My first entry into liturgical, historical Christianity was in a little Episcopal breakaway church in Greenville, South Carolina called deliciously, The Holy Trinity Anglican Orthodox Church. The little congregation of conservative former Episcopalians belonged to a denomination based in North Carolina founded by Bishop James Parker Dees. The Anglican Orthodox Church was regarded as a throwback, a group of conservative grumps who pulled out because they didn’t like the new prayer book. Dees has gone to his reward, but the little denomination still exists, along with about 100 other Anglican-style independent churches. If you’re interested you can spend a long time learning about the different groups here.
Was the Anglican Orthodox Church a throwback? Was it a hike backfield or a forward pass? Maybe it was the shape of things to come. I reckon independent Anglicanism is exactly what we’ll see develop worldwide.

Here’s why: the conservative Anglicans, otherwise known as the ‘continuing Church’ are divided among themselves. They are divided along the lines that already exist within the Anglican Church. As a result, among the many independent Anglican Churches you will find Protestants who have no truck with the Anglo Catholics with all their pomp and Anglo Catholics who cannot abide the low church Protestants. Some groups are happily Evangelical, others are upbeat and modern Anglo Catholic. Other groups are charismatic, and don’t get on with the more staid and liturgical churches. Some want women priests but not practising homosexual priests. Others don’t want either. Some want the old Anglican liturgy, some want the Roman Rite, others are happy with the modern Episcopal liturgy.

When you go international the whole thing gets even more complex and intriguing. In the developing world you have the same theological, liturgical and cultural divisions depending on which country was evangelized by whom. Those countries that had Anglo Catholic missionaries are high, those that had Evangelical missionaries are low. Since the missionaries went home these countries have also developed along their own trajectories as national churches. Some of them, like the Nigerian Anglican Church, has more members than the Church of England, Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada combined. This article from First Things explains some of the complexities. (Hat tip to Amy Welborn)

I predict a continuation of what is already happening. The Anglican Communion as any sort of international entity will disintegrate. What will emerge is an informal confederation of churches. Some of them will be national churches, others will be founded for certain liturgical, spiritual or theological reasons. This confederation of churches will have a shared tradition, but no shared authority structure. They will have an ‘international’ dimension as they attract adherents from around the world. Various alliances will develop between groups with shared national, historical, theological, liturgical or cultural affinities. These alliances will be fluid–parishes will choose their own affiation, choose their own denomination and their own bishop as they see fit.

The Church of England will exist rather like the EOrthodox Church in Turkey exists today. The Patriarch of Constantinople is a historically important figure, but rules over a miniscule congregation at home, remaining a historical figurehead for a church in exile.

This similarities with Eastern Orthodoxy don’t end there. The Russian Church, for example, grew out of the already existing Greek Church through missionary endeavor. Then it spread to Alaska, through historical circumstances various Russian Churches in exile sprang up, and individuals and individual congregations are here there and elsewhere. I am no expert in Eastern Orthodoxy, but as far as I understand it, the various historical branches of Orthodoxy have varying numbers of sub-branches. Sometimes the many branches of E.Orthodoxy co-exist peaceably, more often they are quarreling among themselves.

A confederation of churches with a shared history. Isn’t this the future of Anglicanism? If so, is it anything more than a grouping of independent churches? If that is so, how is it different in ecclesiology from, say, the Southern Baptist Convention?

UPDATE : Ruth Gledhill’s coverage of the events in Tanzania are excellent. Check it out if you want to learn more.