On Classic Anglicanism, by The Right Reverend Michael Williams
Bishop Suffragan of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy
Director: Education, Training, and Formation
Anyone who knows the history of the ancient Christian presence of in England, followed by the sixteenth century establishment of the Church of England, followed by the spread of what later became known as Anglicanism during the expansion of the British Empire, will be highly suspect of me suggesting that there is such a thing as “Classic Anglicanism,” and their suspicions would be well founded. Because of the vicissitudes in ecclesiology throughout the history of the church in Britain - as Christianity took root there, evolved, and then spread in its distinctiveness beyond the shores of that beautiful island - randomly selecting and labeling a particular period in that history as the period of Classic Anglicanism would simply seem arbitrary. But if one were to take a view of the Anglican Tradition across its entire history, and cherry pick its distinctive traits over the entire tapestry of its history and development, perhaps that characterization of Anglicanism as “Classic” might be arguable.
But before I take a stab at laying out what I think to be those distinctive, classic traits, I need to explain why we leaders of the Anglican Chaplain jurisdiction think it necessary to identify a particular Anglican ethos as classic. So let me provide some background and then articulate what we perceive to be the need.
Our Anglican Chaplain jurisdiction’s work began in 2007, providing ecclesiastical endorsements for Anglican clergy then serving as Department of Defense (DoD) chaplains, but who needed to leave the Episcopal Church (TEC) in order to remain faithful to their ordination vows and, de facto, to continue the stewardship of their ordination vows as orthodox Anglican Christian clergy. With just two years left in my own service as an Air Force Chaplain, I was the first such TEC clergyman to be endorsed “cooperatively” by Bishop Derek Jones, of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (CEEC), but endorsing for the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). But I was not the only “first” that year. Another military chaplain, this one a non-Anglican, but who wanted to leave his Protestant denomination and be ordained in the Anglican Church, was the other first. By the time I finished my military chaplain service in 2009, in just two years Bishop Jones had endorsed three of us who needed to leave TEC, but an additional 24 others who were drawn by the Holy Spirit to orthodox Anglicanism, i.e., Protestant clergy-chaplains desiring to become ordained ministers in the Anglican Church. This phenomenal movement of God the Holy Spirit has not diminished over the past 14 years but has actually instead continued to gain momentum.
Well, I hadn’t been retired from the Air Force and back in Colorado Springs for two weeks before my phone rang. Bishop Jones was calling to recruit me to join him in the work of chaplaincy endorsement for our new Anglican Chaplain jurisdiction. As we prayerfully put our heads together to assess our situation, we perceived a number of things:
1. Clearly there was a failure of the Anglican Province in the U.S. (TEC) to defend the faith once delivered, i.e., to provide Godly, orthodox leadership in the unity of the Spirit and in submission to the authority of the Holy Scriptures.
2. And there was a failure of Conciliar leadership in the Anglican Communion, what might be described as a failure of mutual accountability - of the exercise of conciliar authority through the Instruments of Communion, and this because of the fundamental, and contrary, commitment to the individual autonomy of bishops and their provinces/Communion jurisdictions. This commitment was held, and continues to be held, to be more sacrosanct than the authority of the councils of the Church under the authority of and accountable to the received teaching of Holy Scripture and of the Church. If one bishop can act contrary to the conciliar mind of the church, with impunity, then the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace is ipso facto cancelled.
3. And so we perceived a clear and growing need for an orthodox Anglican ‘ecclesiastical endorser for chaplaincies’ as a crucial part of and contributor to the emerging restoration of an orthodox Anglican province in the U.S. (and North America).
4. And, as I already mentioned, there was a very significant and ongoing influx of requests from predominantly Protestant clergy-chaplains wanting to discern and receive Anglican Holy Orders. There was, and is, something about the Anglican ‘context’ for proclamation of the gospel and for ministry of Word, sacrament, and pastoral care that is compelling and magnetic in the way it is drawing the ones our Lord is calling to be ministers in His Church.
5. And so there was a need to develop and establish sound processes for how we would field all of these initial inquiries; and then for discernment, for pre-application screening and endorsement application.
6. And there was a clear need for providing Education, Training, and Formation (ETF) in all things Anglican since most of our candidates were coming to us from non-Anglican formational backgrounds. It was crucial to keep in mind, all the while, that these were/are predominantly individuals who are already serving as full up, full time professional chaplains, most with spouses, families, and 24/7 work commitments.
And so we set to work developing these processes, as well as the needed education, training, and formation resources in the Anglican tradition.
Right off the bat, with all due respect to the many and various Anglican movements, streams, and ecclesiological emphases, because of the failure of Anglicanism in North America - with the crisis of authority and disrespect for authority - especially for the authority of Holy Scripture - defrockings and property lawsuits, theological and liturgical polarization, dramatic imbalances in ecclesiologies and personal social agendas, and pretty much ecclesiastical chaos, it seemed clear to Bishop Jones and myself that for this new community of Anglican Chaplains being formed by the Spirit’s initiative that a clear standard needed to be established as the starting point for our Anglican ecclesiological understanding, identity, and practice; that we needed to establish an Anglican ethos for our jurisdiction that was balanced (think The Rev. Dr. Peter Moore’s A Church to Believe In) and grounded in a historical and centrist sort of Anglicanism.
We perceived a clear lack of discipline and a profound need for discipline - just as every ‘discipline’ begins with fundamentals that then become the foundational building blocks for the rest of one’s life for whatever discipline one is pursuing.
Most of the Protestant clergy-chaplains who have come over to the Anglican Church have come with a Master of Divinity from a non-Anglican seminary. Such an education will have provided many of the necessary fundamentals already somewhat developed; for example, most have some sense of the last 500 years of church history, of basics regarding the Bible, biblical exegesis/interpretation, theology and its various approaches of study (biblical, systematic, historical, liturgical, pastoral), but ancient church history, history of the English Reformation, theology from an Anglican perspective, liturgy and liturgical theology… not so much.
And so, with the help of a dear friend and fellow Anglican clergyman who was gifted in the knowledge of church history and in education, we agreed upon an educational model and syllabus for an academic course we named our Distance Tutorial in Anglicanism. The tutorial began basically as an Anglican Church History course in 12 two-week sessions; but as our lessons moved into the history of the development of the Book of Common Prayer, our discussions naturally moved into theology and liturgy. And so within two years our syllabus expanded into these areas as well. And, it soon became apparent that we needed to provide hands on training in leadership of Anglican liturgy, so we developed and launched an annual one-week residential intensive Tutorial in Anglican Liturgics. In conjunction with and through this Residential Tutorial, Bishop Jones has been able to publish and emphasize, face to face, his episcopal authorizations, expectations, and standards regarding personal piety and stewardship, accountability, use of the Book of Common Prayer, wear of vestments, etc.
And so everyone who is received into the Anglican Chaplain jurisdiction is required to complete these Distance and Residential Tutorials. Among the very positive fruits of their experience is a sense of security with regard to expectations, as well as a sense of confidence with respect to stewardship of their personal spiritual life, and of the ministries and services with which they have been entrusted through their ordinations - and, for lay chaplains, through commissioning: ministries of Word, sacrament, pastoral care, and service in the Anglican tradition.
In addition to our Tutorials, our ETF Directorate is also responsible for continuing education to include education & training sessions for our annual Anglican Chaplain Convocation, Leadership Retreats and Seminars, and publication of our biannual Anglican Chaplain Journal.
I have long harbored a vision for making our ETF content not only more easily accessible to our Anglican Chaplains, but also making a lot of our content accessible to the wider church as a formation resource. So when I met Canon Zachary Nash for coffee not quite a year ago, and I discovered his passion for website and podcast media development in support of the same vision - towards the restoration of orthodox Anglicanism in North America - our separate visions merged pretty quickly to produce an Anglican Chaplain ETF website devoted to promoting Classic Anglicanism through, one might say, a trinity of forms: via Podcasts, Blog articles, and our Anglican Chaplain Journal, and all of this supported by a dedicated league of Facilitators and Writers.
So, to what I mean by “Classic” Anglicanism. We chose the word Classic rather than Classical because when we refer to something as classical, what comes to mind are things related to particular periods in history - things like classical education grounded in the literature and art of Greek and Roman antiquity; the classical architecture of the Greco-Roman world; the classical music of composers like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.
By Classic we mean something that serves as a standard or model or guide; that which is typical or traditional, something that has a well-formed foundation and a shared uniformity of purpose and practice that forms and instills confidence. Worship out of The Book of Common Prayer, properly stewarded, is a cardinal example. This is the sense in which we mean Classic Anglicanism.
I would suggest that Classic Anglicanism means to faithfully be the Spirit-empowered Body of Christ in our historical and cultural moment, through the faithful stewardship of our Lord’s Great Commission, and of His Word and sacraments, out of the context of the Anglican tradition and within the bounds of the context of the Anglican tradition, for the upbuilding of our Lord’s Church and the increase of His Kingdom.
I think if you were to ask any of our Anglican clergy or lay chaplains what they think of as essential or classic elements of the Anglican tradition, most of them would include:
- Living the Christian faith and life under the Holy Scriptures as supremely authoritative, and as sufficient for salvation. (Article VI.)
- The Anglican Formularies of the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal (which includes the Historic Episcopate/Apostolic Succession), and the 39 Articles of Religion interpreted within their historical context; perhaps appending the Book of Homilies.
- For understanding Anglican theology and for the formation of those who worship via the Anglican tradition, I hope they would appeal, as I think Richard Hooker appealed, to the idea of lex orandi, lex credendi: loosely translated, that our law/form of worship is the law/form of our belief. The ancient liturgies Archbishop Cranmer translated and edited into what we receive as the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal are essentially the Holy Scriptures fashioned into the form of liturgical prayer. And so one might say that our authorized editions of the Book of Common Prayer contain our theology - with the 1662 edition being the touch stone. And that our worship not only instructs our minds, but also, through time and repetition, serves to transfigure, by the power of God the Holy Spirit, our very souls and our being into the image of God’s Incarnate Son.
- I hope they would describe the ministry of an Anglican clergy or lay chaplain as the stewardship of a sacred trust that doesn’t belong to them, but that has been entrusted to them to carry on according to that which we have received.
- That they would articulate an understanding that our worship is central to our identity and ethos; and the sacred obligation of one’s ordination vows and the canons of the church to follow the order and rubrics of those Books of Common Prayer that are authorized for use by their bishop. That they are actually not at liberty to play loose with the Prayer Book. Rather, that the ordained ministers of the church are to serve as humble stewards of the worship of the church,
administering the liturgies of worship as they have been received and authorized for use, never taking liberty to modify them to suit personal whims. And a bishop is not at liberty to trump their province in this regard.
- I think they would appeal to antiquity: for interpreting Holy Scripture, for our theological understanding, for the ongoing defense of the gospel and the paradosis - the teaching of the faith once delivered; in other words, as St. Vincent referred to antiquity, as “that which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.” This would include the consensus of the Church Fathers, the first four Ecumenical Councils, the Fathers of the English Reformation and the Anglican Divines, and an attentiveness to opportunities for the deepening of wisdom and insight, and for the reformation and renewal gained through historical movements within the Anglican Communion even up until the present time. (There is a wonderful articulation and summation of these movements by Archbishop Ramsey in his book, The Anglican Spirit.)
- I hope they would articulate an understanding of ecclesiastical authority and polity that derives not from a spirit of individualism or congregationalism, but from the supremacy of Holy Scripture, from Apostolic succession, and a Communion of provinces and diocees, constituted by constitutions, canons, and governed by conciliarism. (See Canon Phil Ashey’s fine book, Conciliarism).
- And, I would say that for the Classic Anglican, education, training, and formation is a lifetime affair. One of my seminary professors used to tell the story of visiting a parish priest in his church office, and upon perusing his bookshelves, discovered the priest apparently had not read a new book since graduating from seminary a decade earlier. This should not be so. Classic Anglicanism is characterized by a thirst to continue to repent and be renewed, to listen and learn, to read to be formed, informed, and reformed.
As Archbishop Cranmer so eloquently prayed, “Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”
And so as you open our AnglicanChaplain-etf.org website and peruse its many rooms and resources, please be our guests and feel free to explore and drink freely from our humble offerings. If I might appeal to our just published Augustine of Canterbury issue of the Anglican Chaplain Journal: Two of our new Journal articles written by our Anglican Priest-Chaplains, Father Seth Snyder, and Canon Andrew Brashier are also published here on our website as blog articles alongside my own. I would refer you to these fine articles for a taste of what we are serving up in our most recent JAFC Journal, each of them solid summations and examples of what we mean by Classic Anglicanism. Their enunciations of the idea have been crafted with much more elegance than I could ever muster.
And please go to the JAFC Journal page of our new website, invest in a copy of our latest Anglican Chaplain Journal, and take the time to read the inspiring testimonies of 13 of our chaplains who share their unique stories of how the Lord drew each one to His Anglican Church, and of ‘what it was’ about Anglicanism that was, and remains for them, so compelling.