Joint Statement on Church Unity (2007)

Maitland, New South Wales and Athens, Georgia.  July 2007.  

Statement I.

To all Bishops of Churches Adhering to the Affirmation of St. Louis
In the love of Christ and with all fraternal respect.

Brethren,

It has become a matter of urgency to me that I write to you concerning unity among Continuing Anglicans. As age wearies and I find my physical faculties diminishing, I am constantly reminded that there is less time ahead of me than behind me. While I am now retired and no longer a Bishop Ordinary, it remains the case that by year of consecration I am the senior bishop of the Continuing Churches. This is no cause for pride or self-assertion, but I do feel that it lays upon me the responsibility of doing whatever I can in the time left to me to break down barriers between us, foster concord and repair communion.

What divides us?

Is it dogma or doctrine? Surely not, for we are all committed to the Affirmation, which in turn commits us, not to yet another confessional statement in the history of the Church, but to Scripture as interpreted by Holy Tradition, that is the Consensus Patrum and the Seven Ecumenical Councils common to East and West. Is there any dispute among us as to the great and foundational dogmas of the Creed, summarizing the eternal Gospel? Do any of us deny the doctrines of Apostolic Succession, Eucharistic Sacrifice, or the Real Presence? Do any of us reject the truth of traditional Catholic teaching on prayer for the dead, the invocation of Saints, or the Blessed Virgin’s divine maternity, perpetual virginity, immaculacy and present glory? Indeed, is there any element of the Faith we would vainly wish to filter out in the name of private interpretation, presuming to “correct” the Church Universal? Are any of us “cafeteria Catholics”?

If the answer to these questions is no, as it must be among those who lay claim to the Affirmation of St. Louis, then the way is open to reconciliation. However, there are some critics of the Affirmation that have claimed to see some customary Anglican ambiguity in it. I would contend that their interpretation is strained and uncharitable, but let us deal with it, nonetheless. The Affirmation states that we witness to Tradition as an “essential principle” in the following terms: "The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by 'the ancient catholic bishops and doctors,' and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern." Some have said that the phrase beginning with the word “exclusion” qualifies in an open-ended way our acceptance of Tradition, as if we were saying, “We accept Tradition, except for the parts we deem heretical.” Of course, this is hardly the natural reading, and the phrase in fact refers to ancient errors condemned by the Councils rather than any purportedly set forth by them, as implied by the reference to the Vincentian Canon earlier in the Affirmation.

Nevertheless, our assurance of this does not rest on the Affirmation alone. And it is here that our early history, despite its many false steps, mutual misunderstandings and miscommunications, despite its being marred by human frailty and pride, can provide both clarification and a common foundation. For at the 1978 Dallas Synod, even amongst confusion and acrimony, while the Continuers were still one and newly renamed the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), a Solemn Declaration and Preamble to the Constitution were agreed to. The Preamble says, inter alia, "This Church … accepts as binding and unalterable the received Faith and Traditions of the Church, … as set forth in the Holy Scriptures; the … Creeds; the writings of the 'ancient Catholic Bishops and Doctors'; and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church'" (emphasis added).

Thus, barring heretical statements elsewhere in the nascent ACC’s formularies, of which there were none claimed by anyone, we see that at this point the die was cast and Continuers had formally ratified unambiguously their Catholic identity and epistemology. Henceforth, whatever imperfections may have existed in the Constitution and Canons, and whatever personal errors may have later caused some individuals to advocate protestant, minimalist positions or sow discord in other ways, the ACC was irrevocably and undeniably a Catholic jurisdiction. Therefore, it cannot be claimed that division has occurred for fundamentally theological reasons, as the only justification for separation over matters of faith is if one of the bodies formally embraces heresy. That this is not the case according to those who left the ACC is proven by the fact that there were later Episcopal co-consecrations involving them and ACC bishops. Such shared acts are inconceivable without mutual admission of orthodoxy, as is admitted by all.

And so we come back to the question, what divides us?

Is it liturgical churchmanship? Hardly, for all our jurisdictions contain many parishes which use the Missal and some which prefer the simpler BCP Mass, the latter being in our eyes no less Catholic due to its simplicity than is Novus Ordo. Is it differences in standards of discipline? Unlikely, since all of our Churches aim for high standards but must admit to having licensed, ordained, or even consecrated men who we have belatedly discovered to be of questionable character or stability.

Many years ago, I was asked in a public forum if I could explain how Christians in general had come to be so divided. I rose, went to the microphone and said one word: “Sin.” I believe this answer also holds the key to our present state of disunity.

Yet I am far from implying that the fault lies only with those who have left the ACC. An unbiased investigation of our history as Continuing Anglicans does not allow any of us to escape blame. Nor do I wish to pretend that every division or schism has been due solely to clashes of personality, power-seeking or trivialities.

No, all of us must frankly examine ourselves and admit where we may have failed the tests of charity or straightforwardness. We must also all remember that, in the absence of a solution to the initial ECUSA descent into heresy authorized and imposed “from above," Continuers were forced to solve the problem themselves by voluntary association. While this was unavoidable in the emergency situation they faced, and thus actions normally impermissible and irregular were covered by the doctrine of economy, there can be no doubt that such a beginning made later divisions much easier. (It may well be that only by re-establishing communion with other branches of the Catholic Church, and so making ourselves more directly accountable to a wider Communion, will this flaw that was present ab initio be overcome.) And we must face up to the one issue of genuine substance that remains to keep us separate.

I refer to our different policies on the limits of communio in sacris. While this is not an area of difference in dogma strictly speaking, it is an important area of what we might call “applied ecclesiology” that makes closer relations difficult by its very nature. It has become increasingly clear to us in the ACC that the only way for those Catholic traditionalists still in the Anglican Communion to be fully faithful to their beliefs is to make a clean and public break with it. Vague statements about “impaired communion” are not enough: public, clear, and complete repudiation of heresy and sacramental communion with heterodox Anglican provinces is what is required at the very least. Better still, all except unavoidable historic association with the Canterbury crew should be rejected. Rather than encouraging those left in the mire to retain some attachment to it, we must confront them with the need to make a choice.

Quite apart from questions of sacramental integrity, there is the matter of providing an honest witness to the world. Similarly, it is surely important that Continuing Anglican Churches which can lay claim to the doctrinal heritage of the Affirmation and the jurisdictional continuity of the “Chambers Succession” avoid establishing full communion with bodies of vagans or heterodox origins until we are quite sure, with moral certainty, that these bodies have abandoned earlier errors and, if necessary, had their Orders regularised.

I beg that as fellow Pastors of the flock we set our house in order, discuss and overcome any theological differences that might remain, make the necessary apologies and present a unified and forthright position to Anglicans who remain in the chaos. My own experience, having remained in ECUSA longer than was tolerable, assures me that providing them an escape route back to the Church is our duty. Leaving them where they are is simply not an option.

Yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend, John-Charles, F.O.D.C.
Archbishop and Metropolitan, Retired
Maitland, New South Wales

Statement II.

For the past twelve years, the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) has had an official policy of seeking unity among Continuing Anglicans in general, but of seeking it first with the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK) and the United Episcopal Church of North America (UEC), which are the other two Churches that share our beginnings in the Congress of Saint Louis (1977), in the Affirmation of Saint Louis, and in the "Chambers Succession" of consecrations of bishops in Denver (1978).

In part, this beginning point rested on a judgment of principle, namely that the unfulfilled hopes of 1977-1978 should be realized as soon as possible. In part, this judgment rested in the practical expectation that Churches with so much in common might find it easier to unite than would bodies with less in common.

In any case, it seems to us now desirable to state firmly and clearly the following points:

  1. The ACC believes itself to be in a state of full communio in sacris with the APCK and the UEC;
  2. The ACC believes that anything which divides these three bodies from each other is regrettable and should be stopped or overcome;
  3. The ACC believes that anything that undermines the internal unity and stability of any of these three bodies harms us all and harms the cause of unity among Catholic and Orthodox Anglicans. In particular we believe that one cannot serve the cause of unity by undermining or dividing any of the foundational Churches of the Continuing Church movement;
  4. And, finally, the ACC believes that we cannot be in a state of full communio in sacris with any ecclesial body which is a member of the Lambeth Communion or which is in communion with any body that has such membership.

I now call upon the bishops of the UEC and the APCK to join me in affirming these points. I pledge to assist them in sustaining their own unity and stability. And I pledge to work with them, quietly and patiently, in order to build full organic unity amongst ourselves.

The Most Reverend Mark Haverland, Ph.D.
Archbishop & Metropolitan
Athens, Georgia

Responses

Response from the United Episcopal Church to the ACC Statement on Church Unity.

We concur with Archbishop Mark Haverland's statement and hope that this would be a great moment for all of our three churches to respond together to the exigencies of Anglicanism in the United States.

The Most Reverend Stephen C. Reber
The Presiding Bishop, United Episcopal Church
Hillsborough, North Carolina

Response from the Anglican Province of Christ the King to the ACC Statement on Church Unity.

As one of the original jurisdictions stemming from the Chambers Consecrations and the Affirmation of St. Louis, the Anglican Province of Christ the King fully agrees with and supports the statement regarding unity issued by The Most Rev. Mark Haverland of the Anglican Catholic Church. The APCK, the ACC, and the UECNA represent the three main branches coming from the root of the Chambers Succession. We share a responsibility to the trust that Bishop Chambers placed in us to be a beacon for unity among traditional Anglicans in the United States. The Anglican Province of Christ the King will do all that we can to foster that unity.

The Most Rev. James E. Provence
Archbishop, Anglican Province of Christ the King
San Francisco, California