From the Worldwide Faith News archives

California Conference examines Anglican Catholic movement

Date 02 Feb 2001 13:21:18for <,>; Fri, 2 Feb 2001 13:31:57 -0800 (PST)


California Conference examines Anglican Catholic movement 

by Mary P. Trainor

     (ENS) "If Jesus can show up in water, wine, bread and touch, then everything 
potentially speaks of Christ," Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold told 
participants at the International Conference of Affirming Catholicism, held at a 
retreat center near Santa Barbara, California. 

     "I am struck by a divide in the Anglican church: whether to use the Bible to 
encounter, or to define"--in other words, the catholic spiritual view versus a 
narrow biblicism, he said. 

     Encounter with God is part of being catholic, according to Griswold. 
"Catholicity is God's own fullness expressed in Christ--it breaks down walls as 
we are drawn forward into God's understanding." 

     Griswold was one of four primary speakers at the January 8-10 meeting on the 
theme, "Toward Catholicity: More Than We Can Ask or Imagine." He emphasized that 
there is a developmental aspect to maturing in Christ, citing 11th century 
theologian Simeon's statement that "Christ entered my foot" to illustrate how 
conversion begins. Conversion as process, Griswold said, is ongoing. 

     Spiritual gifts, or charisms, as cited by the Apostle Paul, are ways that 
Christ seeks to be incarnate in all of our lives, Griswold said. They are to be 
used for the common good and not as "personal possessions that we can store on a 
shelf and admire." Charisms are not simply tasks assigned to us, but ways for 
Christ to connect through us to the world. The gifts each person receives are 
"co-natural" with who they are, he added. 

Catholic evangelism 

     "More people in this country believe they have been abducted by aliens than 
belong to the Episcopal Church," said Bishop Keith Whittemore of Eau Claire, 
Wisconsin, one of two presenters on the subject of "Catholic Evangelism." 

     He called for less politics and more theology, starting with the House of 
Bishops--and a return of the parish priest as teacher in the rabbinic tradition, 
but Christianized. 

     Citing a dearth of young persons in the Episcopal Church, Whittemore said, 
"The 17-to-35 generation is lost to this church. If we don't do something to 
engage this group, we will have a serious gap," he said. 

     The current generation is not interested in the ideas that fascinated "our 
generation," Whittemore observed. "They don't struggle with the mystery of God as 
we do. They are more in tune with the biblical message than we suspect. To 
interest this group, we need to go back to the old ways," including traditional 
liturgy, not onward to new ways such as "contemporary music and a bouncing ball," 
he said. "Young people expect it to be done well and there must be content."  

     Young people also avoid the Episcopal Church, he said, because they see too 
much politics and not enough attention to equipping persons for spiritual 

     The Rev. Julia Gatta of Connecticut, who served as conference retreat 
leader, suggested that some young people "have written off the church" as a place 
to pursue spiritual depth. They pursue this deepening elsewhere "because they 
don't expect to find in the church coaching on meditation or contemplative 
prayer," she said. 

     "Our evangelism is not to make more Episcopalians," said Bishop Christopher 
Epting, soon to join the national church's staff as ecumenical officer after 
serving as bishop of Iowa since 1989. "Our task," he said, "is to present Christ. 
I hope some make it to the Episcopal Church." 

     With a focus on formation, Epting called for the church to reclaim campus 
ministry. "We deserted campus ministries due to budget problems," he said, 
indicating a relationship between that abandonment and the church's having fewer 
young priests today. 

     Speaking both in formal addresses and a plenary session at the end of the 
conference, both Whittemore and Epting share the view that evangelism today 
should make use of all available communications technology, including the 
Internet. "We need to embrace the virtual church," Whittemore said. 

Passengers to pilgrims 

     Archbishop Peter Carnley, primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, told 
the group that Australia has many cradle Anglicans. "Our challenge," he said, "is 
to turn the passive into active, the passengers into pilgrims." The basic task, 
he said, "is to mobilize people who are marginal." 

     "The incomprehensibility of God, the mystery of God," is the organizing 
principle of Anglican Catholicism, according to Carnley. During the plenary 
discussion, he said, "If you start with the incomprehensibility of God, then the 
limitation under which we work is that God, by very definition, is beyond words." 

     The evangelical approach, which Carnley called "extreme rationalism," seeks 
to make God knowable and personal. "In the last generation or two," he said, "we 
have been overdomesticated. We need to return to the transcendent otherness. 
Domestication of religion ruins the mystery," the archbishop noted. 

Reclaiming the mystery of God 

     Dean John R. Kevern of Bexley Hall Seminary in Rochester and chairman of 
Affirming Catholicism, added that "modern liturgy fails to convey this doctrine" 
of the incomprehensible nature of God. In an interview, he said that the church, 
especially in North America, has been focused on single issues, and that the 
Anglican-Catholic movement seeks to re-incorporate the totality of doctrine. 

     "We are striving to retrieve the past, the Spirit's past, in order to build 
the future," Kevern said. "It is simply the old-fashioned work of the Holy 
Spirit. We're doing nothing new." 

     At conference end, Kevern posed the question, "What now?" 

     The hope, he said, is that an Anglican Catholic movement in North America, 
as strong as the movement in the United Kingdom, will emerge. Kevern called this 
dynamic "not a top-down movement, but a parish movement," energized from the 
pews. "We hope diocesan groups may emerge" to reclaim the mystery of God and all 
its traditions, he said. 

--Mary Trainor is managing editor of The Episcopal News for the Diocese of Los 

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