Let me begin by saying I am not fan of Pastoral Letters as I find them to be almost exclusively the purview of the pompous. However, it has come to my attention that there is some concern around the ongoing Anglican identity of The UAC, probably at least in part due to the renaming of ADS to The Interspiritual Divinity School. I intend to address those concerns in this letter.
1. We are the Universal Anglican Church. I am steadfastly opposed to changing the name of a denomination for any but the most cataclysmic reasons because such practice creates the impression that the organization has problems discerning its own identity. A few years ago, we began also referring to ourselves as The UAC for the simple reason that most Americans have no idea what an Anglican is. In fact, less than one percent of Americans identify as Anglican or Episcopalian.
2. We are the Universal Anglican Church because four of our five co-founders had been Episcopalians, though all had left the Episcopal Church over local political issues prior to the formation of The UAC. It is interesting to note that of our current clergy and clergy candidate base only five were ever Episcopalians.
3. When we formed The UAC, we formed a Church that we based on mainline, progressive Christian spirituality; radical inclusion in church and society; a focus on social justice; a vision to meet needs where they existed rather than forcing people into our location in order to be served; and a desire to serve those who were not well served by the Institutional Church. We were, and we remain, steadfastly opposed to litmus tests of orthodoxy or conformity with some Church-generated statement of belief. Clergy were given nearly complete autonomy to shape their ministries in a way that worked in their context, including worship materials if applicable, the only exception being our expectation of ethical, non-criminal conduct and fiscal responsibility. The reasons for this were twofold The first was that I am not arrogant enough to believe I know what works best in another city halfway across the country. The second was that, realistically, we had neither the desire nor the ability to enforce any kind of required liturgical or other forms.
And now, a bit of history.
4. At GA 2008 as we sat gathered in Love of God Cathedral in Waukesha a discussion of required belief did arise. I don’t remember who proposed what, but we discussed requiring belief in the Trinity and agreed that before that question could be addressed we would need an acceptable definition of Trinity. The consensus was that we couldn’t reach consensus on a definition for Trinity. The suggestion that belief in the Virgin Birth might be held in common was immediately rejected. Then arose the discussion of Hell. We agreed that we all had struggled with hell and found the concept lacking, to say the least. Suddenly, the Universal in our name took on new meaning. We chose it because it is one of the meanings of the term catholic and because everybody was welcome in The UAC. Now it came also to mean Universalist. Those of you who may be worried about name changes should note that, five years later, there is no name change.
5. At GA 2009 I addressed, borrowing from Bishop Selders’ thought in this area, the term Convergence Movement to describe our Church. I had integrated Bishop Selders’ thought with Phyllis Tickle’s four quadrant model in her work with the Emerging Church. I used this model to reflect that we were an example of a Church that had convergence around three of Tickle’s quadrants but not all four. We had clergy and ministry partners from liturgical backgrounds, mainline backgrounds, and charismatic backgrounds – but not so much from fundamentalist backgrounds. Rather than being part of the Emergent Church we saw we were a Convergence Movement Church. We believed it was a helpful tool to use in describing ourselves and our ministries.
6. The following Spring while Erin and I were at Bishop Selders’ Liberation Conversations 2010 we visited a Metaphysical Shop in the Connecticut countryside. As I recall +John and I still had our clergy shirts on from church that day, and the owner of the shop confided in me that she loved God and Jesus, but had to leave the Church to find them. Her statement made a powerful impression on me.
7. At GA 2010 I introduced Convergence Movement 2.0, which took the three quadrants from 1.0 and added the eighty percent of America that believes in God but is estranged from the Church. I asked how we might serve that population, not with an eye toward bringing them back into “church” but rather with an eye toward journeying with them. We developed Track 1 and Track 2, with Track 1 being ministries that served pretty traditional church going folk, and Track 2 directing their efforts toward the eighty percent. Finally, we said that UAC clergy could direct their efforts toward whatever track suited them – or to both, for that matter! As a part of the side bar conversations at this GA we learned that all of us had exposure to spiritual practices other than Christianity that informed our perspectives. Interestingly, so do the eighty percent. You might say we ARE the eighty percent!
Enough history, what is Anglicanism?
8. There is no single, agreed upon definition of Anglicanism. Most would agree that the term “Anglican” implies a connection with the Church of England as the movement within the Protestant Reformation from which a group has its origins. Some insist that to be Anglican one has to be part of the Anglican Communion, but since the Communion didn’t exist until the late 19th Century such a definition excludes the very founders of Anglicanism and so has never persuaded me. Since historic Anglicanism has always been light on doctrine and dogma, it would be difficult to come up with a list of beliefs that make one Anglican. There are, however, some perspectives and practices that I would suggest characterize, if not define, Anglicans and Anglicanism
9. The via media, or middle way. At the time of the Reformation, and since then, Anglicanism has been characterized as a middle way and also as a bridge church. It is interesting, at least to me, that the Buddha also taught a middle way (between extreme asceticism and extremely lax spiritual practice). Anglicanism was seen as the middle way between Catholicism and Lutheranism and as a bridge church between those two churches. When I was an Episcopalian someone wistfully commented that the only problem with being a bridge is that everyone walks on you and nobody stays around very long!
10. Anglicans have historically been socially very progressive and liturgically more conservative. Anglicans do sound liturgy, but shouldn’t do dead liturgy.
11. Anglican are Sacramental. I believe this is important – and that we need to reexamine what it is to be Sacramental in the 21st century. In fact, we will be doing just that at this year’s General Assembly, so you might want to start pondering that now.
12. Most importantly, in my opinion, Anglicans thrive in the creative tension that exists when people of divergent beliefs live together in community. Could there be a better description of The UAC?
13. As you are most likely aware, we have recently changed the name of the Anglican Divinity School to the Interspiritual Divinity School. There were several reasons for that change, all related to changes in the school’s ministry and mission.
14. In the past ADS was conceived of primarily as an entity to train UAC clergy. As such, it was completely appropriate to call the school the Anglican Divinity School. That mission has evolved, and the school now has an added mission to increase our visibility and generate revenue to support the budget of the UAC. We seek students from varying traditions and backgrounds. Given that less than one percent of American is Anglican, from a branding perspective the word “Anglican” isn’t very helpful. What’s more, those looking for a traditionally Anglican Seminary aren’t looking for our seminary and should properly be directed to a more traditional school. Finally, given our ministry focus in the UAC on Track 2 – a broadly interspiritual group of people – our seminary needs a name that reflects our ministry ethos.
Interspiritual vs. Interfaith
15. I sense there is confusion among some clergy around the difference between being Interspiritual and being Interfaith. I will define those terms as I use them.
16. Interfaith implies divergent faiths being held on equal footing. An interfaith education prepares one to function equally well in a variety of religious traditions, most often in chaplaincy. Neither The UAC nor IDS are interfaith institutions, and we should redirect those seeking an interfaith education to appropriate educational institutions. While The UAC most definitely does find the sacred in every legitimate tradition, we do not possess the appropriate lineage to ordain Rabbis, Imams, Lamas, or anything other than Christian clergy. We must be clear on this and not misrepresent ourselves.
17. Interspiritual, in our context, implies a person who has a grounding in Christianity and has discovered their understanding of their spiritual journey is enhanced by their experiences with the beliefs and practices or one or more other, most often non-Abrahamic, traditions. We are, by virtue of the lineages and apostolic succession we hold, fully qualified to ordain Interspiritual Christian Clergy.
18. In conclusion, I believe that The UAC lives out Anglicanism in a 21st century context more fully and more faithfully than any other body that exists today – including the Anglican Communion. We are faithful to our call to be radically inclusive – not just in the obvious areas of sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity, but also in less obvious areas including diversity of belief and practice. We understand well Jaroslav Pelican’s distinction between traditionalism (the dead faith of living people) and tradition (the living faith of dead people) and so we strive to honor our ancestors while speaking in a way that contemporary people understand. We are in the truest sense of the word monotheists (even though many of us are non-theists, I cannot think of a more accurate term) in that we believe that there is one God who is understood, experienced, and expressed in different ways that are the result of an individual’s cohort, culture, and time in history.