“What I Saw at the Barricades”
By Fr. Stephen Freeman
DALLAS, TX—There is an old adage that Lutherans will tolerate no heresy, but any schism, and that Anglicans will tolerate any heresy but no schism. True or not, over 2,800 conservative Episcopalians (the American term for Anglicans) met in Dallas from October 7-9, 2003, saying they had tolerated heresy far too long and were ready to take steps towards schism from the Episcopal Church in the United States The council said as part of its official statement:
We repudiate the 74th General Convention’s confirmation of a non-celibate homosexual to be a bishop of the Church, and its acceptance of same-sex blessings as part of our common life. These actions have broken fellowship with the larger body of Christ and have brought the Episcopal Church under God’s judgment.
We repent of our part in the sins of the Episcopal Church, and we pray for all those who are being hurt and led astray by these actions.
I attended on a personal basis as an ecumenical observer and with those attending knowing I was a priest of the Orthodox Church in America. Security was strict at the event, carefully screening all attendees, requiring Anglicans to sign a statement of faith, that assured only conservative Anglicans would attend. The meeting was not a gathering of frustration, nor even a searching for “what next.” Instead, it was a well-planned event, mapping out the next steps in the corporate life of those Episcopalians who wished no longer to accept the actions of a Church that had rejected Scripture as authority and was willing to act over the objections of other Anglicans around the world.
The strategy described in the meeting was one of “realignment,” in which a break would be made from the official American structure, and communion established with other parts of the Anglican Communion, an association of Christian churches throughout the world numbering some 70 million persons who follow the traditions of the Church of England.
It was obvious in the meeting that the issue of women’s ordination was largely ignored. Some conservative Anglicans accept the practice while others object. It was admitted publicly that movement forward with a realigned Anglicanism and an increased sensitivity to the voice of other parts of the Anglican Communion might require the reexamination of women’s place in the church. A majority of Anglican provinces do not accept women as priests or bishops.
My role was a quiet one. Having received an official invitation from Bishop Robert Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, I had opportunity to meet with many old friends. Prior to my conversion to Orthodoxy in 1998, I had served 18 years as an Episcopal priest. I understood the pain of many in attendance as well as their continued hopes that a way forward would be found for Anglicanism to exist as a faithful presence among Protestants across the world.
At the same time, the entire episode of the summer’s General Convention decision to ordain a divorced, practicing homosexual man as Bishop of New Hampshire, led many to ask deep questions of Anglicanism itself. For some it meant curiosity about life within the Orthodox Church. For those who asked, long conversations across the day and into the night took place, and continue.
The realignment will work in some places, particularly where there are strong, conservative bishops supported by like-minded priests and parishes.
More numerous and more likely, will be isolated individuals who feel as though their church has left them. Such persons are frequently looking beyond the borders of Anglicanism for a spiritual home.
My experience both as a convert and an Orthodox priest suggest several things we can do to help.
- Pray. The problems experienced by others, even those who are not Orthodox, affect us as well and the culture in which we live. There is no room for us to point fingers a say, “I told you so.” Orthodoxy has had its own critical times.
- Be welcoming. Whenever anyone enters the Church, we should treat them as though they had been sent there for our salvation.
- Be patient. The Orthodox faith is not a place to go when you don’t know where you’ve been. It is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It takes time for someone to come to see that and to accept Orthodoxy on its own terms.
- Be supportive. Even if someone who feels angry and betrayed only approaches you as a sounding board, listen to him or her and encourage them to pray and to trust in God. God is real and true and if they trust Him, He will hear them and save them.
- Be alert. We need to learn and understand more of the crises that are flaring up among Christians around us. We need to understand their traditions, and where we can best address them as Orthodox believers. More than arguing doctrine for doctrine, or point out where others may have taken a wrong turn in history, we need to offer the hope of an Orthodox way of life in which prayer, trust in the Living God, and the faithful life of the Church is a way of salvation.
I remember frequently telling my friends that I was glad I was able to give up trying to reform the Church. My conversion, I said, had taught me that I needed a Church that could reform me. May God be so merciful and save us all.