An Evangelical Catholic Anglicanism Christ Episcopal Church, Wenham and Hamilton, Massachusetts Easter V, 2005

Article excerpt

Many conservative Anglican churches are evangelical, or catholic, or charismatic. In the past decade some have emerged that are evangelical and catholic and charismatic. Christ Episcopal Church, serving Wenham and Hamilton in the diocese of Massachusetts, is a prominent example.

At first sight this development is surprising. The evangelical and catholic parties were polarized by the bitter "churchmanship" controversies that racked the Anglican world between the 184Os and the early 190Os. The controversialists of the day had a gift for posing theological questions in ways that excluded "both/and" answers. Did tradition carry theological weight or not? Was Christ really present in the eucharistie elements or not? Did the priest at the eucharist represent Christ or not? Did baptism confer grace ex opere operate or not? Was episcopacy of the essence of the Church or not? Was the Church something more than the blessed company of all faithful people or not? Catholics said yes, and evangelicals said no, and it looked simple. While there were a few Anglicans in that period who sought to keep the two together - probably the best known was the self-styled evangelical catholic William Augustus Muhlenberg (1797-1877)- a merged theology looked hopelessly fuzzy-minded when the many were passionately taking sides.

Twentieth-century liberalism relativized Victorian theological convictions, and relegated most serious doctrinal quarreling to the retreating conservative wing. But in the late 1950s a new conservatism began to take shape. Charismatic Anglicanism burst forth in 1959. Vatican II and charming popes breathed new life into anglo-catholicism. The Keele Conference of 1967 revitalized Anglican evangelicalism. Third-world Anglicanism was decolonized after 1963. Would the new generation of conservative Anglicans re-fortify their various party identities? Or would they build alliances against the prevalent liberalism? Or would they seek theological rapprochement with fellow conservatives?

All three approaches were tried, and Christ Church represents the third. It is directly or indirectly the beneficiary of several efforts since the 1960s to join the authority of Scripture and sola fide with apostolic order, tradition, and liturgical renewal. Post-Vatican II ecumenical dialogue showed unexpected convergences among catholics and evangelicals. Liturgical revision, for those that (like Christ Church) accepted it, disposed of many of the old divisive party issues. A "postliberal" theology centered at Yale Divinity School in the 1970s and 1980s shaped many future Anglican leaders, and gave direction to Scholarly Engagement with Anglican Doctrine, founded in 1989. Evangelicals and Catholics Together began taking shape in 1992. Pro Ecclesia was launched in 1994 as a self-consciously evangelical catholic theological journal.

Conservative Anglicanism has found a hospitable milieu in the adjoining towns oi Hamilton and Wenham, Massachusetts. They are rural, residential communities a little over twenty miles north of Boston, with a combined population of 13,000. Their roads, shared by cars and riders on horseback, wind through woodlands and alongside peaceful New England lakes. The median sales price for a residential home is about $540,000. The two towns share a school district, boasting a highly ranked public high school that charges affluent families expensive user fees for student activities. Republicans are regularly elected to the legislature.

This is home to two of the country's outstanding evangelical schools. Gordon College in Wenham is a selective liberal arts post-secondary institution with 1,700 students, all of whom have professed a personal relationship with Jesus. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton has 1,900 students, all of whom have renounced sexual immorality, including premarital intercourse and homosexuality. Both institutions have profoundly influenced Christ Church over the years, and numbers of faculty, staff, and students worship there. …