About a month ago, I was asked to provide an update to an older post called “UE General Convention“. My UE Convention post detailed the national meeting of UE clergy and laity at Prescott in 2014 as well as provided quite a bit of opinion regarding some possible vectors in the continuum. Since then, a very long Q/A emerged in the comments section. Other than these messages, I haven’t given any updates on the UE besides an article in Harbinger #3 about the 2015 Western Missionary District’s Convocation. The addition of children to our house has caused us to miss the last three Western Convocations (held yearly). Nonetheless, we sent letters updating our labors in the Fremont and San Jose cities of California. Given the sustained interest in UECNA, I decided to post our latest letter shared this year in October at Tucson (below). The letter informs happenings with the William E. Littlewood Chapel as well as possible directions the UECNA might pursue for the Far West. I’ll try to conclude this post with some of my own private commentary respecting our Convocation.
[Also posted on our prochapel’s FB page]
“Convocation Report for Littlewood United Episcopal Chapel:”
“We are a presently a Christian fellowship formed around the Bartlett family. On May 30th, 2014, Bp. Robinson declared Littlewood Chapel a lay-led initiative in the UECNA, giving the UE a presence in northern California, more particularly the cities of San Jose and Fremont.”
“However, since 2014 no new chapel members have been added— ‘neither confirmed nor desirous of being confirmed’. So, the chapel officially continues the same capacity since its inception, consisting of our small family, growing only by the natural increase of children. In fact, upon the week of this esteemed Convocation, the Lord added a fifth child to our home. We are now a small company of seven souls wanting the power of Godliness.”
“Consider Micah 7:14, which reads.
“Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thy heritage, which dwell solitary”.”
“Of this verse, Bishop William Lowth explains it a condition of scattered Israel. Could this also pertain to Anglican dysphoria? Interestingly, Dr. Adam Clarke defines the singular term “solitary” as ‘long without a shepherd or spiritual governor’. Indeed, many Anglican families and individuals are solitaire, seeking ghostly counsel at a historical juncture when flocks are dispersed and shepherds few. Jeremy Taylor himself composed Holy Living to answer this very dilemma,”
“that by a collection of holy precepts they might less feel the want of personal and attending guides and that the rules for conduct of souls might be committed to a book which they might always have; since they could not always have a prophet at their needs, nor be suffered to go to the house of the Lord to inquire of the appointed Oracles”
“Happily, we’ve kept our small number connected to the Church by reading the Prayer Book. But another help has been finding the great treasure trove of Anglican devotional literature left behind by men like Jeremy Taylor. We found the old SPCK and SPG catalogs to commend us excellent works for private worship. And, significantly, these same devotional repositories have done much to point us in the direction of the English Religious Societies– first, the Woodwardian and, eventually, the Wesleyite types.”
“Indeed, the Religious Societies gave us a way to understand our otherwise mean condition. The old English societies were often lay-led though with an ordained minister in the wings somewhere. Their typical purpose was to promote prayer and mutual watching against sin, gathering on a weekly basis. In other words, they were mechanisms of local discipline and accountability. The Woodwardian often kept a form of liturgy, partly based on the prayer book yet restricted membership to churchmen. There was also a close supervision of the rector though usually run by lay-proxy. The Wesleyite society indeed sprang from the former, but the Wesleyite included dissent in membership while giving a much greater licence for lay agency. What is not known about the Wesleyite societies, however, was the early phase of recruiting preachers to be oyal to establishment, and Wesley’s own veneration for the church, even recommending all societies, if they meet upon Sunday, to use the church liturgy (if not an abbreviation of it.). Needless to say, the Wesleyite type grew on us due to the mixture of our own company as well as the breadth it gave to lay working.”
“Consequently, during the last few years the chapel has shewn two faces. In our private worship, we’ve periodically used Wesleyite forms while in our public gatherings, which are unfortunately a rare occasion, keep closer to the BCP rubrics and are more typical of a lay-read service– at best, maybe like a clerk in a small, impoverished parish. Where we’ve created problems, perhaps, is drawing too thin a line between the two– that being, private and public worship. This blurring might be more obvious perusing our Glad Tiding submissions.But, the more substantial problem is private worship is probably the bedrock of public duty. So, a tension develops and is built in.”
“Though public worship hasn’t grown in numbers, our private Societal services– like the Love Feasts and Class Meetings — have done remarkably better. For instance, we have three families regularly involved in weekly class meetings, these boiling down to six adults and nine children. Meanwhile, Love feasts have more attendees; though this number fluctuates, it is above class meetings. In sum, while our public worship remains confined to our single Anglican family, private worship at least has a larger catholic one. So, anyone visiting Littlewood Chapel will eventually discover a community about it, at least, an overlap and intermix between the two gatherings. Yet, it is a genuine fellowship. It has substance, and it’s historically related to the Church of England. Wesley himself was rather flattering of these fellowships and mutual worship, charitably calling them ‘catholic’:”
“I ask not, therefore, of him with whom I would unite in Love, ‘Are you of my church, of my congregation?’ … Nay, I ask not of you (as clear as I am in my own mind), whether you allow baptism and the Lord’s Supper at all. Let all these things stand by: we will talk of them, if need be, at a more convenient season, my only question is this, is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?” [By this Wesley meant a heart which truly loves God and neighbor]
“Nonetheless, the question lingers: Has our private or ‘catholic’ worship– with its societal meetings—confused some UECNA members? Could it deter casual Anglicans wanting a simple prayer book service? Surely it does. What can be done?”
“We’ve been very slowly, maybe very stubbornly, making changes. Consequently, our website no longer advertises times of private worship, omitting our home address while mentioning only our quarterly public gatherings in San Jose. Although we continue our Class Meetings and Love Feasts, these assemblies are no longer highly profiled. Even the name of the venerable Mr. Wesley has been removed, probably making the website more approachable. As far as we see it, this follows our intent to move the chapel in a more ‘churchly’ direction, without giving up the good of religious fraternity. While an Anglican society like ours might be strange to casual Episcopalians, we’re willing to say it’s been a logical outgrowth of a mission without regular ministry and far from Temple worship.”
“This leads to a final point: We’ve always styled ourselves a ‘society’ before a ‘mission’. However, we’ve lacked necessary bylaws recognizing Littlewood as such a ‘community’. Our hope is to formalize the reality of our fellowship with the District by next year. Bylaws would partly remove scruple about certain private rituals like Love Feasts or Class Meetings, but it would also make us more accountable.”
“As everyone knows, the District of the West is a vast, continental jurisdiction. Perhaps the lay-agency of olden Religious Society might spark ecclesiastically vacated areas like Northern California, or remote Western states; wherever solitary families and individuals use the Prayer Book, alongside other Anglican helps, in daily prayer and weekly Sabbaths? What shall become of the Prayer Book and the rich treasure trove of old Anglican devotion? The United Episcopal Church is indeed rare among Anglican churches, having ‘no other Liturgy in the World, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, and rational piety’. Let us ‘be so guided and governed by thy Good Spirit’ in such a way that our children may receive this goodly heritage, “that henceforth all generations shall call me blessed”; “till at length the whole of thy dispersed sheep, being gathered into one-fold, shall become partakers of everlasting life”. May Grace be with thy Spirit. ”
Interestingly, the letter isn’t much different from our 2017 update to Convocation. In 2017 we likewise shared our movement to forms of English Religious Society, broadcasting our use of Love Feasts and Class Meetings. However, at that time, we were much more bold about church-Methodism and using the name of the venerable Mr. John Wesley. I’ve heard many clergy pour praise upon Wesley’s name as well as his alleged loyalty to the Church of England and ‘high church’ parentage. But I likewise discovered Wesley’s name is ultimately lumped with Dissent, likely due to his making of Superintendents for America, causing more smoke than fire with hardboiled churchmen. So, we’ve backed off the more explicit advocacy of ‘methodism’. Much more can be said about Wesley and his Societies’ rather complicated relation to the Establishment, but I plan to defer such to future posts (also here).
Meanwhile, the letter says nothing about UE ecumenicism. Of course, this is the realm of the Missionary Bishop. Nonetheless, for the sake of “the bond of peace and unity of Spirit”we locally associate with many kinds of Protestants, mostly a moderate type. A litany of opinion could be said regarding non-Anglican church relations, but I will limit such to a few points:
Private worship is an area often neglected by Anglicans. Not only is it confused with “merely” the Daily Offices, but the opportunity to share aspects of the liturgy, hymn culture, and devotional literature of the classical Anglican church is missed. Private worship lacks the restrictions of canon, and while we still have a particular Anglican tradition and culture to keep even domestically, we have a latitude that allows us to join other Protestants which should help them understand their own worship. This ought to be especially true with those daughters of the Church– those who left the Anglican church over, oftentimes, tragic scruple.
In estimating directions continuing ecumenicism might go, my single concern has been with the remnant Protestant Anglicans in the Continuum– a truly vanishing breed. There are very few jurisdictions where they can find dependable harbor. Obviously, I am favorable to UECNA– dismissing CANA as basically too liberal in orthopraxis or application of the Prayer Book. We forget Protestantism isn’t measured by doctrine alone but also how that doctrine is expressed (or not) in worship. Likewise important is preserving the common culture that Anglo-Protestants once shared— especially in America where vestments, church buildings, and especially hymns were very similar if not the same. Like the fate of our Reformation Confessions, common Protestant (dare say ‘Anglican’) culture has been lost the last fifty years. While retrieving Confessional identity, we should also be restoring former cultural aspects (old hymns, metered psalters and such). Hence, ‘culture’ ought to be a second pole for gauging ‘orthodoxy’.
Besides the UECNA (often described as a ‘low to broad church’ jurisdiction), I’ve counted a handful of very small continuing Anglican bodies that affirm some form of Protestantism. These bodies (smaller than the UECNA) include the Traditional Anglican Church in America (formerly known as the Anglican Province of the Good Shepherd), the Anglican Orthodox Church (James P. Dees’ denomination), and the Free Protestant Episcopal Church. Let me say something quickly about the Free Protestant Episcopal Church (FPEC), and my personal despair in removing it from consideration.
In 2012 the FPEC was literally taken over by a foreign liberal Anglo-Catholic Church from Bolivia. The take-over was led by a self-styled Great Abbot, Bishop Ronald Lee Firestone, who converted to modern Episcopalianism after serving in the liberal Nazarene and Quaker churches. Sadly, the form of Episcopalianism he preferred was extremely minimalist and watered-down, as well as hostile to historical prayer books like the older American and English BCPs. Upon joining FPEC, Firestone essentially did two things. First, he narrowed the sharing of the Episcopate and Orders to the political Left. Second, he dropped the term “Protestant” from FPEC in detraction of the Reformation. Obviously, this narrowed the FPEC’s outreach as well as constituted a significant breech from its past.
While the FPEC bordered on ISM-ism (Independent Sacrament Movement), it was generous with conferring episcopacy to non-Anglican Protestants. It also refrained from using politics as a ‘test’. It is with great regret the FPEC is removed from our range of interest due to its current hostility to old Protestantism. The FPEC was a United Kingdom spin-off from the REC, originally formed in 1897. Like the REC it was a “low-church” response to Anglo-Catholicism, seeking Protestant unity by spreading a common episcopal succession. However, the FPEC suffered various maladies after from the 1940’s, but it was the foremost jurisdiction by which early continuing Anglicans received their Episcopacy between the years 1968-1975. We attempted to honor this legacy by naming our chapel after William E. Littlewood. Mr. Littlewood was was consecrated in the FPEC in 1972, becoming the first continuing Anglican Bishop on the Pacific Coast. But, overall, the interest in FPEC was an effort to remind continuing Anglicans their actual origin vis-a-vis the Chamber’s succession– a kind of rebuttal to “Original Province” arguments or alleged primacy of the Anglo-Catholic Church (ACC) which has been blithely accepted by most continuers.
There is also a marginal note I’d like to add regarding any reclamation of English Religious Society or older versions of so-called “church methodism”. Wesley’s original scheme was for the methodists to remain inside the Church of England. Obviously, among all the daughters (or sprigs) of the Church, the Wesleyites kept the least difference of opinion either by doctrine or worship from classical Anglicans. However, Wesley’s connexion involved a bit more than the Daily Office on Sundays or regular attendance at the local parish. It further predicated an oversight that was indeed Anglican, or wanted by Anglican divines going back to the Restoration. Wesley himself, as well as his Assistants, were expected to be ordained Church of England ministers. But, as the irregularity of their ministrations made adversaries in high places, helpers who were evangelical clergy quickly backed away. This left Wesley to increasingly rely upon lay-preachers to meet the growth of the Societies and other waves of Revival. So, a system of lay agency was essentially forced upon Wesley who would have preferred ordained co-laborers.
In our case, a methodistic model needs clerical involvement. The predicament is finding such, and how to proceed in the meantime. Perhaps we’ve become too much like the methodist Chapel at Norwich, known to share worship and exchange ministers with Dissenters, falling into disrepute among churchmen. Hence, we hope to downplay whatever is judged disagreeable with us.
Anyway, for background on early methodism, we recommend our booklist as well as the title which is out-of-print:
Voluntary Religious Societies 1520-1799 by F.W.B. Bullock, Budd & Gillet (1963).
Though our writings on Oratories or chapels-in-formation are scarce, a couple are found here. An outline of possible UE ecumenicism is suggested below: