This week the Vatican announced its intention to make a place at its table for Anglican and Episcopalian brethren who are discontented with recent trends in their own denominations. The Vatican’s stated objective is to increase their numbers and they have been accused of “sheep stealing” by various pundits and commentators. Regardless of the motive, the Vatican is performing a fundamentally Christian act: reaching out to brethren who feel disconnected and welcoming them into the fold of fellowship and worship in the Church. What matters is that a people of faith find a place where they can worship in community and without compromising their closely held values. In the words of that beautiful spiritual, there are “plenty good rooms in my father’s kingdom” and these Christians feel that they are at liberty to “choose their seat and sit down.” I would argue, however, that they feel that way because they are at the end of the day, fundamentally not Catholic.
In the Anglican Communion, we believe that God speaks directly to us, not through an intermediary. In the Anglican Communion, the denomination is driven from the pews and not the Pope. As a result we are “messy.” We disagree on clerical qualifications, we argue about inclusive language, heck, we can’t even decide whether to sit or stand during the prayers at communion! We argue about these things sometimes so heatedly that we have to agree not to talk about them for years at a time, as was done at a recent convention. And yes, sometimes it makes us look absurd, extreme or disjointed. That is because our denomination is predicated on the ability of the laity to discern and determine the call of the church as a body. Growing pains are a natural side effect of an institution that is growing.
I am a Theology and Ethics major at a Methodist Seminary. When my colleagues tease me about being an Episcopalian, I say that we are indeed one step away from Catholicism… but it is a step to the left. I think that means that we applaud our Anglo-Episcopalian and Anglican fellows for having the integrity to acknowledge their discomfort with trends in our denomination and desiring to align their worship with their convictions. I hope it means that they will always feel they have a place with us, that they are welcome in our churches, in our homes and at our tables in the understanding that we are all guided by the same desire for authentic faith. I hope for them, as I hope for all of us on any journey in any faith or community, that their discernment is as thoroughgoing as their commitment to their faith. “Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.” May his word be as a lamp unto your feet.