Into the Anglican Wilds

All it took the other day was hearing pop-star Olivia Newton-John's recording of the "Ave Maria" for Father Paul Zahl to feel that old, familiar tug at his heartstrings.

Then came the voices in his head asking those nagging questions that many weary Episcopalians have pondered in recent decades: "Why keep fighting?  Why not join the Roman Catholic Church?"

Every now and then, Zahl feels another urge to "swim the Tiber." This is somewhat problematic because he is dean of the Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, a post that makes him a leader among Evangelicals in the embattled Episcopal Church and a strategic voice in the broadly Protestant, low-church wing of the global Anglican Communion.

"I could become a Roman Catholic in a heartbeat," said Zahl. "But the minute I say that, I stop and think about it and I know all the reasons that I am an Evangelical and why my spiritual home is in Anglicanism….

But that doesn't mean that I don't understand why so many people — people I love and respect — have fled to Rome and why many more will follow them."

Many Episcopalians, stressed Zahl, are seeking what he called a "truly objective form of church life" that provides authoritative answers to the moral and doctrinal questions that have — for at least a quarter century — caused bitter conflict and declining statistics in the American branch of Anglicanism. Their complaints run much deeper than mere discontent over the 2003 consecration of a noncelibate homosexual as the Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire.

But if they want that kind of church structure they are going to have to join that kind of church, he said. The Anglican approach, built on a unique blend of compromises between Protestantism and Catholicism, will never be enough.

 "Anglicanism can only give you an ersatz form of that kind of church," said Zahl, a Harvard man whose graduate work took him to England and Germany. "If you want the kind of authority that comes with Roman Catholicism then you should run, not walk, to enter the Church of Rome…. That's where you have to go to find it. You either become a Catholic or you simply stop asking the big questions about ecclesiastical structure. You move on."

This will be a painful step for some Episcopalians to take, in an age when newspapers are full of reports about legal and theological cracks in the foundations of the mother Church of England and its bickering relatives around the world.

The big news on this side of the Atlantic Ocean is that eight congregations in Northern Virginia — including two of America's most historic parishes — have voted to leave the Episcopal Church to join a new missionary effort tied to the conservative, rapidly growing Anglican Church of Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams faces a revolt in his own backyard, with Evangelical leaders saying they will revolt if he does not allow them to answer to conservative bishops, rather than to liberals.

And then there was that Sunday Times report claiming that Pope Benedict XVI has asked officials in his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to research ways to reach out to disaffected Anglicans.

The temptation, according to Zahl, is for Episcopalians caught in these conflicts to assume there is "some church body out there, some supervising entity or person, which, when we find it, will be seen definitely to be 'The One.' The question of 'Whither?' is based on the idea that there is, at this point in time, a verifiable protecting safe place."

Instead, those committed to Anglicanism must embrace another image of the Christian life found in Scripture, argued Zahl, in a missive to supporters of his seminary. While it will be hard, they should see themselves as the "wandering people of God" who must spend a long time in the wilderness as they "seek the city which is to come."

It will be hard to find clarity and unity during the years ahead, he said.

"I hold out exactly no hope of a safe haven in the Church of England," said Zahl. "If you have any hope of finding safe answers for the big questions of church identity within Anglicanism, then you are going to need to be patient because that is not going to happen anytime soon."

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  • Guest

    “‘I could become a Roman Catholic in a heartbeat,’ said Zahl. ‘But the minute I say that, I stop and think about it and I know all the reasons that I am an Evangelical and why my spiritual home is in Anglicanism’..

    I would have liked the writer of the article to outline some of these reasons.

  • Guest

    Sounds a bit like he’s too comfortable where he’s at.

  • Guest

    So would I, inLove.

    I bleed for them, because I know their anguish as my own when it came out that 3-4% of our priests had betrayed God, themselves, and us…
    but at least the Teaching held fast, as it always has, because He told us He would be with us always, until the end of Time. He didn’t promise it’d be pretty…the Church is a hospital for sinners… but He did promise the Teaching would not waver. And it hasn’t.

    How much more would it hurt, were I an Anglican, to see the Teaching bend and blow with the prevailing winds… as the Pope warned it would when at Lambeth in 1930, the Anglicans accepted contraception. And by 1958 almost all the Protestant world had followed suit. The Vatican warned then that it would lead to adultery, divorce, legalized abortion, flourishing homosexuality, family breakdown, minor abuse, etc, etc.

    And so it has.

    Come home at last, brethren. Don’t let misplaced patriotism and pride blind you to the evidence. He said: “You shall know them by their fruits.”

    The jury’s in. A practicing homosexual has been made an Anglican bishop. And the leadership defends the decision.

    Cross the Tiber and come Home. All is forgiven. You’ll be welcomed with open arms. It’s an embrace that’s been waiting 500 years to happen.

    Praying for all Episcopalians and Anglicans, fervently,


  • Guest

    In the Dallas Diocese there were 5 former Episcopalians priests, who crossed the
    Tiber, and then became Catholic Priests. Come on over you be glad you did. And
    bring your flock with you.

  • Guest

    Are the popes being to generious with islam. Perhaps, both these men have lived through the horriors of world war II and may fear war more then is completely catholic.

    I suspect Pope benedict will weigh his words more carfully from now on. If for no other reason then not wanting to have any more churchs burned or people linched then nessary.

    That being said. I know two things.
    They set in the chair of peter not I.
    Jesus promised ‘on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell
    will not previal agianst it’

    That being said a study of history will show that the church has ALWAYS had one heresy after another gnawing it and undermining it. It has ocasionally had leaders taken in or at least blind to the dangers of given heresy’s.

    It truely is a mericle that the church exists today.
    It is even a greater mericle that it proveably teaches when Jesus taught.

    It certainly has not happened because of the compentency or lack of compentency of any of our leaders. The real leader is christ , he is in control and he won’t get it wrong.

  • Guest

    You know, fishman, we have been coddling of all other religious expressions for one reason – we are the Church of Christ – WE – just WE weak ones of our true – as we know, eh? – TRUEST expression of our King’s will. We know that ‘Church’ by any other name is ‘persons’. Our Popes cannot bring themselves to assault a whole other sect because it has much to do with personal attcks on those within that church. They will beckon as they can – not try to break down barriers and bunkers too harshly.

    ‘Swimming the Tiber’ – what an image! How about ‘coming home’, as reflected in Marcus Grodi’s ministry? They picture possibly drowning. The fact is it is finding where the Love of their life, their God, abides – it is home away from Home.

    And, educated as this man is as a cleric, he will ‘settle for . . . (and, worse, encourage others to settle for) . . . wandering‘ (!?!? Wandering, away from the one flock . . . and thus making the Good Shepherd’s job more onerous. (I picture these little cultish bodies which cannot even stay with and near each other for very long.) That classifies the poor man as an educated fool. How tragic for him and who follow him – and, not necessarily their Christ.

    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell or …

  • Guest

    >>”The temptation, according to Zahl, is for Episcopalians caught in these conflicts to assume there is “some church body out there, some supervising entity or person, which, when we find it, will be seen definitely to be ‘The One.’ The question of ‘Whither?’ is based on the idea that there is, at this point in time, a verifiable protecting safe place.”……………

    Yes! The Catholic Church with her solid objective TRUTH is that “SHEEPFOLD” that Jesus spoke of in the Gospel of John, where the sheep are protected…safe! The “enclosure of the Catholic Church” is where the sheep are truly safe from the wolves with the magisterium holding the shepherd’s staffs, prodding the sheep gently with the unabashed truth of Her Doctrines. This is what all the sheep desire…to be safe….in the arms of a protecting Mother!!

    “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
    2But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
    3The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
    4 When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.
    But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”

    THE SAFE PLACE! >>>>>>>