession of bishops that there were Asians and Africans and Europeans, all proclaiming the same faith. He compared that in his mind with the very blond blue-eyed sameness of the State Church back in Germany and came to the conclusion that brother Luther might have gotten a few things wrong after all!
You see, gathering a nice bunch of folks together who look like us, sound like us, and share our prejudices might be a fine way to found a college fraternity.... But it certainly is not the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Which brings us back to the Episcopal Church. God knows, she is far from perfect. Aren't we all. But only through her is it possible at this moment in time to be an Anglican in the United States. Bishop Lawrence I believe understands this well. And I believe that he has been wise and courageous in his efforts to stay IN the church, while speaking plainly his objections to those things wherein he believes the church to have erred.
He also has seen firsthand how distracting it becomes when a diocese tries to leave. Ministry and Gospel mandates are greatly distracted by lawsuits and property fights and lawyers and Good Lord deliver us!
Will he be able to make a difference? Will he be able to maintain this very fragile balance of being in the church but not in lockstep with its entire agenda?
I do not know. But I am certain that he deserves our prayers and love as he makes the effort.
And for Anglo-Catholicism, it really is necessary that I make mention of another movement on the horizon. Before Easter, practically all that is left of Anglo-Catholicism in England will have accepted the Holy Father's offer of an Anglican Ordinariate. That is to say, five bishops, hundreds of priests and thousands of worshippers are being brought into full communion with the Catholic Church.
That should not surprise anyone. The Oxford movement began as a recognition that the Church of England had sufficient credentials to be called a Catholic Church, but that she was in schism. And healing that schism was a stated goal from the very beginning. The hope, of course, was that the whole of Anglicanism could be restored to Full Communion.
But as we know, that has not happened.
What is astounding is how generous is the offer. Keep your married priests, your liturgy your customs your hymns and canticles your own parochial self-government. We welcome your gifts.
For Anglo-Catholics in England, that has been seen as most generous.
The same is true in Australia.
In the United States, the Anglican Ordinariate has not yet been formed. There are plans, of course. The question is, are there enough people to make it viable?
Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore, St Luke Bladensburg, Maryland and Good Shepherd, Rosemont Pa (the parish that gave us the Anglican Service Book) are three parish to my knowledge who have signaled that they would appreciate such an arrangement.
Now let me be clear. Please do not call the Post and Courier! We do not want a repeat of the headline of 1871! I am not uttering a prophecy!
I am merely this morning doing all that I can accurately to describe the culture and circumstances in which we find ourselves in this new year of 2011.
I do not have directions nor a blueprint for the future.
But neither did Abraham. And by Faith, he became a mighty nation.
Next weekend, your vestry and clergy will be at Kanuga. And more than discussing these issues, we intend to PRAY about these issues.
It is not ours to dictate the future of this church, it is ours to be obedient!
What does the Lord will for us?
Again, I do not know the future. But I pledge myself fully to giving all that I have so that this congregation, and those who come after us will enjoy the manifold blessings that have for 156 years come forth from this place, just as surely as did blood and water from the side of the savior.
We do not know the future. But we have confidence in it. For as John the Baptist has shown us, we know where to fix our gaze... and we see who is on the horizon. Behold Him. Behold the Lam of God. Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
If we keep our eyes on him... if we put our hand to the plow and refuse to be distracted, we shall not fail.
+ + + Amen.