Anglicans, the Ordinariate, and the Unopened Gift

by John Hylden

It is hard to remember now, but it is true: for the better part of the last hundred years, Anglicans were at the forefront of the ecumenical movement for Christian unity, with the Episcopalians in the lead. In 1886, the Episcopal bishops proposed the Chicago Quadrilateral as a means for “the restoration of the organic unity of the Church” in the face of its “sad divisions.” In 1888, the rest of the world’s Anglican bishops lent their voices to the proposal at Lambeth, and in 1920 extended it into a heartfelt “Appeal to All Christian People” for church reunion.

The Lambeth appeal in large part set the agenda for the Faith and Order movement of the twentieth century, which itself was spearheaded by the Episcopal missionary bishop Charles Henry Brent. Anglicans and Episcopalians were not the whole story, of course, but it is without question that they played an outsized and crucial role.

It is a proud history, but it all seems part of the past now. Today, it is probably closer to the truth to say that Anglicans are at the forefront of our “sad divisions,” with the Episcopalians once again at the helm. Two weeks ago, the Anglican primates met in Ireland, but key archbishops representing a majority of the Anglican faithful did not attend. The same was true for the last Lambeth conference, from which hundreds of bishops absented themselves, and which opted for open-ended discussion groups in place of its historic practice of issuing common resolutions.

The Anglican Consultative Council, which the 1968 Lambeth conference envisioned as a means to foster greater unity and communication among Anglicans worldwide, is in wide disrepute and deep disarray, with key members having resigned and its present form in constitutional question. And the Archbishop of Canterbury, the historic see that has long held it all together, is regarded by many on both the right and the left as either irrelevant or feckless. As Ephraim Radner not long ago concluded, each of the instruments of Anglican communion is broken, and it is not clear how, when or if they will ever be mended.

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