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3 - The Road to St. Louis: Celebrating the Affirmation of St. Louis.

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

The Road to St. Louis

Part 7. The 1976 ECUSA Minneapolis Convention

In September, 1965, the ECUSA House of Bishops had authorized the creation of the Committee to Study “the Proper Place of Women in the Ministry of the Church” 1 and it was clear that the Episcopal Church was moving gradually and inevitably toward the ordination of women to the priesthood. In both the 1970 and 1973 ECUSA General Conventions, women’s ordination came to a vote, but the deputies acted first and defeated it, making any vote by the bishops unnecessary.

However, by the 1976 ECUSA General Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a majority of the bishops supported women’s ordination and the convention voted to approve the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate. The resolution added to the church canons the clause that the “ordination requirements apply equally to women and men.” 2Approval was won by majority in both houses with “the clerical order voting 64 to 37 and the laity voting 60 to 38.”3 A motion by the Rev’d C. Brinkley to censor the ordinations of 15 irregular ordinations of women and declare that they were not valid priests was voted down by the Convention.

The Convention also conditionally approved a brand new Book of Common Prayer, which was doctrinally controversial. For many traditionalists, its “modernized language (and, some felt, liberalized theology) replaced much of the touch of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer which still existed in the 1928 edition.”4 With large majorities the deputies rejected attempts to delay any “consideration of the resolution or to amend it.”5

One of the amendments stated that the authority of the diocesan bishop would not be affected, which supported the view of Presiding Bishop John Allin (1906-1993) who recommended that women could be ordained in areas which would accept them. The other amendment pushed for women’s ordination to be entrenched into the church constitution. It would take two successive conventions before this came into effect in 1979.

The Most Rev. Frederick Donald Coggan Archbishop of Canterbury (1974-1980)

Supporters of women’s ordination were ecstatic and it didn’t help the traditionalists that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Frederick Donald Coggan (1909-2000) saw “beneficial results” 6 from the vote. In a speech to the Convention, Coggan recognized the tension caused by the decision to ordain women, but he urged everyone to continue to work together for “mutual love and church unity” 7 He also noted that tension between parties could be a good thing as it brings about a greater strength, comparing the situation to both ‘power and beauty’ and the need to understand the essential tension needed to pluck a stringed instrument.

Just prior to the convention, the FCC issued A Call to Anglican Integrity which presented a general listing of principles of faith and worship that the Episcopal Church should uphold. The ‘Call’ concluded with a “subtle warning” 8 that faithful Episcopalians would no longer be members in the Episcopal Church, if the approval of women’s ordination went ahead. After the vote, the FCC clearly stated that the Convention made “an “illegitimate decision” and is “null and void” and urged Episcopalians to join in boycotting it.” 9

Another group, however, loyal to the establishment, known as the ‘Coalition for the Apostolic Ministry’ (CAM), called upon Episcopalians to be cautious and avoid making any unnecessary moves and that the church’s bishops and priests continue to be “true shepherds of the flock.” 10

The formation of the FCC had pushed Anglican Catholic identity further along and it became an attractive focal point for Catholic-minded Anglicans. Leaders like DuBois helped articulate and define Anglican Catholic identity through the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen and its opposition to the change being made in the Episcopal Church. Because of the events that took place at the Minneapolis convention, the FCC was then able to focus more on what they believed in, as presented through their Principles of Faith and Worship. Anglican Catholics could now look and clearly see a difference between themselves and mainstream ‘modernist’ Anglicanism.

Part 8. Preparing for the 1977 St. Louis Convention

As had been feared by traditionalists, the Minneapolis Convention approved both “the ordination of woman priests and the Draft Proposed Book of Common Prayer.”11 The FCC immediately issued a statement entitled, Hold Fast! In the statement, they claimed that the ECUSA was no longer part of the apostolic faith and was becoming another heretical “Protestant denomination." 12 The FCC advised its supporters to receive the sacraments only from orthodox or traditional Anglican bishops or priests, and concluded the statement with the promise to hold a church-wide convention as soon as possible. They began to focus on practical ways to reply to the innovations that were occurring within the Church. It was decided that a Church Congress was an appropriate response.

The Fellowship unanimously concluded that “nothing but an organizational separation from the Episcopal Church,” 13 could really counter the “Church’s theological separation from the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” 14 For all intents and purposes, this was the birth of what would eventually become the ‘Affirmation of St. Louis’ and the ‘Continuing Anglican Movement.’

Both the ACU and FCC held separate meetings to discuss the Minneapolis convention and their next steps. The ACU completely rejected the decisions of the Minneapolis convention and stated that, as a body, it would only work with orthodox bishops and priests. It also supported the idea of a gathering of the faithful and orthodox to respond to the current situation.

With a renewed sense of hope and religious zeal, the FCC met in Nashville, Tennessee on November 4th and 5th 1976. The issue up for discussion was the direction that any continuing Episcopal Church would take. Bishop Clarence Haden (1910-2000), of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California, described by Time Magazine as a “crusty conservative”,15 though a guest at the meeting; suggested that the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen should profess a set of beliefs. Dr. Harold Lerow Weatherby Jr. (1934- ), of the Society for the Preservation of the Book of Common Prayer (SPBCP), added to the suggestion by recommending “principles on which a Continuing Church would be based.” 16

The FCC announced that a meeting would be held in September of 1977, in St. Louis, Missouri to offer “the spiritual principles and ecclesial structure of the continuing Episcopal Church.” 17 The St. Louis gathering would also endorse the “drafting of a statement”18 that would clearly define the Continuing church, as well as set up a committee to organize both the financial and structural requirements of forming a new ecclesiastical body. The Congress of St. Louis would threaten to bring about, for the ECUSA, a “larger, more corporate division.” 19

By early 1977, it was clear that there were three main groups of traditionalists within ECUSA. Each group had designed different approaches to counteract the decisions of the Minneapolis Convention. The FCC was planning to establish “a Continuing Episcopal Church,” 20 the Evangelical and Catholic Mission (ECM), formally the CAM, which included active ECUSA bishops, such as Stanley Atkins (1912-1996) of the Diocese of Eau Claire, who was planning to work toward creating an “independent status within PECUSA,” 21 and Anglicans United (AU) were planning on becoming an "Anglican rite" jurisdiction within another church body.” 22 Canon DuBois, who had held a leading role in both the ACU and the FCC, formed the AU for the sole purpose of creating an Anglican Rite.

Though all the parties were united leading up to the Minneapolis convention and for some time after that, the seeds of confusion and enmity were planted for continuing Anglicans. The High, Low and Broad-Church differences were present, but not brought to the fore. Nevertheless, a meeting was scheduled and work on a document had begun.

It should also be noted that the period between the Minneapolis Convention and the St. Louis Congress saw movement amongst traditionalists at the parish level. The Episcopal News Service on May 19th, 1977 reported that breakaway parishes and priests from the Episcopal Church in southern California, Nevada and Colorado formed “a temporary diocese” 23 The ENS acknowledged that the new diocese was affiliated with the traditionalists and that one of its architects was the Right Rev’d Albert A. Chambers retired Bishop of Springfield (Illinois) and president of Anglicans United.

The Right Reverend Albert A. Chambers (1906-1993)

It also reported that Bishop Chambers would be a ‘visiting bishop’ of “Holy Trinity Diocese.” 24 This breakaway diocese was made up of approximately thirty congregations in the western United States, including at least one in Colorado, four in Los Angeles, and one in Nevada. The rest were scattered from across North America. Until the new diocese had its own bishop, Bishop Chambers served as a pastoral leader to the growing group.

ENS reported on June 28th, 1977 that the Evangelical and Catholic Mission (ECM) and the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen (FCC) issued a joint declaration of positions and openly proclaimed their devotion to Faith and Order. And even though the FCC was High-Church and the ECM was Low-Church, each group was committed to following their own path, ever mindful of their ‘common cause’ of recalling Anglicanism back “to the path of the revealed Catholic faith” 25 and “Evangelical fervour.” 26 The ECM, however, gave no indication that it would support the FCC’s move to establish the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). If anything, they were more inclined to remain within the Episcopal Church and fight against modernism.

Bishop Stanley Atkins of Eau Claire, president of the ECM, said after the release of the joint statement that the Mission’s leadership were inclined to “not quit the Episcopal Church.” 27 and that some felt that they would never have to do this, ever. That said; “many members”28 of the ECM promised that they would attend the Church Congress in St. Louis because they no longer felt there was any hope of reversing the “humanistic and secular trends”29 occurring in the Episcopal Church, and the formation of the Anglican Church (of North America) was the best solution.

On July 28th, 1977, ENS reported that Anglican traditionalist groups were uniting. Several groups met at Estes Park, Colorado, to establish a ‘continuing’ Episcopal Church, provisionally titled, the Anglican Church of North America. Coming together with the FCC were the Diocese of the Holy Trinity, the newly formed Diocese of San Francisco and Anglicans United (AU). Also involved in the meeting were the Canadian groups “Council for the Faith and Comment Magazine,” 30 both connected with the Anglican Church of Canada.

During this period of bringing together traditionalists, the FCC drafting committee met on numerous occasions and on the eve of Congress presented “for definite consideration a complete draft of the Affirmation of St. Louis.” 31 After hours of deliberation, the draft was approved for presentation to the Congress.

As the Continuing Church movement began to come together, there were a number of committed Anglican Catholics who were engaged in both the creation of the ‘Affirmation’ and the establishment of a new faith community. And though there is some evidence to show that there was compromise with evangelical traditionalists, those who prepared for the St. Louis congress and worked on the ‘Affirmation of St. Louis’ can best be seen as essentially catholic and identified with Anglican Catholicism.

Sources for this article:

1. Marsh p.15

2. Toronto Globe and Mail Ordination of women approved by laymen and Episcopal

clergy, Friday, September 17th, 1976, Copyright New York Times Service

3 . ibid

4. Badertscher Chapter 2, p.10

5 . September 17th, 1976 Globe and Mail

6. Toronto Globe and Mail 200 Episcopalians call for boycott of decision to allow women

priests, Saturday, September 18th, 1976. Copyright Associated Press

7. ibid

8. Bess p.85

9. September 18th, 1976 Globe and Mail

10. ibid

11. Falk

12. ibid

13. Laukhuff p.1

14. ibid p.1

15. Time Magazine, Episcopal Split, Monday, February 13th, 1978 Copyright Time Inc

16. Laukhuff p.1

17. Bess p.89

18. Falk

19. Badertscher Chapter 2, p.9

20. Bess p.90

21. ibid p.90

22. ibid p.90

23. Episcopal News Service - New Anglican Diocese Formed in West, May 19th, 1977, 77173

24. ibid

25. Episcopal News Service - Leaders of ECM and FCC Make Common Cause, June 28th,

1977, 77232

26. ibid

27. Episcopal News Service - Anglican Traditionalist groups unite, July 28th, 1977, 77252

28. ibid

29. ibid

30. ibid

31. Laukhuff p.2

Next issue on the Road to St. Louis: The Congress of St. Louis, Post Congress Assessment & Media Coverage

This article was taken from the Doctoral thesis Recognizing Anglican Catholic Identity: An Historical Review of the Anglican Catholic Movement, the Affirmation of St. Louis and the Traditional Anglican Communion, which has been added to the database for scholarly works by Acadia University. For anyone interested in the complete thesis, it can be found at:

© Dr. Charles Warner 2010

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