There's an expression in basketball about players who put in practically unnoticed, but incredibly effective performances — as in, "he scored a quiet 20 points." Across the country last week a story made headlines, but not in proportion to its significance or even the buzz at the grassroots level. It had nothing to do with the socialization of our economy through ongoing bailouts of failed industries, nothing to do with politics or the peaceful transition of power. But it quietly was the story. It is about a church schism, an activity which went out of vogue about 500 years ago. Still, this was about as telegraphed as a cross-court pass by point guard who fails first to look away his teammate's defender.
The schism is the break-up of the American Episcopal Church, which is in communion with the Church of England. Traditional dioceses and individual parishes, including 21 in Virginia, had separated under the auspices of a provincial arm of the more orthodox Nigerian Anglicans and other African dioceses. Now, they and some Canadian parishes, are poised to form their own authority, the Anglican Church in North America (see AP article here), with their own bishops.
Although the Mainstream Media portrays this as "conservatives leaving the church," and although it is the "conservatives" who are doing the physical separation, this, rather, is the classic, "We didn't leave them, they left us," syndrome, for the Episcopal Church for decades has drifted irreproachably into nothingness. Despite its creep into irrelevancy by condoning homosexuality and other doctrines only recently considered heretical, the "conservatives" gave the Episcopal Church every chance at reconciliation. But the ordination of an openly homosexual bishop living with his "partner" was the last straw.
What makes this all the more relevant to Virginia is that the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia (or the remnant thereof) is the successor to the Anglican Church set up by the Jamestown colonists. The Rev. Robert Hunt, the chaplain of the colony, would not recognize his church today. With good reason — and it's not just about openly homosexual clergy, flaunting the Word of God. That is only a symptom of the problem; the problem being irrelevency through its moral, scriptural and theological relativity.
This is what one of the Virginia diocese's most respected leaders, the Rev. Canon Robert G. Hetherington, the retired rector of historic St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond (which sits across the street from the capitol, known as the "Cathedral of the Confederacy"), told the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week (see article here; read the reader post after the article by an orthodox Episcopal priest):
In my view, the great thing about the Episcopal Church is we're not a doctrinal church. You're not a member based on some narrow set of beliefs. It's a place where divergent views can be expressed and held and you're still part of the same body. (Emphasis added.)
So, exactly why did this man get ordained? Does he not think it matters that a body of faith believe in something? Is it okay for Episcopals to accept into their church people who do not believe Jesus was the Christ, but rather a really cool dude who told some really impressive parables? It cannot be a body of Christ. For what is a church if not a body that shares a foundational understanding, a common belief and an accepted faith? Otherwise, the Rev. Canon Hetherington simply is running a community center — come join the club and socialize, ladies and gents!
There are plenty of social and networking organizations and clubs, many of which also do good work in their communities. You don't have to believe in a doctrine to join them, only a desire to make friends, have fun and perform a perfunctory community service project (although some probably have more adherence to principles than, apparently, the Episcopal leadership). In other words, why go to church if not for doctrine? How can you be in communion with each other if there is no commonality, a sense of spiritual purpose? It was the Church of England, after all, which gave us the Book of Common Prayer.
By definition, it is impossible to worship together with no unifying purpose or reason. Now, however, Anglicans of the Church of North America have both purpose and reason — and they can still socialize before and after each service on Sunday.