Project Canterbury

An Open Letter to a Non-Member of the Anglican Society

By Carroll E. Simcox

New York: The Anglican Society, 1964.

Dear Friend:

I have been thinking over our conversation of the other evening and especially your main contentions. Now I want to "think out loud on paper" about them, if you will pardon the scrambled metaphor.

Your reasons for not joining the Anglican Society, I take it, are these: (1) You think there are too many societies in the Church and that it's about time for all good men to come to the aid of their party; (2) You have no interest in museum-piece ceremonial—"Sarum" or "Western" or any other; and (3) Insofar as the Anglican Society stands for loyal, staunch Prayer Book churchmanship it offers you nothing you don't already have—it stands for what you stand for, so why bother to belong?

All of your objections are reasonable. But I think they are all of them wrong, and I will try to tell you why.

To take your first objection first: You think that there are too many societies in the Church as it is, that we are fantatistically over-organized, with a society for the promotion of every blessing and a society for the suppression of every bane, to the confusion of all. And you take for granted, as so many do, that all of these societies are sources and evidences of disunity. I don't I think they are evidences of life and vitality, God bless them all!

After all, we are Anglicans; and we make it our boast that in our portion of the Catholic Church we enjoy that freedom of the Spirit which allows for, and indeed demands, "diverse operations," as blessed Paul puts it. (I Cor. 12:5.) I think we can reasonably paraphrase that, great passage in First Corinthians to read like this: "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word to propagate evangelical freedom; to another the word to propagate Catholic order; to another the word to propagate 'Prayer Book religion'; etc." A church in which there are no parties, and no groups with special "axes to grind," would be a church in which there is no real life of the Spirit.

The Anglican Society is a group of Episcopalians who feel very deeply that they are called to stand and to work for loyalty to the Prayer Book. This is our cause-our axe to grind, if you want to use that rather bellicose phrase. Of course we believe in this thing. We believe further that there is need for an organized society within the Church to work and fight for it. I take it that you agree with us in principle but that you don't agree with us as to the necessity for a special society devoted to this purpose. Later on I'll return to this point.

Let us proceed now to your second objection: that you have no interest in museum-piece ceremonial—"Sarum" or any other. Frankly, neither have I. It will surprise you, I suppose, to know that the Anglican Society hasn't either. Please note the official object of our Society—its only one: "The object of the American branch of the Anglican Society is to promote and maintain the Catholic Faith and Practice in obedience to the text and rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer." Not a word here about ceremonial. Our main interest is not in promoting any single usage. It is in promoting loyalty to the Prayer Book.

At the same time, I won't deny that we object to the kind of Romanizing, or Presbyterianizing, of our rite which makes people wonder what kind of church they are in. There is a distinctively Anglican way of worship, which is implicit and explicit in the Prayer Book; and we should be a queer kind of "Anglican" Society if we did not cherish and uphold this way.

We have in our membership some who like their ceremonial plain and others who like theirs fancy, but we like to think that they all put simple loyalty to the Prayer Book first.

We do not maintain that the Prayer Book is perfect in all respects. Many of our members are convinced that our official liturgy could stand many improvements. Prayer Book loyalty as we understand it and plead for it does not mean a blind and uncritical Prayer Book "fundamentalism" which considers any proposed change as impious. But we are persuaded that we have two duties, as good churchmen: First, to work for constructive changes in our Prayer Book; and second, to obey the liturgical law of the Church as it is embodied in the Prayer Book, regardless of our individual preferences. Only so can we have that unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace which God wills for His Church.

My mention of Prayer Book belief brings to mind something most important which we have not even looked at so far in our discussion. We have been talking about the Prayer Book solely as a guide to liturgical worship. But it is also a guide to Christian faith and believing. The Anglican Society promotes "The Catholic Faith and Practice in obedience to the text and rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer." We are as much concerned with faith as with worship. We are dedicated to the key proposition of Anglicanism that our worship is our faith turned Godward. The Catholic Faith is more readily prayed than stated. Rightly understood and used, the Creed is an act of worship. This is vital to the very heart and soul of Anglican Christianity.

You remarked in our recent conversation that you are too busy a man to be piddling around with the little niceties of ceremonial. That's just why I think you belong in the A.S.! This isn't a society for the propagation of prettiness, but for the propagation of the Faith and Practice of the Catholic Church., as our communion has received the same. If you believe in this as the big thing in the Church's life, you belong with us.

And so we come to your final point: that insofar as the A.S. stands for loyal Prayer Book churchmanship it has nothing to give you that you don't already have. I am happy to concede the truth of your claim as a claim: you are a thoroughly, consistently loyal Prayer Book churchman. Do you. think I'd ever have tackled you on the subject of joining the Society if you were not? But I cannot concede your logic. After all, one doesn't join any society whose object is the advancement of some good cause with a view to what it can give him; he joins if he is a Christian, with a view to what he can give through it.

The Anglican Society is not a pressure group, in the familiar sense of the term. It is an educational society. Our object is to show our fellow churchmen, in every way we can-by precept and example, the excellency of the Prayer Book way, in faith, in worship, and in life. Do you believe that this needs to be done? Of course you do. Then doesn't it follow that you should belong to the one society within the Church which is committed to the doing of just this-and nothing else? I submit that the Anglican Society is this society. Certainly you can accomplish much more working with people who share your vision and your cause than in "going it alone."

Well, there's my case, and now I let it rest with you. I believe with all my heart that the Head of the Church can use people like you in the work of the Anglican Society.

Project Canterbury