An Open Letter From The Presiding Bishop

Many ministries like to claim that they are spirit led. For those readers unfamiliar with the jargon commonly used by more traditionally minded Christians, Spirit led basically means that we believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, communicates his direction to us. In other words as changes in a ministry are necessitated, after careful prayer and discernment, a spirit led church moves in a direction toward God’s plan in accordance with his will. Unfortunately some of us mistake the voice of the “Spirit” with something else; and in this extreme circumstance we see ministries not moving toward God but rather moving away from God. We would like to think that this is not intentional on the part of that ministry’s leadership but rather an example of improper discernment. We use this process to delineate or differentiate a traditional ministry from one that is in the process of “evolving.”

Jim Wallis, the founding Editor-In-Chief of the social justice magazine Sojourners, once described the following analogy in one of his books. As I recall he wrote that he was explaining to a group of ladies–who had traveled to Washington DC specifically to discuss their cause with their respective Congressmen and Senators and had become frustrated and depressed after being unable to gain audience with their elected representatives–that Congressmen and Senators are not that difficult to find outside of their offices as they are the ones on the capital mall sticking a index finger in their mouth to wet it and then holding that moistened finger up in the air to determine which way the shifting political wind was blowing, then each politician would run frantically in that direction.   Apparently his humor cheered the group up a bit as the thought of elected officials running about willy-nilly, or in no apparent order, is somewhat funny, but for a church to be branded with this analogy is heart breaking. Today we see far too many ministries “Evolving” or running in the direction of the current prevailing politically correct “wind” while claiming to have developed a new up-to-date understanding of God’s word, often being quite at odds with tried and true traditional understanding. I would like to point out that this ministry, The Archdiocese of Saint Michael is not evolving but rather through discernment moving to clarify who and what we are in a spirit led manner.

We say that we are an Orthodox Anglo-Catholic church, by this we mean that we have been inspired by the volumes of work published by the Fathers of Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Roman Catholic traditions. These men have defined Christianity and through their work as well as the Fathers of the Reformation and the various Bishops that left the main line catholic churches—usually for good reason—we find that their acts have shaped Christianity, molding it into what it is today.   We also find that not all changes in the church were spirit led, but possibly—in our opinion—the product of questionable discernment.

God’s Holy Word, his ordinances, his plan for us and this world are immutable, how we choose to organize and structure the internal workings of a Christian church however is something, that through the spirit, can change.  As the reader peruses the various documents of this Archdiocese as found on this website, the reader will encounter certain terminology that, for some, might be confusing and perhaps contradictory.  This essay attempts to explain why.

For most people the word catholic—whose Greek root katholikos means whole or universal—refers to the Roman Catholic Church headquartered at the Vatican City in Rome Italy. Likewise Orthodox is synonymous with the various churches that descended from the original Catholic church in Constantinople before the Latins moved it to Rome. While this historic separation creating two Catholic churches is widely known as well as the split in Christianity that occurred upon the Protestant Reformation, most people are oblivious to the many schisms in the church that have occurred since.

In 1870 a group of Bishops left over disagreements arising from the first Vatican council forming what is known as the Old Catholic Church. In 1945 Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa was excommunicated by the Roman Church due to his harsh criticism of the Church’s perceived collusion with Nazi Germany, Right Reverend Costa then formed the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church. These Bishops as well as a multitude of others, ostensibly followed the Holy Spirit, and formed alternatives to the main-line churches. As a side note we see the same process in the Protestant churches, the Presbyterians leaving the national organization, PCUSA, following their conscience objecting to the parent organization “evolving” to normalize GLBT ideology; but I digress. The point I want to make is that there are many “catholic” churches other than the most well known.

Some people might ask; “Why make a distinction, are not all Catholic Churches the same?” Of course the same question might be asked by the uninitiated regarding the Baptist, Methodist, or Lutheran; however those familiar with these aforementioned denominations of Protestantism know the differences between the Southern Baptist and the Cooperative Baptist, the Missouri Synod Lutherans and the Evangelical Lutherans, the traditional/conservative churches and the evolving/emergent/progressive/liberal churches. Simply put, the lay person seeking a church that practices a worship/belief format he or she is comfortable with, should be given some idea of what a church practices before he or she enters the door.

In the not so distant past, one could drive through any town and see churches, each with a sign or marquee board out front proudly displaying the church name, meeting times, and affiliation; this process is not so common in these times. I offer it as my opinion that this phenomena—that of churches not identifying their affiliation—might be one of the contributing factors to those having left their previous church, not attempting to find another. For example instead of seeing a church marquee that reads, “First Baptist, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention” we see instead a sign that reads “Crosswalk” “Gospel Lighthouse” or some other religious theme related generalization. While some of these organizations have left the (for example) Southern Baptist Convention or the Assemblies of God, many are still affiliated but choose not to proclaim the connection.

To explain why this might problematic, lets say that all through your childhood years up until the time you left home to attend university, your parents took you to a Methodist church. Years later after being among the unchurched during and after college, you feel the spirit call you back to church, and you decide to check out the nondescript church down the street that simply has the name Shining Light on the marquee. You might be surprised and possibly uncomfortable if the church turned out to be a Pentecostal denomination. Or on the other hand, if you were accustomed to a decidedly “Low Church” service typical at some Episcopal congregations and you unknowingly found yourself in an obviously High Church typical of Eastern Orthodoxy you might be a bit uncomfortable. So I humbly ask do we not have a certain degree of responsibility to communicate to the public exactly what we practice?

Here at Saint Michaels we have struggled with exactly how to “brand” our belief/worship format. We are not in communion with or a part of the Old Catholic Church formed by the Bishops of Utrecht. We are not Reformed Catholics, as some of us were never Roman Catholic to begin with. The term Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM) was popularized in 2005 by John Plummer, in his dissertation: The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement. While the phrase describes a wide range of sacramental (churches that worship in a fashion similar to Catholics) organizations, from very liberal to very conservative, ISM has become more commonly associated with ultra liberal congregations such as those that accept same sex marriage or Gay clergy. These enumerated examples and other reasons are why we identify as an “Orthodox Anglo-Catholic Church.”

My predecessor, the late Right Reverend John Sahuque, founded this jurisdiction as a communion; which generally describes an organization of many gathered together united by an agreement on shared beliefs. While you may find documents mentioning communion we no longer use that description. We find that the concept of a one church, practicing the best of Orthodox, Anglican, and Catholic traditions is more accurate. Just like the Eastern Orthodox and even the Old Catholic Bishops of Utrecht, we find that all Bishops are a band of equal brothers, but for the purpose of leadership and direction it is necessary to appoint one Bishop to be in charge. The Orthodox usually denotes this person as Patriarch while we use the term Archbishop.

In conclusion, while we have changed names and descriptions, ST Michaels is still the same as it has been since its founding, a group of Christians led by clergy with valid lines of Apostolic Succession, Priests ordained in Eucharistic settings, all clergy and lay people accepting the Holy Eucharist as the center of our faith and worship structure.

 

 

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